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Malaysians are the most active users of Instagram in Asia-Pacific.

THERE was a recent survey that was reported that would not surprise many, myself included: Malaysians are the most active users of Instagram in Asia-Pacific, with a rather diverse and varied group of users — “Insta-Gran”, those aged 55 to 65 who have caught the Instagram fever.

I guess for many people, Instagram and many other applications, such as Pokemon Go, have become a part of our daily lives. It is a way of communicating, a way of bonding. Despite much condemnation against our virtual lives, it’s a phenomenon that is here to stay. As the saying goes: If you can’t fight them, join them. (But, with caution of an addiction, of course!)

Instagram, like many other social media outlets, has become a much loved media tool. There is no doubt that it has allowed small- and medium-sized enterprises to bloom (SMEs) and invited the avalanche of entrepreneurs out there — from selling clothes, to delivering food. But there’s no denying that it is a social tool that allows us to keep in touch with family and friends, if not keep updated with the latest gossip... and “stalking”. And yes, this “stalking” involves your mother or aunt accidentally double-clicking a photo from months ago, thinking it would zoom in. And that “stalking” is another term that is highly associated with Instagram in Malaysia too.

It goes without saying the danger social media poses: the over-sharing and the non-existent privacy. I guess there is a reason why Instagram has become a gossip tool for many Malaysians. This would also shine some light on the Malay saying menjaga tepi kain orang (minding other people’s business).

Despite recognising that it is a person’s personal choice to either make one’s Instagram or other social media outlets “private” or “public”, I disagree with the negative connotation associated with that, and instead, recognise and highlight the core intention of it: being caring.

I have realised that, especially at this age of going into my mid-twenties, the common topic among older relatives is always along the lines of “So, when are you getting married? The guy/girl in your Instagram photo is cute”, or even “Wah! This person’s daughter has grown up to be so pretty. You should ask her out!”

My friends and I, unfortunately, have not been immune to these questions. The normal reaction from people of my age group would be to laugh it away and be slightly alarmed at the attention paid to a photo we just scroll through without giving a second thought.

However, I have come to realise that normally, the mak cik, pak cik, aunts and uncles would supplement their comments with genuine advice from a sense of caring and viewing anyone else younger than them as their child needing advice. And, despite us millennials cringing at having to listen to yet another lecture, we should realise how much their words come from a place of tender love and care.

I think this too, in a way, is what social media does — connect two different generations where the “Insta-Grans” are allowed their youth and ability to speak the same language as their millenial children do. It has warmed my heart to see fathers and daughters bond over their Pokemon adventures. It warms my heart further to watch them being able to take walks in parks catching Pokemon.

It is safe to say that despite the negative side of it, social media does play a role in bettering the community. But it is important that we keep tabs and be conscious of the risks that come with such a life publicly exposed, such as kidnapping threats or our own mental health in chasing after virtual fame or stamp of approval from nothing but another’s social media account, with the number of followers and likes.

I suppose one thing that I have learnt from this would be how Malaysians are intuitively caring people. You hear stories about Pokemon soft toy seller Uncle David in Damansara Uptown, Kuala Lumpur, and it warms my heart to know of peers who went in droves to alleviate the pains of a man. And it was all thanks to social media.

I have come to a realisation about how people genuinely care about others. I have attended and discovered “Homeless Feedings” through Facebook.

Tales of kampung life, where one sits on the veranda and asks passers-by of their day, playing the menyibuk (busybody) card and asking them about their recent purchases in the plastic bags that they hold or why they are walking home so late after working hours. As people move from the rural areas into the urban jungle where leisure time is a luxury, we have turned to social media to keep that spirit and culture alive.

And maybe this is what makes us Malaysian: menjaga tepi kain orang.

The writer, a granddaughter of first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, has returned from abroad armed with a Law degree and a passion to make sense of Malaysia, its culture and heritage

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