Friday, December 4, 2009

When you have ‘nothing’ to do, do it on social media

A hacker attack briefly shut down Twitter yesterday. Millions of twitterers were forced to talk to each other the old fashioned way - through Facebook!

We all agree that social media is a wonderful invention of the 21st century which helps us to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances. If you don’t agree or you don’t have a profile on at least one social networking site, I would strongly recommend that you go back to the 20th century, where you belong. If Shakespeare was still around, he might have remarked 't
witterers never quill, and quillers never tweet!'

I am an avid social networking user. However, I have to confess that it has been a love-hate relationship, though mostly it has been love. Despite its obvious advantages and even if one doesn’t misuse it (i.e. where one doesn’t use it as a ‘chat and cheat’ tool), social networking is not without disadvantages. Few years back, when I met family and friends after a long time their complaint used to be that I didn’t write. Nowadays, the complaint seems to be that I didn’t write, I didn’t call, I didn’t fax, I didn’t email, I didn’t page, I didn’t text, I didn’t blog, I didn’t scrap, I didn’t tweet…….

I like staying in touch with friends. I would like to know about their whereabouts and updates. But do I really need to know that Sanjay is enjoying his ravioli, or that Sarah’s flight has again been delayed, or that Tina is feeling sleepy during her meeting? I don’t think I do. Nor do I like navigating the minefield of postings about picnics and parties, or worse, Farmville, Fortune Cookies and Quizes.

Secondly, there is the uneasy feeling about being
at the epicenter of ALL the friends and acquaintances of my ENTIRE life AT ONCE. They may no longer be the people I knew, and I, certainly, am not the person I was even two years back. I worry if I will be able to ‘effectively’ communicate through my updates without offending anybody or making them feel as if I am a stranger.

Imagine my situation where I have all of the following and more on my contacts - three of my old girl friends, my school mate who knows that I once cheated on my test, another school mate who knows the teachers and girls on whom I had crush, a college mate who knows that I was the one who wrote the love letter which was blamed on another college mate, a neighbor who saw me peep at the bedroom of the beautiful girl who lived across my house, a fellow intern who knows that I once cheated on a travel claim, a colleague whom I backstabbed during my previous job, etc. To add to the complexity, it also has my current friends who think I am decent guy, my current colleagues who think I am a good colleague, my current boss who thinks I am an okay employee, my (current?) wife who thinks I am a not-so-okay husband. Above all it has a certain set of people who look upto to me (such people do exist, atleast in my imagination).

And so, how do I communicate to ALL of them at the SAME time? I come up with one-liners and (not-so-)wise-cracks that is so impersonal that they will never know the ‘real’ me! I am getting accustomed to such impudent social behavior. Because I don’t want to land in this kind of situation. If what I write on my blogs and social networks can be used as evidence, my wife would divorce me, my employer would sack me, my neighbour would sue me and my friends would leave me. But thankfully there is no handwriting detection on the net as anybody can write in Arial 10 font!

The other mistake people do is being injudicious about the folks they add to their contacts and add anybody who invites them. They seem to have more school mates on their Facebook than they ever had in school! I just hope they are comfortable sharing their personal moments with these strangers. I am not. I add only people whom I have met or atleast know very well. Despite that, I have 200+ contacts. Can you imagine how many hours it would take to just do the “hello, how are you doing?” bit with everyone!

Thirdly, there’s the whole voyeurism issue. I always believed that if someone followed me, I should be worried. Now because of ‘tagging’ there are thousands of people, albeit friendly, who have access to places I have been and people I know. And worry about it, I cannot, because that is the cost of virtual existence.

The other unique problem that I have is that if I secretly meet somebody (why, because I am a married man, you see), the person immediately puts up an update with a photograph disclosing the meeting. Hence, I have stopped dating women with Facebook profiles! Also if I conduct a party and invite a few friends over, as per my estimation, the chance of it hitting the net the SAME day is 82.34%, for the entire majority who were NOT invited to see.

Above all, the biggest drawback with social networking is that it deprives a person of the much more valuable ‘real life experiences’. More often than not, people who are active on social networking sites, do not have many ‘real’ friends. Soon we will need to set up social networking rehab centers, like where Bill Zucker was taken. But one also have to admit that it is not a new demon in the house – television has had its share in making humans less social and sociable.

However, as I said I have more love than hate for social networking. I have found and interacted with people in a way that I never imagined possible. In the older days, you really had to DO something to be social - helping your friends, baby-sitting the neighbour’s child, giving a poor guy something to eat, and other terrible selfless things. Nowadays, you just have to tweet every few hours via your cellphone and you are done!

And I just love the way it works; instant karma at its very best. Don't you agree?