Social and Social Networks
Sometime in mid-2004, there was this fad that seized people. Gmail invites were passe, as were cell phones and MMSes ("DPS Zindabad" was still a cry for perverts everywhere). Something was up online, a new thing that you had to be some sort of Ankit Fadia (do you guys even remember that name now ?) to be part of yourself. I'm talking of course, of the now legendary Orkut, a social networking site that was supposed to compete with Myspace in the US but ended up monopolizing India, Pakistan and Brazil.
The procedure of Orkut ops were amazing. You searched for names, and (gasp!!) were greeted by entire pages containing priceless information about those people - their political, religious, linguistic and sexual preferences (OMG!! Sexual preferences!!) - that you could never have picked up from chatting online or meeting face to face.
Batchmates and fellow students at College were the first to be snapped up on the now-standard "Friends" list. Then came friends you emailed and a few you didn't warrant important enough to email. It was after this that the real point of "Orkutting" emerged - the stalker-search.
The question vaguely formed in the mind would be something like "I wonder what happened to XYZ from school/coaching class/tennis class/Secunderabad club etc. ?". The name would be typed, and there you have the joy of seeing XYZ in his/her full glory ("full" being a fond hope in case of girls from middle school you cyber-stalked, together with "single"). Thus would friends be doubled from 100 - 200 or even more.
Orkut ran its course, and now of course most of the people I know have repeated the same pattern with Facebook. Some, like my brother, shut down their accounts realizing that cell numbers and mail id's were sufficient to keep in touch, and that stalking did not equate to much else apart from fond dreams. But it continues, with new ways of decorating pages, posting videos, having creative ways to leave text messages on people's Walls and whatnot. A funny thing struck me in the shift.
It's one thing (a loser thing anyway, but I was at Guwahati, for God's sake) to go looking up girls you hoped had metamorphosed to wan, well-endowed Disney princesses looking for a blast from the past. I am experiencing the same with people from school, college or wherever, who, while I knew, was never a friend of. We may have had friends in common, but in several cases, shared rarely more than a dozen words by way of conversation (including the damn scraps and requests). Friendship with Acquaintance A in turn opens up friendships with his/her acquaintances B,C,D,E etc., and before you know it, you're linked to the entire Mechanical Engineering batch of 2008 or AEC section of 2001, not a member of which has anything to say to you.
So why do they do it? Why request friendships with someone with no decent stalking prospects? The way I see it, there're trends at play here:
- There's wayyyyyyyyy too much shit being done on networked computers now (I see that as I blog this). I mean, it's when you get on the system and have Net access and Firefox that you go look up Facebook for your Wall posting, and it's when you're there that you start thinking about XYZ.
- Following on the first, life online is starting to become more real than the real one involving parents, friends on the phone whom you visit, and the vendor at the kirana store. Given how the time people have for the latter is reducing, the e-life which can integrate with work is becoming more significant.
- And following on that, people I think are way lonelier AND unhappier now than ever before. It's only when you dwell long on the past that you figure XYZ's vague connection. And that tenuous connection to XYZ seems to me an attempt to connect with the past.
But if I'm right, it's a disturbing effect of the new modernized world. A bizarre incident occurred on MySpace where a girl's family actually created a fake id that tormented their daughter's friend, who "dumped her". The comments made by the fake persona brought about this.
Is life meant to be that distorted ?