July, 2018

Reading Zia Mohyeddini
By Javed Jabbar

Zia Mohyeddin’s distinctive work in radio theatre, television, cinema, narration of literature and poetry on stage, as mentor and as founding president of the National Academy of Performing Arts, Karachi, is widely known and highly praised as it deserves to be. This writer in this brief reflection wants to focus on his writing which also deserves to be as popularly appreciated as his achievements in all the other fields, but is perhaps less recognized, partly because, compared to the volume and range of his output in other realms, his published work comprises only 3 anthologies in English.

The Digital Tool

The social media is turning out to be a strong medium with an undeniably strong presence all around. The interesting part is that while everyone is welcome to become a part of social media, through the internet of course, there is no force on earth that controls this medium. Wherever you are on the globe and whoever you are, you can use the digital medium through whichever device you like – cell phone, laptop or desktop computer – and say what you have to say. You simply air your views and pass around your visual impressions through the various social media that the internet has made available, such as facebook, twitter, google, youtube, Wikipedia, linked-in, reddit, pinterest, etc. and, most of the time, it gets ‘published.’

This is a major setback for authoritarian regimes, like North Korea and others that have always suppressed the free expression of opinions by their own people. In that respect, the social media can also be described as a somewhat ‘democratic’ means of voicing one’s opinion and this is a characteristic of this new medium that is not looked upon with much favour in many parts of the world. Many rulers or governments that wish to ‘control’ or ‘channelize’ what their people are saying, if not impose censorship outrightly, are simply not happy that the social media defy their regimentation and, if people cannot make their views known in their country of residence through conventional media, they can go on social media and still say what they want to say. It is another matter though that use of the internet is banned altogether by certain political or military dispositions while others just wish they could control dispersion of certain content on the social media but simply cannot.

What started innocently as ‘social media’ was primarily the ability of people to use various websites and become a part of a local, national and global social network to make their thoughts and opinions known or to communicate with other people. This is how the social media grew, rather exponentially in this superfast-moving cyber age, and has now come to pervade life on a global basis in a manner that no other mass medium or other human activity has done before. From staying instantly alert to news and other developments around the world to keeping in contact with anyone on the globe, so long as both persons have access to some internet device, is now something that is taken for granted.

It is the all-pervasiveness of the social media that may have also made it popular as an advertising tool to start with and now an information tool that is controlled by certain vested interests, whether in the state domain or otherwise. Such is the spread and penetration of the social media in advertising that now it has become impossible for advertising spenders to select their audience or to communicate their sales pitch just to where it is desired to be seen or heard. Now if there is an ad message directed towards a particular segment, it is not possible to restrict it to that segment. This may not matter to some advertisers or brands that do not care if their message reaches a specific audience segment but it does make a difference where the substance of the message is wasted because it is unnecessarily seen by anyone and everyone. Even then, the social media is being utilized as a viable and relatively cost-effective advertising tool. In a world where TV advertising costs tons of money, similar advertising on social media can be done at a much lesser cost. It is this mass dissipation of the audio and visual message through the social media that has encouraged advertisers and advertising agencies to have specialized digital departments that are manned by digitally savvy and qualified people. These people cater to the advertising needs of the agency’s various clients, keep them informed about what messages the other advertisers are putting out and even interact with customers on behalf of the client on almost a live basis.

It is this power of the social media that even politicians and their parties are using to reach the people and communicate to them their election agenda and promises. Pakistan has a reasonable penetration of the internet though it could have had a better rate had literacy been higher in the country but still its major political parties and politicians have considerable social media presence and they are using the digital tool to the maximum through their digital media cells. Like around the globe, particularly in the West, persuasion though the digital media has tended to make a vital difference in elections. This is also expected to happen in Pakistan in the 2018 elections. Apart from others factors, a lot will depend on who or which party manipulates its digital impact to get the desired results.


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