“IF IT’S NOT ONLINE, DID IT REALLY HAPPEN?” AN INTERVIEW WITH SHAMI SIVASUBRAMANIAN

SHAMI SIVASUBRAMANIAN

Photographed by Abril Felman

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If you’ve ever seen any of those articles on Buzzfeed, then you’ve probably heard of Shami Sivasubramanian. Similarly, if you’ve ever read about the Women’s March, Elizabeth Warren’s political endeavours, or Trump’s presidency, then you might have seen her work with SBS.

When Shami was a little girl, she dreamt of being an astronaut. “I wanted to recreate the Northern Hemisphere’s stars in my bedroom. I had all the little constellation stickers, but my mum wouldn’t let me stick them on the roof because it would devalue the price of the house”, she recounts, laughing. From the very beginning, Shami was filled with an insatiable need to explore; a sense of wonderment that pushed her to know more.

Fast forward 10 or so years, and Shami is doing a Bachelor of Economics and an accounting cadetship straight out of high school. From astronomy to economics, her path was always destined to take her in unusual directions.

“After I left the cadetship, I said to myself, ‘I’m really going to take student life on board.’” Shami ended up being a part of the Sydney University Drama Society, writing for Honi Soit and The Bull, and hosting a segment on SURG radio station.

“That’s the beauty of Sydney Uni. You can be a random outsider and people will still actually listen to you, and then you become a part of the crew. Even if you have zero experience, you’re still let in.”

In hosting her own radio show, Shami discovered her passion. “I realised that I really enjoyed telling stories. I enjoyed going beneath the surface.” And so began Shami’s foray into the world of entertainment and investigative journalism.

These days, she’s a Social News Reporter and Multimedia Producer for SBS. “I create news-adjacent stories for online consumption. So, say you have a story on the Syrian refugee crisis. Straight reporting will cover what’s happening. I look at it from an investigative or reactive perspective.”

Of course, her time at Buzzfeed has taught Shami how to present heavy news in an engaging and digestible way. “I think it’s a skill that’s really necessary in an age where people have a short attention span; where people are afraid, and a bit disenchanted with the world of politics and news.”

Being heavily involved in the world of social media gives Shami a unique insight and perspective on the subject. “For me, the most interesting thing is that it gives life to a lot of dying forms of media. Social media is a new broadcast platform. It’s a new reading platform. It’s bringing life to TV and movies in a new way. For me, that’s the most exciting part.”

That said, she’s also aware of the inherent dangers. “It’s noisy out there. That means that a message can be lost, or it can be misinterpreted (which I think is a lot worse). As much as people say social media is the real world, it’s not. It’s just an idea of what the real world is. And that idea can be used for good or for evil.”

One particularly influential concept is that of FOMO (fear of missing out). “You see people with perfect grades, perfect hair, perfect everything, and it can be alarming for a young person. I don’t think kids are blind to the idea that everything is doctored and edited. But despite this, they’re still affected.”

Those of us who didn’t have social media as teens might consider ourselves lucky. There are (hopefully) no embarrassing chronicles of our foolish and youthful endeavours, forever recorded for the world to see. “I’m grateful that I didn’t have that in my day. We probably had the tools to do it, but we didn’t have the pressure.”

“I’ve had people say to me, ‘If it’s not on Snapchat or Facebook, is it real? Is it happening?” It’s similar to the concept of a tree falling in the woods. If no one is around to witness it, has it really happened? By posting our experiences on social media, we can say, ‘I was there.’”

It might seem trivial, but in today’s technologically advanced society, the idea of FOMO is so much more than feeling like you’re missing out on social dates or events. “You’re always questioning things,” explains Shami. “You think that maybe your friends have this Facebook profile and their photos are lit in this particular way, and that’s why they’re getting the jobs that you’re not getting. They’re making these kinds of friends in those chat groups, and that’s why they’re getting those promotions.”

“It’s not as simple or superficial as feeling like your friends are hanging out without you. It’s the idea that because you haven’t engaged in that behaviour, you could be missing out on bigger opportunities that could truly affect your life.”

Social media might just be an idea of the real world, but if (in the words of Victor Hugo) “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come”, what does this mean for us? I guess, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Shami will be sharing her views on social media as part of the University of Sydney’s Outside the Square series. Is This Working? How to be Connected: Social Media and its Discontents will be held on 22nd June 2017 at The Old Rum Store, Chippendale Creative Precinct.

Shami Sivasubramanian is a graduate of The University of Sydney (BEc, 2012).

Article by Theodora Chan (BA, MECO 2010; BA, HONS 2012), Co-Founder and Content Director at Pen and Pixel.