Social media is the hottest hippest thing in Pakistan these days, where every politician wants to twitter with their masses of voters and every social or anti social man, woman or otherwise has to have a face book account. It is so cool these days that every self respecting journalist is lining up to have their own blog or constantly emailing their editor to please open a blogging portal for the (insert your fave) media house they work for.
However in all this hoopla people have forgotten that even thought blogging is and will remain an important part of social media, things have moved on a far step from the days where the only way to get involved or to be heard was to blog. There are multiple and varied means of communication available in the social media profile these days and they are not being used to their fullest by anyone as they are as yet new and untried.
Also to note is a great fallacy about social media in circulation on these shores as the destroyer of anti social err main stream media. That is how radio was compared to TV when it first came out and we all know what happened, radio is still around, it just had to shift a gear or two to remain in the public perspective.Â Hence social media will not be replacing main stream media but presenting an alternate info source for those inclined towards it. In fact i personally feel that the revolution to be brought about is certainly not going to happen from face book or twitter or blogs but rather through something known as pod casting.
Pod casting or net casting for the people who do not think Steve jobs is god is the distribution form of a video blog to be downloaded and viewed later on the consumer’s I pod, mobile phone or computer of convenience. The reason for calling it pod casting lies in the fact that the Itunes/Apple online store has the biggest podcast directory in existence. Think of pod casts as personal shows produced by ordinary people who want to interact with you the viewer in a more fun way then the usual reading/commenting bit. These days one can subscribe to any number of pod casts from Itunes and other podcast directories on the Internet and once that is done and in effect, the whole process of switching on the telly and flipping through umpteen minutes of boredom to get something relevant starts to look pretty sad.
The first steps in this direction to my knowledge from Pakistan were taken by Rabia Garib and the CIO Pakistan team who have 5-6 very viable tech pod casts running from their website, as well as the recently introduced bandwidth TV which is an alternate viewing channel for tech industry updates and will hopefully encompass their entire viewable content in the near future.
To me however the whole idea of pod casting as a blogger under a corporate umbrella takes away from the very alternate nature of its creation. Pod casting is all about freedom of expression and the voice of the people which were the two motives for me and a fellow blogger Dr Awab Alvi to start an online web cast of our own. Funnily enough even although we are part of the whole social media circle in Pakistan we had no idea of how to start. We did anyways and tweeted to our audience to help us right from the name of the show and boy did they ever!! Since then “The Laidback show” has done 16 episodes and encompassed topics from politics to social issues to religion and now even has its own tech segment. We have had guests from bloggers to news anchors to hunters to underground musicians and are even now trying to stay on the back of this monster as it lurches forward into the unknown. In fact it is the first podcast from Pakistan to be syndicated on itunes so far and is available on it for free subscription.
Now before my readers start thinking this whole piece is a plug for my show let me explain why I mentioned it. Its because people out there seem to think “pod casting” or “net casting” requires a large audience and major equipment or a studio environment! Well it needs nothing, except for something to record it on, a flip camera. a mobile phone or a handy cam and a computer to upload it onto the net. Its totally free to host and like blogging it can help not just in venting but showing a side of our country unknown to those out there who think we are all about beards and bombs. Its a chance to be someone, its an option to help bring about change and it provides a viable and fun filled source of info for viewers out there who are sick of the mainstream jingoism prevalent in this country.
The next question to analyze is whether it will work. Well it has up till now, we have gotten sponsorships from corporates as well as input from our viewers and response that is frankly unbelievable. There are other people starting up also, I know Sami shah the comedian has a podcast as well as Abid Beli by the name of Greenbaba. There are also serious marketing reasons behind this response I speak off and they are already out there for us to see in the mainstream. Every house in Pakistan may not be able to read blogs everyday but they all watch TV and they all have mobile phones, and with the advent of faster GPRS in Pakistan at such affordable rates its not going to take that long before someone puts “watch” and “phone” together and the new alternative medium enters our lives in a big way. Plus as mentioned earlier pod casts are on demand, its TV in your pocket, its choice and an interaction we want.
When that happens, then we will see real citizen journalism and people power in action and there will be no stopping it. For now I am just happy to be one of those who can dream about that future and that freedom. The freedom to stop being negative and highlighting our countries weaknesses, to stand up and show the world that yes we are from Pakistan and we are proud of it!!
As published in “The Friday Times” on 5th March 2010