Are you on Facebook? No? Orkut then? You must be somewhere, everyone is. And if I were to ask you how you got there you would, in all probability, tell me you had a friend who relentlessly pestered you to create a profile on the social networking site till you finally got fed up, opened an account, pasted a smiley picture of yourself (or some top hero/heroine in some cases) and then spent the next couple of months trying to figure out how things worked. By the time you figured out the basics, the website decided to revamp and gave you the next level of challenging skills to learn. In spite of the learning-re-learning curve that you have been put through, you are still very much present on the site(s) and most likely will be for a long, long time.
Since everyone is moving from Orkut to FB, I take it Orkut is now passé. May be people are not closing accounts with Orkut to move to FB, but they certainly seem to be using the services of the latter more. And with reason. Privacy settings are better. You get fewer requests for “making frandship” from strangers. It’s certainly more interactive-you can do more on FB. That’s the good and bad part. Sometimes all the stuff you can do gets mind-boggling. Though Orkut did make some improvements, I think it was too late and consequently it lost some loyalists to the jazzier, snazzier Facebook.
Why am I writing about social networking sites today? Because I found this article on FB some weeks back in the newspaper that I totally connected with. It took me over a week to find the online version. For reasons unknown, Hindustan Times doesn’t believe in having an e-paper, so finding e-versions of its articles isn’t the easiest thing to do. But I was hell bent on finding the article online, so I googled and I googled and I googled some more and in the process caused a good amount of CO2 emission, but I also found the article. Here it is!
‘Facebook is just another arena of social obligation in which I disappoint’
These things are easy to check. It began at precisely 11.27am on July 16 2007. A friend rang me up. “Why aren’t you on Facebook?” she said.
A brief, bewildered silence followed. “I didn’t know we had to give reasons,” I replied.
“I keep trying to make you my Facebook friend, but you never respond,” she said.
“I’m not on Facebook,” I said.
“I’m sending you a link,” she said. Couched in this statement was an implicit command. I clicked on the link. Within seconds I was on Facebook, and I had one friend.
And that’s how things remained for two months. Eventually someone else found me on Facebook, and I had two friends. A period of minimal activity followed, during which I accidentally added several applications while attempting not to add them. I didn’t poke anyone, because I didn’t fully understand what would happen at the other end. I resisted putting up a picture of myself for a while, because I wanted to be able to claim, in the event that I was contacted by a long-lost friend, that I wasn’t that Tim Dowling, but in the end I relented.
Facebook may be a great way to maintain contact with people to whom you would not entrust your email address, but to me it merely represented an additional arena of social obligation in which I was bound to disappoint. I am a terrible friend in real life – thoughtless, aloof, forgetful, derelict – and Facebook would only enable me to be a bad virtual friend to, in theory, thousands of people (in practice, more like 14).
I would never have bet on the success of social networking because, for me, the chief pleasure of the internet lay in the ability to secure information and buy stuff without having to speak to anyone. It was like being the last human on earth, wandering through a deserted urban landscape helping myself to things from shelves. I assumed that everyone felt this way.
Clearly I had underestimated the global appetite for interpersonal transaction. People actually seem rather intent on recreating a huge virtual version of the sort of gathering where I spend all evening standing at the bar by myself. I adopted a similar approach to Facebook. Occasionally a stranger, or someone I met once before but couldn’t remember where, appeared and introduced themselves, but they soon got the idea that I wasn’t the chatty type, and we quickly settled into a permanent, companionable, online silence.
For a time I employed Facebook as a tool to eavesdrop on the lives of people I didn’t know very well, but that was before I realised that any “friends” who are logged on to Facebook are immediately alerted whenever you log on, and are in a position to contact you in a direct and rather alarming manner. The first time this happened to me – a little picture of my sister appeared on the screen with a balloon coming out of her mouth that said “Hi” – I actually jumped out my chair. It was like being tapped on the shoulder while peering through a keyhole.
Since then I have tried to create the impression that I am too technologically inept to work Facebook, and that communication through that channel is unlikely to penetrate the fog of my own stupidity. Up until very recently, this appeared to be working. Then my brother’s girlfriend found me. Her circle of Facebook friends included someone I went to high school with, who in turn had already collected a dozen or so people from my hometown. In a matter of days I had more friend requests in my inbox than I had received during the whole of my reluctant tenure. I am now obliged to supply, on an almost daily basis, a written summary of what I’ve been up to since 1981. There is, I now see, nowhere to hide.
Now tell me, what dint you like in the article? I liked everything! Besides finding the article hilarious, I could personally relate to many of its aspects. I could also think of loads of people who got roped into social networking in the exact same way(yours truly included). I hope they read this piece. (Lakshmi, this one’s for you.)
The article is written by Tim Dowling and originally appeared in The Guardian.