An armada of social media sites has achieved popularity recently for specific activities. These activities range from philanthropy to profit making. In between, it has been used to pinpoint political engagement, advocacy, campaigns and information dissemination, business networks, collaboration etc. Meanwhile, with the rapid development of Web 2.0 platforms, social media is playing an increasingly important role in reconfiguring many offline social categories on Internet. Among these, one important feature that perhaps gets a boost up is social capital. Many of our lone protests make a sense of gathering. We live in a nebulous social media landscape in which we are at all times being in touch. Nevertheless, we have surrendered conversations fora meager association. We take more from technology and less from each other.
A Medium To Bond
No one is Robinson Crusoe in the age of connectivity, especially of social media. No person would opt to live alone in the age of hyper-connectivity. Everyone needs someone else in order to live. The trouble-free means to embark on social capital is to consider the networks (bonding, bridging and linking) of people in our life and ask our self, whom do I know? What am I willing to do for them? What are others willing to do for me? We need to augment connections among people and organisations in our life, build trust, collaboratively generate ideas, foster communication and make things happen in our community. Individuality flourishes when we have someone whom we can trust and rely on, a name that is willing to spend time, and a big shot who we know will be there in time of need, give information or even lend finance to us without expecting something in return. This someone and the ‘resources’ they bring with them are our social capital.
American Political Scientist Robert Putnam‘s central thesis is that if a region has a well-functioning economic system and a high level of political integration, these are the result of the region’s successful accumulation of social capital. Just as physical, financial, and human capital is vital for an organisation, social capital is essential for individuals, says Nan Lin, a sociology professor (2001). In fact, the factors that connect and hold communities and social networks together affect modern life in an age of busy schedules and atomised life.
Many studies prove that networks, trust space, norms, values, story telling, the feeling of togetherness, and information, etc., are markers of a stable liberal democracy, access to resources, good jobs, peace, performances, well-being, and strong political engagement. Social capital thus leads to cooperation in groups and therefore relates to traditional values like unfailing commitment to duties, reciprocity, sincerity, loyalty etc. Supporters of the social capital spectacle have reported full-bodied parallels between vibrant social networks and outcomes like good public delivery system, better school performance, enhanced public health, lower crime rates, higher political culture, improved market performance and reduced political corruption.
The common denominators that give a clear resolution on social capital are social trust, norms and networks. Certainly, citizens come to the known and unknown fellow beings in two different ways. Networks with relatives, friends, and neighbours are one way of building strong ties that lead to bonding capital in the political democracy. On the other end, people network and build trust with distant, strange and unknown people through a weak-tie that lead to building capital. Here, information, common anxieties, represented through story telling, trust spaces, etc are markers of social capital. However, be it bonding or bridging, my friends, your friends and their friends are important sources of social identification and growing a space of togetherness in society.
Ever since digital media culture, attempts are on air to see if social media can enhance social capital. They create friends online and spot enemies virtually, do assert and seek individuality and status, look for affirmation and connection, check out the competition and above all, ask for the comfort of community. In the digital sociality, differing from earlier prophecy, inhabitants do not embark on groundbreaking, unheard of acts just because the medium is new. We know this is what people do. Significance of this development begins from not the acts themselves but in the distinctiveness of the environment, it belongs. Now hyper-connectivity mark a social physics of online interactions that are starkly different from those of the offline world and that has far-reaching consequences. A different kind of viewing diligence, exchange and other structural attributes combine to create a different kind of social architecture.
Exploring what role the Internet and social media platforms may have played in reclaiming levels of social capital, will take us to wonder and lose in the claustrophobic social media landscape. Obviously, Internet platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are important channels of building both bridging and bonding capital. Indian social media landscape is a panoramic expression of the surging social capital in new media platforms.Now, it is time to introspect what form social capital could take shape in the cyber space, especially user-generated platforms.
Collaboration, networking, information sharing are easiest since social media. Certainly, these are important in building bridging capital through weak-tie relations. Social media helps one meet with unknown people and strangers who meet only on level playing fields. Many unbeaten Facebook success stories tell that it is more than a walled garden of friendship circle. Business success is possible only if corporates build strong bridging capital in connective spaces. Book selling now becomes easiest when writers build strong bonding capital on social websites. For Indian wives, blogging is an important platform for building a common space. Women bloggers find it highly useful as a storytelling space where they usually represent experiences as a wife, mother, a cook in kitchen, professional at office and the way they have become victims otherwise. For many young women, terms like SNS, apps, FB, buddies, hacking, DP (display picture), tweet, chat, post, check, etc., are part of their everyday cultural vocabulary.
Breaking Social Barriers
Matrimonial sites such as shaadi.com, bharatmatrimony.com, simplymarry.com, matrimonialsindia.com, jeevansathi.com etc offer young women a space for meeting prospective partners. Dating sites such as indiandating.com, hi5.com, apundesi.com, datedosti.com, metrodate.com, indiamatch.com etc offer a space for meeting like-minded people with whom one can think of making a relationship in an otherwise highly rigid social structure. It is letting young people experiment in finding their own friends, partners and meeting new people transcending cultural constraints, and tradition bound social order.
With families, traditions, taboos and stigmas still curbing any socially intolerable expressions, the platforms are becoming new ways of channelizing the otherwise hindered social expressions. Now, it is easiest to open account on chat sites such as chat-room.co.in, indiachat.co.in,chatrooms.org.in,onlinechat.co.in,chat.oneindia.in, allindiachat.com, talkdesi.com etc and find new people, increase relationships, gossip etc.
For those belonging to the third sex such as lesbians, gay, transgender, bisexual, inter sex groups, social media is the safest place ever to get in a wild land of hetero-normativity. Social websites dedicated to the cause of sexual minorities are aplenty and empowering the marginal sexual communities. Sahodaran, MINGLE , BombayDost, Pink pages, Planet Romeo, Queer Azaadi Mumbai are few examples among them.
A Medium To Express And Protest
Individual dissent and resistance politics acquire newer dimensions since digital media. Kanwal Bharti’s, Jaya Vindhayala’s and Shaheen Dhada’s Facebook arrest, Aseem Trivedi’s arrest for Internet cartooning, Ambikesh Mahapatra’s and Subrata Sengupta’s email arrest, Ravi Srinivasan’s Twitter arrest, S Manikandan’s blog arrest are markers of a new form of expression on Indian internet. Anti-rape activism via petitioning sites such as change.org, ecological movement such as Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) are extending a digital empire of contentious politics from websites to Facebook communities. Alternative citizen media philosophies such as merinews.com, mutiny.in, are offering a fleet of free spaces for content development and audience attraction. With this, there is a compulsion to make a new proposition that social media and alternative media platforms are catalyst to a new kind of alone together.
The internet has obviously made possible much greater ease in networking. ‘Save Mullaperiyar Dam, Save Kerala’, a Facebook Campaign has 17,430 Facebook ‘Likes’ as on 11-01-2013. There are endless Networking platforms to support a cause, spread an idea, to raise fund, to express solidarity, etc., to easily network with digital nomads who wander on Internet. Facebook page of Greenpeace India having 106,208 likes as on 11-01-2013 organises all possible networking action through the community platform to re-energise eco-friendly environment. Stop Rape Now!, an online petition by Mamitha Bhandare posted on change.org, had 665,757 supporters by May 2013. Now, Indians today are willing to hold the problem of gender-based violence and discrimination and realise that everyone has a part to play.
Now, it is much clear that be it bridging or bonding, social websites are able to foment newer forms of social capital. It gives people a story-telling place. Users get a space for building solidarity in an otherwise rigid social structure. Trust, norms and networks are easiest since platforms. In fact, in an age, where connectivity marks the health of democracy and well-being of nation, what other than social media platforms can configure networks, collaboration, we space, trust, solidarity with a cheaper, cost free, access free and a quick medium. Social media and social capital move on towards the same direction. The only question is who negotiates the medium.
By Biju P.R