Shaping narratives in Digital Age


The contemporary world is unprecedentedly overwhelmed by technological explosion, hedonism, consumerism, and materialism. The digitization of the world concomitant with the rapid dissemination of information has rendered the role of media indispensable to determine the fate of nations. In this context, the narrative building is the core of modern communication strategies whether this communication is intended for businesses, politics, diplomacy, or any other area, the goal is to have a profound impact upon people. In contemporary times, the battle of narrative has become the bedrock of the international socio-political arena by shaping the opinions and influencing the outcomes, and media particularly social media have become important tools of fighting this contemporary battle of narratives.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is casting vigorous impact upon every sector and industry, including the media industry. First Industrial Revolution brought mechanical innovations, the Second Industrial Revolution brought Mass Production, Third Industrial Revolution brought mainframe computers and the internet, and today, radical system-wide innovation can happen in only a few years. The interplay between fields like nanotechnology, brain research, 3D printing, mobile networks, and computing will create previously unthinkable realities and access to technology will become easy.

The transition from the 3rd to 4th Industrial Revolution had already started in the late 2020s and we can experience the impact of this development. Production and consumption patterns of content have been radically changed and it’s entirely different now to influence individuals and societies. Innovation and productivity are changing the meaning of everything, the economy is shifting from physical to digital, and agile governance is the future that we need to embrace. AI-enabled newsrooms will allow reporters to engage in more complex and qualitative work in this new emerging ecosystem and creativity will become the currency of respect.

Media plays a key and leading role in creating narratives but the control of narratives or even its management is a redundant practice now against the backdrop of emerging technologies concomitant with virtual and augmented reality. Time is the chief resource in the contemporary era to understand consumption and perception behaviors. A digital ecosystem is blurring the line between our physical existence and environment and this paves the way towards innovation. As technology changes, so do our meaning of being, self, and consciousness. The perception of an individual in the age of creativity or era of information depends upon his sense of identity and perception about self which helps him form a worldview of happenings around him. Unilaterally attacking or single-handedly discussing and curbing narratives is self-defeating because the environment today is highly complex and to understand the emerging dynamics, journalism has to be understood by the new frame of reference.

It is pertinent to mention that Social Media is the Mass Communication Medium in the emerging digital ecosystem. Social media is the “new power” medium for news engagement, generation, dissemination, and consumption. Social media isn’t slowing down, what’s trending right now, will be yesterday’s news before you know it. Building narratives based on trending events is the wrong approach as trending items have already made their impact, hence the right approach is to find alternative narratives with the propensity to go viral. Traditional news media is lagging social media by half a day because every individual on the internet is engaging in the news-making process now.

However, Media is not the only player in building narratives because there are certain organizations or groups which have certain agendas and tend to influence decision-makers. Though media is a prominent player in building narratives it’s not the only one as academia, authors, foreign-funded NGOs, and lobbying groups also contribute and distort narratives and overwhelmingly influence opinion makers. The government and various political forces operating in the country are also responsible for the chaotic media landscape because it illustrates that they are being unable to handle the complexities posed by the fast-evolving media landscape.

Technology also shapes the idea of freedom of expression and it’s the responsibility of every individual in the information age to push the boundaries to get to know about the limits of free speech. The present system lacks the creativity to understand and comprehend these changing dynamics. There is no long-term approach and hence it’s convenient to target and malign the narrative, instead of understanding that it’s impossible to monopolize the narrative or human sentiment can`t be controlled.

Moreover, the astronomical potential of media in building narratives is rarely used for national causes and productive broader objectives. It’s very rare when the entire media apparatus is mobilized for the national cause such as happened in a rare case of APS media coverage. But, a small organized group of social users can make a significant. For instance, the recent saga of A-Levels and O-levels exams whereby the Federal government decided to conduct exams under strict SOPs but aggressive activism by the liberal elite forced the government to postpone exams.

In a world ripe with attention span dilemma because attention span in the contemporary era has reduced to 8 seconds, there should be deliberation upon micro-narratives or stackable narratives, instead of focusing upon macro-narratives. The present narrative a state wants to project must be congruent with the future story a state decides to project. Pakistan`s Statistical Board has ample data at its disposal which needs to be utilized in our journalism like The Guardian launched its Data Blog with an ultimate goal to share data and visualizations to the general public. The New York Times also launched ‘The Upshot’ with the ultimate goal of helping readers better navigate the news using data, graphics, and technology.

Since media can make and break the image of a state so its role in ameliorating the challenges faced by a country is very important. In the evolving media landscape of Pakistan, conventional journalists are moving towards digital platforms, against this backdrop, the novel concept of digital diplomacy is very relevant and interlinked to these fluctuating dynamics. Government and media organizations have to be cogently connected to weather existing challenges through a mutually agreed roadmap. The digital journalists should act as digital ambassadors of Pakistan to project a positive narrative of Pakistan while the politicization of media needs to be circumvented.

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