THERE is this peculiar acronym that I stumbled upon in a WhatsApp discussion recently. A member of this group kept saying “TMI”. I did not understand what it was, so I looked it up on the Internet.
It appears “TMI” stands for “too much information”. It is a funny expression of distaste when someone shares unpleasant information about things that he shouldn’t, such as personal habits, lewd or graphic photos, unverified news or even dysfunctional personal relationships and medical conditions.
When someone shares unpleasant information, the only polite way to tell the oversharing person to stop is to say “TMI” with an exclamation mark. The “TMI” expression, like many other Internet expressions, is part of online conversation culture.
But wait, average Malaysians love these. They love graphic photos and videos of bodies mangled in fatal accidents or they love reading unverified news that could sow hatred and break the country into social unrest. Average Malaysians are eager to catch the latest gossip on what happened to this politician or that female artiste who is in a dysfunctional relationship.
Let me list some common issues that have appeared in online discussion groups that have cluttered our devices and invaded our personal spaces.
Firstly, there is the invitation-cum-inclusion into a group started by someone who wants our say in a discussion and who thinks we might have the same interests. There are myriad groups, from religious-thoughts sharing groups to residents associations and alumni, from politics to people suffering the same illness.
It irks when you are added to a group you don’t really want to be in or are uninterested in. A friend shook his head in disbelief when he was added to a primary school WhatsApp group. “Alaahai,” he lamented. “That was 50 years ago!”
The men and women in the group shared old school photos and their current photos.
“I bet everyone won’t be able to recognise the faces if they come across each other on the street,” he quipped.
Besides this, I know a person who takes part in 20 discussion groups, raising the suspicion of his spouse, who thinks he is fooling around with several women, all at one time.
The second group comprises the ustaz, ustazah jadi-jadian (unqualified religious teachers) who pen their thoughts without substantiating their claims with valid Quranic verses and Hadith.
Sometimes, when two group members are at loggerheads over what has been written, say on Islamic jurisprudence, the discussion would be inundated with comments from others as well, so much so that it might get blown out of proportion. Then video recordings and writings of certain ustaz would be added to substantiate their arguments. The funny thing is that the war of words could last for days or at least the whole night while they idle on their smartphones, sit on their couch while drinking coffee and watching TV. In the end, one of them would leave the group in anger.
Then there is the habit of sharing unverified news. We often come across news about the death of a public personality, with his face becoming the centre of attention for a few hours while the man himself is alive and kicking, eating roti canai at some mamak stall! A relative had to do damage control by uploading the photo of the man, smiling away and showing a thumbs up.
Then there is unverified news about racial clashes in some part of the country that consequently lead to racial slurs and innuendoes in the discussion. I do not wish to dwell on this, but innuendoes on social media can hurt people and society.
In any society, I believe that in times of tribulation, there is a need to check and double-check news that could cause chaos. In Islam, verifying news is required according to syariah because the Almighty commands us so. “O you who believe! If a faasiq (liar or evil person) comes to you with any news, verify it, lest you should harm people in ignorance, and afterwards you become regretful for what you have done.” (al-Hujuraat 49:6)
Next is a group I call “unqualified doctors” who give advice on libido. Men usually get a lot of posts on this. From ubat kuat (libido boosters) to drinking liquid from soaked lady’s fingers for double magical effects, both to fight diabetes and increase the amount and thickness of semen — you’ve probably heard them all. How do men benefit from thicker semen, if I may ask for the sake of curiosity? You might have also read about the effects of Tongkat Ali or Gambir Sarawak or the ridiculously derogatory Buah Kote Mamak on men over and over again. This is why women are bewildered with men who seem to have an obsession with these libido-boosting aphrodisiacs.
Finally, we have these little irritations from well-wishers early in the morning. Not content with the typical wishes of Assalamualaikum or “Good Morning” that come in scores, we also get photos of flowers and sunrises with the messages. Ironically, we would suffer frozen fingers, or “text claw” as it is called, deleting these messages that come in the hundreds by the end of the day. So much for good morning!
Next time, if you want to politely tell your friends in discussion groups to stop sending irrelevant postings, type “TMI”. You can also mute the conversation for a time when nonsense invades the group, or you can just leave the group. But that would leave your friends wondering why and they’ll insist on knowing why.
C’est la vie.
The writer is a former NST journalist, now a film scriptwriter whose penchant is finding new food haunts in the country