The surest sign that Nepal has already become an online society is the spreading practice of ‘digital detox’, where addicted users completely abandon connected devices, or at least take steps to drastically limit their online time.
When checking, then rechecking, devices becomes such a daily distraction that it starts to disrupt our work, sleep or relationships, it is time to take a step back and evaluate the benefit of clicking yet another link to reveal the umpteenth bit of information for the day and ask: ‘Is it really necessary?’
To be sure, there are many benefits also of the digital world for Nepal. The internet has democratised information flow, levelled the playing field, and in many cases turned citizens into actors and content providers themselves. #occupywallstreet morphed into #occupybaluwatar and the #Metoo movement encouraged long suppressed revelations about sexual assault in Nepal.
Whether we see growing digitalisation as positive or negative, one thing is sure: it is both, and Nepal will be even more digitised in the coming decades. A recent survey showed that 90% of Nepalis now own mobile devices, with half of them producing smartphones when asked, 95% of households have mobile phones for an average 2.5 devices per home, 88% of us use Facebook frequently, and a whopping 8.5 million Nepalis are on the platform today. 45% are on messenger, 35% use IMO for instant messaging and 34% are regularly on YouTube.
So, you want to quit Facebook?, Reeti KC
Nepal’s new digital landscape, Sonia Awale
The Message is the Medium, Editorial
These trends already have a major impact on where Nepalis get their information, what information they believe, and how that affects the trust between individuals and the institutions at the heart of a democratic society, including media and government.
The survey found most Nepalis still consider mainstream media as generally reliable, as opposed to information on the Net, which very few believed. But as recent cases of Rabi Lamichhane, protests against heritage destruction, violence against women and corruption have shown: social media content is now driving mainstream media coverage. It is setting the agenda, and with it the potential for manipulation is growing.
The Nepali Net is affecting politics because the young middle-class is now wired. Half of Nepal’s population is under 21, and this networked youth bulge will have huge political implications in the 2022 general election. Where new voters get their information, how they get it and what kind of information it is, will determine who rules Nepal and how in future. If the information is correct and credible, exposes wrongdoing, is fair to all concerned, and lets voters make up their own minds, the New Media will strengthen Nepal’s fragile democracy.
If not, expect to hear more cries of ‘fake news’ and the growth of a digital media landscape that is likely to fuel the ‘digital detox’ trend.
Nepalis are drifting to digital media, Madhu Acharya and Bhumiraj Chapagain
Nepal’s changing media landscape, Sharecast Initiative
New news, Editorial