Social anthropologist Evia Hovhannisyan considers living in the conditions of informational abundance as the “new normal,” which prompted us and forced the global epidemic on us.
She likens life to a conventional forest with a variety of plants, shrubs and flowers. After all, society is diverse and contrasting. And if the field (also informative) remains neglected and empty, various conspiracy theories and misinformation begin to grow.
Evia Hovhannisyan is the program coordinator of the Heinrich Boell Foundation’s youth office. She believes that the media products that are now in demand are research-based analytical series.
The epidemic made us careful and suspicious. To constantly check the news, search for conspiracies, fraud, unmask them, and then search for new sources of suspicion. Is that the “new normal?”
It is natural that during crises and disasters, when the world finds itself in a difficult situation, extremely different information flows are formed, which try to capture and understand what is happening. And there are always conspiracies, distortions in those streams, which are used by different forces.
The same thing is happening in the current epidemic. I think nothing extraordinary is happening.
Of course, it is a very difficult situation psychologically, no one imagined that in 2020, maybe in 2021 we will live half-isolated and in masks. That is, constantly under the threat of infection (I had isolated myself in the office for a week, I did not go home because I suspected I was infected). However, such fears can be endless, and after interacting with different people, we cannot constantly run to take the test.
Therefore, no matter how tense and cautious you are, you will at some point come to terms with this new reality.
I think the new thing is that self-isolation is also a responsibility because you feel that you can be a source of infection, you do not want that to happen. Even putting on a mask has become an integral and organic part of everyday life, without which you seem to be naked. The medical mask has become a common component of our everyday clothes, it has steadily entered our list of household purchases.
In addition, we are all in a new normal when it comes to life or work planning.
We are naked and defenseless in front of the news. Is there a requirement to wear a mask in a figurative sense that will filter the media?
Of course, there is always a need to filter. But to be honest, there is a feeling that there is so much information flow now that we just don’t have time to analyze it on our own.
It seems that everything has been said, analyzed, prepared, written for us, we just have to be able to communicate, work with that knowledge. That’s complicated.
I had the same feeling during the 2018 revolution when it seemed that the abundance of information was already tiring. In 2018, I decided to go to the regions to see the lives of people who were not directly involved in the rallies in the capital. It was a very interesting experience.
I think the situation is similar now. The abundance of information forces people to use the products provided by the media while learning to filter the news and somehow distinguish between right and wrong (of course, from an individual point of view).
Interestingly, during the revolution, women (even the elderly) tried to quickly learn all the technical tricks to be able to use social networks and get new information. At the time, I was doing research to find out about the involvement of women in rural communities.
And it became clear that hence social media changes our approach to life, it educates and allows us to live with enormous information.
Manipulations have always been and will always be. We all create a medium reality for ourselves, with which we can live and … not go crazy.
And what kind of information might be needed today?
Probably an analytical series based on research. Now the situation is such that conspiracy theories are created around and based on mistakes made by the state. And this is not only an Armenian but also a global trend.
In other words, when the ruling power makes a mistake, an open space or a black hole is formed, which is immediately filled with conspiracy theories and rumors.
And there are always those who become users of it.
It turns out that the discussion areas should not be left unattended. They will seize it. But often the explanations are late and whatever weed you can think of grows on the soil of information. For example, the property tax law brought with it a strange assertion that “natives” were right.
I think one of the problems is the incomplete communication between the executive, legislative and administrative circles, or even the lack of communication.
It is often unclear which body should respond and at what point. We saw the same thing when trying to control information flows on the coronavirus or when trying to organize anti-virus measures.
That’s what happened with the property tax law. They seem to be trying to come up with a law that should replace the law of the 1990s, but the public’s information preparation about it is incomplete.
Any statement, most notably a bill, must be based on at least minimal research. And the same requirement should have been applied to the property tax law.
In fact, talking about the “natives” blurred all the other questions that exist around that level. For example, will this new law not harm refugees living in dormitories who have moved from Azerbaijan for 30 years, Syrian-Armenians who have immigrated to Armenia, and other people living in insecure conditions?
In other words, no one discusses these issues, and for some reason, issues that are very manipulative, stereotypical and absolutely unnecessary come to the fore.
Recently we learned a very interesting fact. We studied what kind of trees there are in Yerevan, and it became clear that many species of trees, such as mulberries, pine trees, etc., were specially planted in the center of Yerevan for landscaping. Even the trees are not native.
And by and large, it turns out that there are no natives in Yerevan, starting with the plants.
By “native” they mean more in the context that it is an elite class. And if we dig a little deeper into the story, we will see that these are the ideas of the nomenclature elite living in the center of the Soviet era. The elite had access to the best schools, kindergartens, shops, and other services that those living in the suburbs or villages lacked.
Naturally, this is how the “cell” was formed, which now allows itself to speak from its own high positions (we are natives, you are not).
Social stratification is manifested differently on social media.
Social networks have made us all more or less equal, there are no central and peripheral users. Everyone is on the same platform, talking to each other as they can and as they want. They choose the group they want to discuss something with, and they do it.
So the design of the “natives” is dismantled by the logic of social networks.
For many years, the opposite selection has taken place, for example, in positions that have been appointed without reflection, just people who perform and obey. Maybe that’s why we use the gene, the root, not the idea of growth.
Our society is very multi-layered, polymorphic, we all have different opinions about the same phenomenon.
The example of the disappearing Firdus district shows this very well. Some say that architecture is a business, that’s good, others say that old buildings should be demolished and replaced with something “good.” And finally, many want to preserve not only those historic buildings but also the breath of the city, the overcrowded city.
No matter how hard we try to make society homogeneous, we will not succeed. An abstract portrait will soon emerge. And that’s what makes it interesting.
In fact, it has always been the case that the Soviet Union tried to create a “homo sevetic,” but it did not succeed.
Soviet equality was artificial, which immediately disappeared. I guess the things that are durable (plants, people, public relations, memories) are what will occupy a place in a diverse forest.
This variety grows well during the epidemic. And although many, including the representatives of the ruling power, say that the society is to blame for the non-observance of quarantine, thus attributing the same behavior, way of thinking and label to the whole society, in reality this approach is not justified, because it is not true.
Someone believes in quarantine measures, someone does not believe, someone believes deep down, but does not show it because their environment demands it.
It is always like that. When you refer to the general, the identical, you blur the essence of the problem.
Interview by Nune Hakhverdyan