The most interesting conversations in Nepal take place at the ubiquitous tea outlets. With their tongues set loose by caffeine, people candidly hold forth on life and love. They then invariably jump into politics. These days, fancier tea joints have opened up, but their essence remains the same: to stimulate conversations.
After the pandemic forced the county and essentially the entire world indoors, these conversations have found a new home: the social media app Clubhouse. I am no expert on this new platform and I have only spent a little time on it. But even so, I am impressed.
I was mostly interested in political conversations, and mighty interesting ones were happening in Clubhouse. Yes, things heated up sometimes, for instance during the discussion on if federalism has served Nepal well. But I was pleasantly surprised by the level of knowledge of most participants, the vast majority of them in their 20s and 30s. They seemed to get the nitty-gritty of contemporary Nepali politics and had a good grasp of history too. (There were also a few idiots. But these days which public platform, online or off, is without them?)
Discussions ranged from dissecting the constitutionality of PM Oli’s recent moves to the prospect of Chure’s exploitation to links between our education system and development to being responsible citizens. These were no amateur conversations.
Healthy argumentation is the heart and soul of democracy. Even in India, the central government has clamped down on social media platforms and messaging apps for circulating anti-government news and views. There have been similar attempts in Nepal, but with much less success. Going by all that I have heard over Clubhouse over the past few weeks, there is no need to regulate it.
Social media platforms are often blamed—and rightly—for creating echo chambers. Increasingly, we see and hear what only we want, and filter out opposing voices. But that is only a part of the picture. Without social media outlets like Clubhouse to bond over and converse in these times of forced isolation, it would be hard to imagine the state of our mental health, which has already taken a pummeling during the pandemic.
The youngsters on Clubhouse were worried about their country. But they also sought innovative solutions. For instance, in one conversation, a speaker wanted coders to develop an app that would allow small businesses and farmers to directly sell to customers by bypassing middlemen. There were other rooms on coping with the mental health challenges from Covid-19.
Clubhouse is sparking the vital political and social debates that the pandemic had made impossible. It is also turning out to be the perfect platform for the articulation of youth voice.
Our major political parties have failed to inspire the young generation to embrace politics. The youths are fed up with the old jargon our leaders routinely spout. This tech-savvy generation wants results and thanks to new social media platforms like Clubhouse they are more articulate than ever before. And they don’t just talk. Many of them are also walking their online talk.