News headlines and ad campaigns like “Prolonged use of social networking sites makes people unhealthy”, “Hamaare zamaane mein log facebook pe nahin, face to face baatein karte they”, or closer to home, my aunt complaining “nowadays I get to know about you only from my daughter through your facebook updates” are just examples of the widespread notion that social networking sites are making people unhealthy and unsocial.
I belong to the so called “facebook” generation (disclaimer – I may use the term facebook here as a general reference to social networking) and I just don’t seem to be getting tired of it. While there is a lot of research published on the advantages/disadvantages of social networking, as a user, what is it that I love so much about it to make me login every day?
I recently read in the newspaper that people get a sense of depression and lesser happiness in their own life as they see smiling faces of their friends on social networking sites. Isn’t jealousy inherent to human nature? I mean what has social networking added to it. The television serials are filled with women who are upset with other’s happiness and it’s called “ghar ghar ki kahani”. To my mind, facebook has led us to enjoy and celebrate the smaller pleasures of life. People share pictures, status updates on the most regular stuff like going to parent- teachers meetings, stepping into a new restaurant, waiting at the airport, reading a book, watching a new movie etc. The urge to put up a status update makes us find excitement or an experience worth sharing even in the seemingly mundane day to day events. Suddenly there seems to be so much happening in life or rather there is a way to quantify how much is happening.
We always used to click pictures and share our experiences with people after a holiday or event. But it could never be retold in the same way as we experienced it. Today whether it is spending a night in the desert, seeing the first snowfall, or the “awesome mausam with garam chai and pakodas”, we post our immediate reactions to our experiences and the flurry of comments/likes from others make them part of our experience real time. Is this need to share reactions real time something we developed recently? Not at all. To give an extreme example, the whole nation applauded with euphoria at the telecast when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked then Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma “upar se bharat kaisa dikhta hai aapko” and he responded “ main bagaer kisi jhijhak ke keh sakta hoon ki saare jahaan se accha Hindustan hamara” . Would it have had the same impact if this was shared with her in her office over a “face to face” meeting?
People say it is narcissistic, false ego, or utter lack of occupation in life, to have a large network of friends on facebook (comments like- you have so much time to search for people?). But isn’t it is only catering to our need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance as per the third level of Maslow’s hierarchy. Most of us do differentiate between professional and social networks on these sites and add connections accordingly. While I may not be connecting to all the people on my network frequently, the fact that there are 200+ people who are my friends at some level and are interested in what is happening in my life is a happy sense of security and belonging.
That brings me to the notorious term “unfriend” which has been the gift of facebook to our generation. At the cost of sounding rude to some, this is my favorite. While social networking has made the world smaller for us and we can find/make network friends easily, it also helps us get rid of the baggage of any friendships not working as quickly. Recall Kareena asking a heartbroken Shahid to burn his girlfriend’s picture to get over her in the movie Jab We Met. Though that may be not be a comparative example for the people in the social network - that one click to remove someone from the network or unfriend gives a quick, easy and immense sense of closure to the end of a meaningless connection.
And now to the biggest perceived evil from facebook- online games like Farmville, Cityville, Cafeworld and so on. While a lot has been spoken about the addiction and unproductive time spent on them, what is wrong with getting a sense of accomplishment when the farm grows in size, or a new dish gets cooked ( even though just graphically). A friend, who is a doctor, plays Farmville when he is doing the graveyard shift in the hospital. It keeps him more pepped up when he gets a call from a patient than trying to read a book or watch the news of murders, accidents which does not do much to his already frayed nerves at that hour. Even though it’s just a game, the amazing user interface and experience of building, growing stuff often has a more positive effect on me after a tiring day than the very real hibiscus plant in my balcony which has remained the same size for ages and is sometimes a dampener to my spirits.
Of course all this comes at a cost. There is an impact on privacy. Where do I party, who do I go out with, my childhood nick name and a lot of such personal information gets known to unintended audience as well. We can control what we share on these networking sites but not what others share about us. Pictures of bad hair days get tagged, personal information gets mentioned in comments, random people get to comment on pictures and status updates that a friend may have shared further. Not to forget the immense pressure to look nice in pictures because they have to be posted on these sites. Not just look nice, but also be careful of what we wear lest it be one of the clothes already seen in earlier pictures. And then there is an overdoze of updates like, its breakfast time, its tea time, lunch getting cold from certain folks. However just like an extreme of any behavior is mostly not favorable, so are these.
I had once asked my mom (who is considered a very social person) about her college friends. She could recall 5-6 names and was in touch with none after she got married. She had moved on to make new friends with her current neighbors, dad’s colleagues etc. Even today wherever she goes, she manages to make a social circle for herself in the neighborhood. I know I wouldn’t be able to do that in my weekend restricted life. The difference that Facebook makes to the seemingly lesser social me is that though I may not have “face to face” meetings with my neighbor, I still know how my first friend from school is celebrating her son’s birthday in a different continent and can share her happiness at the moment by responding to her facebook update…