Oct 07, 2015

    Real life takes a backseat on the Net

    IN DECEMBER 2012, a clip was posted on YouTube showing a golden eagle swooping down on a family in a park and snatching a toddler. It caused a wave of concern among parents, even though they didn't know where the footage was taken.

    Others were simply horrified: What if the eagle had successfully flown off with the toddler rather than dropping its prey?

    The clip grabbed the world's attention and drew millions of hits on YouTube alone.

    In stark contrast, the videos uploaded by the United Nations featuring the world's most powerful people talking about life-and-death policies concerning violence in Syria, the refugee crisis and global warming have drawn fewer than 100,000 views each.

    Even with Twitter and Facebook, Ban Ki Moon's messages reach a tiny fraction of the world's population. Which is sad when you consider that he is the global leader best placed to broadcast news of the challenges humanity is facing, including endless violence and climate change.

    Here are my two of my favourite quotes from Mr Ban:

    "The global humanitarian system is not broken; it is broke," he said, during a plea for more international humanitarian assistance.

    "Why is it easier to find the money to destroy people and (the) planet than it is to protect them?"


    I assume that most people today are so deep in the rut of their busy personal lives that they use the Internet - accessible from anywhere and any time - as a tool to entertain themselves and peek into the lives of others.

    That was how they fell in love with a girl who called herself Debbie. In June 2011, a YouTube clip of Debbie weeping as she described her passion for cats and her desire for a date went viral.

    According to Wikipedia, the five most-viewed YouTube clips are all entertainment videos - top is Psy's Gangnam Style with 2.4 billion hits, followed by those of Justin Bieber and Ludacris (1.2 billion), Taylor Swift (1.17 billion) and Katy Perry (1.1 billion).

    The latest evidence for a trend away from television to Internet viewing comes in a recent survey by Nielsen, which showed that about 2.6 million of United States households are now "broadband only". Though that figure still only represents 2.8 per cent of households, it has almost tripled from the 1.1 per cent of last year.

    The survey also showed that US viewers spent an average 12 minutes less watching TV than a year ago.

    Meanwhile, Thais spend an average 2.6 hours a day online via mobile devices and 90 minutes hours via personal computers, according to a recent survey by marketing insight company TNS. It also found that Thais watch a daily average 2.3 hours of conventional TV but spend less than five minutes reading newspapers or magazines.


    This trend away from traditional media is being fuelled in part by online platforms that give people the ability to showcase their personal lives.

    The viewers seldom care whether such clips are fake or real.

    Take the eagle video, for instance: Even after a university in Canada quickly unmasked it as a hoax, it went viral. The visual-effects students, looking for 100,000 views for an A+ grade, must be thrilled with 3.5 million hits so far received.

    Meanwhile, the Debbie video has over 30 million views and climbing despite its star having confessed it's a fake. The success has encouraged her to switch careers and become a comedian. YouTube reportedly awarded her a portion of the advertising fees made from the popularity of her video.

    Few viewers care to check whether what they see online is fake or real before sharing it with friends. This in turn only encourages fame-hungry netizens to concoct stuff that will gain them attention.

    The show Caught On Camera recently featured a video in which staff of a TV channel faked an accident that destroyed a "valuable sculpture". The sculptor - also a fake - was furious, as the unknowing producer looked on in disbelief.

    "I didn't think a lot about putting the TV station on the line," said the prankster. "I don't take myself seriously. People loved it."

    A world in which people watch passively, seldom read and hardly bother to check facts is a world that will inevitably descend into an echo chamber of confusion.

    And while many viewers do remain sceptical, choosing to verify Internet "reality" via TV, radio and newspapers, how much of this traditional media will survive in, say, 10 years from now?

    We certainly can't believe everything we see on the Internet, yet in 10 years' time, who will be there to verify whether what you are watching is fake or real?