GOA ART AND LIT FEST 2014
Keynote address by Wendell Rodricks
Ladies and gentleman… and the esteemed panel on the dias, Dr Edwin Thumboo from Singapore and Yatin Kakodkar at the Goa International Centre.
Thank you to the organisers of the Goa Art and Literary Festival 2014, Damodar Mauzo and Vivek Menezes for inviting me to speak today.
My topic is Social Media and books.
Last month, reading Harpers Bazar, Amy Molloy wrote an article on the Selfie and how she posted a naked photograph of herself on Instagram. This is what she would never do in real life. Social media, she claimed, has turned her ‘other’ self into a hussy.
Why are we showing a different side of ourselves on social media? A kind of phantom self projected to the public? A far removed persona from the reality that we are? Thanks to social media, statistics show a 30% increase in narcissistic tendency among people who use social media. Is it because we are taking better photos on the new cameras that allow one to make image alterations for social media?.
Everyone with the modern cameras imagine they are photographers. Quite like many people who write but have not published a book call themselves authors. Even though the meaning of the word author or auteur is not necessarily a book author.
Social media has become an imposed epidemic phenomenon for most. I say most because I have friends on Facebook who initiate conversation, debate, write about matters that deserve praise and criticism. They use social media in a thought provoking manner. It is that small group of people that make social media so interesting and interactive. Many a time my own decisions or opinions have changed or altered based on their point of view.
Talking about photographs and images, the very nature of social media websites have changed due to the new narcissistic behaviour of the world at large. Amy Molloy says in her article in Harpers Bazar that before 2009 Facebook allowed 60 photos per album. Post 2009, one can ‘drag and drop’ to your heart’s content.
Sometimes, one discovers how social media works by using your cellphone, iPad or tablet innovatively. Quite by accident, when I was in China this year (where twitter and Facebook are banned) I discovered that if I used Instagram and shared the image and text on Facebook and Twitter, Instagram did the job of posting on my Facebook and Twitter. However, since then, the Chinese have realised that this can be done and have blocked Instagram as well.
There are reportedly over 240 million photos on Instagram with the hash tag #me. And why not? Especially when one is suddenly handed over so many ways to alter a photograph. It’s not just the arty looking black and white that can control contrast, sharpness, blur out images and so much more that everyone is looking ‘beautiful’, ‘fabulous’, ‘gorgeous’, ‘killer’ and ‘awesome’ ‘super like’.
The need to look good is easy when one goes via Apps like Modiface or Facetime. One can draw in fake lashes, a pout, smoothen skin, remove wrinkles and cellulite and drop 12 kgs in a flash.
On social media, there is also (count me in guilty as charged ) the growing number of the ‘Tweet what you eat’ tribe. Do people get a thrill out of showing what they are eating? Apparently we do. Once in a way comes a food shot that can send you to the kitchen to search an old recipe and share it. That is not a bad thing because more people seem to be eating out with their cell phone cameras on the ready than eating home and having a conversation with family and friends. When eating out these days, observe how many tables are silently in conversation with their cellphones rather than chatting or laughing like in the old days pre cell phones and social media.
There is something bizzare about social media and the people we show ourselves to be. What you show is not who you always are. In fact the more we share the more we conceal. We become a kind of split personality like Jeckyl and Hyde. But in this case the persons ‘out there’ is always a nice person whereas in real life they may be raging monsters.
I must recount here the well known story of a cheating husband who was spied checking into a hotel with a lady. The wife got a call from her best friend to tell her what she had seen. The incensed wife called the husband who said he was stuck late in the office and was driving home in traffic. To which the wife calming said “You are driving? Okay, then blow the car horn”
This story would not have happened post the arrival of WhatsApp. The friend would have simply clicked a photograph and the rest would have followed…
I once asked on my Facebook post what happens to my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter once we die. Do we want to live on forever in cyberspace? Fear not about being ‘out there’ forever. You can control how long an images stays on social media. With apps like Snapchat the image can self destruct when your want it to and with Slingshot you can programme a one view only.
Social media has also edited the written word. Quite like the media has become, people see images with brief captions and skim to the next image. Is that why magazines such as People, Hello and OK are so popular? ‘Less words-More images’ seems to be editor’s new mantra. This runs very close to writing books. One of the rules is ‘Show. Don’t tell’. The big difference is that you are creating an image and ‘showing’ it via creative writing. Using a cliche in fashion, it seems as if Brief is the New Black. Keeping the image large and the prose short is another fallout of social media. Editors will often run a story with as little as three hundred words and let the images do the talking.
Another psychological trend is the need to ‘perform’ on social media. We are ‘performing’ for the net. It is akin to young men watching porn which makes them anxious and often frustrated that they cannot perform like pornstars.
One of my friends, acclaimed photographer Farrokh Chothia, put it very well when he said that if it is not ‘out there’, it did not happen.
And when it is out there, it is put out there because everyone should ‘like’ it. If a post is not ‘liked’ on Facebook or Instagram, it is like a non selling book with a publisher. It needs to pulped or ‘deleted’. People get frustrated and anxious when the ‘like’ barometer is low.
Which brings me to the three books that make it to bestsellers since 2012. 50 Shades of Grey which I threw at a girlfriend after page forty, who in turn threw it at her daughter after twenty pages, who binned it after page five. the next book was The Hunger Games which had a certain audience in large numbers. But it is the third book Gone Girl that needs scrutiny.
Gone Girl’s author Gillian Flynn had two crime novels out before Gone Girl: Dark Spaces and Sharp Objects. Gillian Flynn does not have an active social media life. She prefers to do the right thing and ‘focus on the writing’. We may not realise it but we can spend up to three hours a day on social media. The secret of Gone Girl from bestselling book to blockbuster film is the content. It got great reviews that sent it up the bestseller list. The publisher pressed all the right buttons from marketing, visibility to distribution. Social media then did the rest. From whispers, the chatter go so loud that it went viral. The internet, Facebook friends, Instagram posts and the twitterati sold the book to wondrous acclaim.
What is a writers most challenging task these days? Apart from the writing that engages reader to author, the writer must keep the audience engaged. It has become important to keep that audience alive not just by getting out the next book but also engaging the reader and audience via blog or video upload.
My friend Deepika Shetty who works for The Strait Times in Singapore wrote a book called Red Helmet. Not only did she single handedly make the book happen, she used social media and social networking to the hilt.
Is there a difference between social media and social networking? People tend to confuse one with the other. Social Media is when you are putting your matter out there…quite like news. You can do it via a blog, a video, an Instagram, on Youtube, a podcast, a newsletter or eBook. more about eBooks later? Social Networking on the other hand is how one networks and interacts. This is mainly on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
One can use social media and networking in many ways today. Despite the presence of Kindle, even a company like Amazon has a website called AuthorCentral.amazon.com. Authors (including first time writers)can go on line, seek help from professionals who will go through the entire process of publishing a book like an agent or a publisher will do. It does not stop there. Once the book is out, the site informs about sales, where the book is selling best and much more. AuthorCentral. Amazon.com has a long list of fawning, grateful writers since they launched.
A friend in Delhi, Pooja Pandey, did a children cartoon book using a system called PWYW. Basically one can download the book for free on this Pay What You Wish site. The site allows you to down load for a zero amount. Most people however pay an amount. This system was used by the music group RadioHead who did a song that went viral and created history thanks to PWYW.
With so much social media around, is there a threat to books? Noted author and friend Amitav Ghosh told me once that people may not buy books any more one day. That implies that Kindle might be the new bookshelf.
I beg to differ.
As long as we have people who prefer crisp cold cash instead of plastic, there will be people who prefer a crisply published book to reading on plastic.