The birth of the drawing room politician

Published: October 11, 2010
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The writer is a dentist and blogs at Teeth Maestro
awab.alvi@tribune.com.pk

The writer is a dentist and blogs at Teeth Maestro [email protected]

Facebook activism is a new buzzword making its way into the public sphere and discourse in Pakistan. As excited as I am by its power, I am worried at the exponential increase in the number of people giving all kinds of opinions. As a result, I find that it is increasingly becoming easy to lose track of genuine content in an ever-expanding web of social gossip chatter. The positive side in this is that more people are becoming independent digital journalists, some of them displaying as much influence as a media house.

The world, we are told, is in the midst of a revolution. Social media has reinvented activism. With Facebook and Twitter and the like, the traditional relationship between political authority and popular will has been upended, making it easier for the once powerless to collaborate and coordinate in order to give voice to their concerns.

This shift, from the traditional media houses to a more fluent electronic form of journalism, is a breath of fresh air. No longer are we held hostage to the opinions of a few journalists who muscle their opinion onto readers. The old guard are being confronted by individuals who are able to use equally popular platforms to share their opinions. These highly-opinionated individuals have been able to make such an impact that what they do is comparable to newspapers.

But the increasing number of online independent opinions has also given birth to an online version of the drawing room politician. ‘Slacktivism’ – as defined by the Urban Dictionary – is “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.”

The phenomenon of the ‘slacktivist’ allows us to adopt a pseudo activist personality. Tucked securely behind a computer screen, we discover a sense of self-confidence but are distanced from being activists in the “real world”. It is at best a kind of a drum roll, so to speak, of opinions, usually taking the form of a simple mouse click: in this particular instance, the slacktivist thinks that simply clicking ‘like’ or ‘will attend’ an event on Facebook seems to satisfy the requirement to be an activist.

Of my own efforts to motivate people to stand up for political or civil liberties issues in Pakistan, I find it extremely difficult to convert a slacktivist into a real-life activist. The abundant Facebookers clicking ‘will attend’ may bring the organiser to prepare for the million-man march to Islamabad, but realistically the attendees are enough to not even load a rickshaw.

In my opinion, there is no deliberate intention to do wrong, people genuinely want to help, but actions must speak louder than words. Only then will individuals emerge victorious against the plunderers running our country to the ground. Had it not been for blogging, for the voice I discovered and the platform it provided me to address a wide audience, I could never have impacted the lives of over 75,000 flood victims. I would have spent a life in oblivion treating teeth by day and, quite possibly, being a drawing room politician by night.

A number of activists have emerged from Pakistan’s online sphere but we need to inspire confidence in the new generation to move out of the mouse-clicking, slacktivism mode and be the spark for a positive change in Pakistan.

Viva la Revolución.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (14)

  • Oct 11, 2010 - 11:10PM

    awab:

    this could be the real revolution in making:

    A number of activists have emerged from Pakistan’s online sphereRecommend

  • Maria Ahmed
    Oct 12, 2010 - 12:34AM

    @temporal – which planet are you on? How many people have the internet here? 1%? 5%? 10%? Max. And most of them are looking for canadian visas or playing games or chatting.

    Only aspiring types like Awab are crusading via their keyboard.Recommend

  • Masuud Qazi
    Oct 12, 2010 - 1:14AM

    Brilliant analysis. Having done/doing my bit in various modes, I couldn’t agree more on the conversion rate from the behind-the-screen activist to the road activist, be it anywhere- in Pakistan or outside Pakistan.
    Still, hope remains that the the word-of-mouth keeps affecting. Viva la revolution!Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza
    Oct 12, 2010 - 1:16AM

    Doc.. you said “revolution” ;) Agree with you completely on this one! :) Recommend

  • Oct 12, 2010 - 1:24AM

    @temporal….true…but still light at the end of tunnel creates hopes for even a wrecked body to move….to survive…which has lost his willingness to breathe one more time.Yes this mouse is not in hand of a huge audience…but still u also started internet for ur leisure n now indulged into this conversation…it took time but nw u r at rite place…on time or late….doesn`t matter….my n urs surrounding are still unaware of the happening in the online sphere…but they would not be always….me or you wud be telling the ppl what is happening …what are things to go for…still hopes shine in every eye !!!

    i say to every body that if u can crate a single change then dont hesitate to do it….but if u cant then let the others do it at their good !! Recommend

  • Oct 12, 2010 - 1:39AM

    @Maria – that is also my concern – the activist within the abundant online slacktivsts are a minuscule number that it may take eons to mature, but do not underestimate THE POWER OF ONE. When more and more people start realizing that the power of one can become the power of millions then we might see a change,

    BUT i agree with your premise – the internet surfing population in Pakistan is at best 9-10% and that too primarily the uneducated discovering the internet thru porn [its the truth] – a few small percentile do climb up the ladder, but FACEBOOK is also one necessary pit-stop for everyoneRecommend

  • Abbasi
    Oct 12, 2010 - 2:00AM

    Not just that, we also have to understand the population subgroup that uses Facebook. Majority of users (Pakistan based and not Pakistanis residing in foreign countries) that use Facebook are urbanites from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. These cities, although have nearly or more than 10% of the country’s population, does not represent the political diversity they actually offer. If we look at Karachi alone, it has all the parties that are in Pakistan but barely a couple of parties are active on Facebook or similar online media.

    The Facebook President blog post is a very good example where a segment of society that has internet access as well as awareness of its use shows one-sided story support for the General-in-exile while the remaining millions of voices are not registered online (who are against) since they either do not have internet access or awareness of its use.

    Therefore, majority of real activists or having the potential of being an inspiration to both real world as well as Cyber world are gone unnoticed in either or both of them due to lack of internet or its awareness. The biggest example of cyber activism that turned real was observed during Emergency rule by Musharraf in 2007 when youth stood up against the dictator and online media was utilized for communication and coordination. There was little or no slacking as even school children were seen marching on the streets against Emergency rule and new cyber heroes emerged that were an inspiration to the youth.

    Sadly, in a very short time personal grievances and party preferences took precedence to reality and we forgot the unity of 2007. After spending two years slandering the government left, right and center, I think there isn’t anything the youth can do except ‘drawing room politics’ by backing their favorite political parties which have a severely uneven distribution in cyber world.

    P.S. It is, in fact, a reality that Benazir Bhutto is one of the most famous personalities in Pakistan’s history. A figure who has been active in politics since 1970s and have roots in all walks of life since her party had large number of members from all provinces. Yet when we look at Facebook groups, no group of Benazir Bhutto has members more than 5000. However, Mustafa Kamal who has been active in Karachi politics for just half a decade, has a group with more than 140,000 members. This clearly depicts the uneven distribution between the physical world and cyber world.Recommend

  • Jamshed
    Oct 12, 2010 - 2:07AM

    I don’t think the nation is ready for facebook based revolution, it will take sometime for individuals to consolidate the offline life with online life. Currently they are very much separate from each other.

    Having said that the bloggers and journalist that have appeared on the scene has given rise to rather more yellow journalism and content that is very much damaging to the individuals the reason being an individual doesn’t have that much resources to actually investigate a news and confirm it its true or not. They just report it to make more traffic for their site. Take an example of Balochistan chief minister, the news spread like anything and in the end it turned out to be wrong. On the one side it might be very healthy activity but you can understand the dangers that comes alongwith it.Recommend

  • mussarat ahmedzeb
    Oct 12, 2010 - 6:15AM

    excellent piece writen.Recommend

  • Farrukh Siddiqui
    Oct 12, 2010 - 6:40AM

    Wake up guys.. Facebook is irrelevant for Pakistan… go to the cities, towns, villages, tehsils, if you want to activate people and effect change.Recommend

  • F.k
    Oct 12, 2010 - 3:59PM

    2 % or 10% the only segment of our population with the ability to make change happen is this one. We all know the poor is too poor to even lift their heads their vision is myopic. However will this segment come into action? That is the golden question…

    If u can read this you are the resistance are u ready?Recommend

  • Jamil Uddin
    Oct 12, 2010 - 4:12PM

    I think the real message of Awab is that the people who can think, analyse and judge which inherently exclude those who have no time (and/ or ability) for news reading and thereby, forming an informed and rational opinion, are busy on the internet far away from the real world and therefore, generating keyboard revolutions here and there but there is no real, practical and tangible output to be seen any where at the grass root level. Sadly, we all the internet junkies know this and the reason we have come to online agitation is becuz we find it futile to go out on street and waste our efforts. Awab did not answer this. Have we any hope to make a difference if we come out??????Recommend

  • Oct 12, 2010 - 8:06PM

    maria:

    the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step as the chinese saying goes:)Recommend

  • parvez
    Oct 12, 2010 - 10:33PM

    It was good to read something different. Well written too.Recommend

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