Whenever I sign in to my Facebook account, I am greeted by hundreds of smiling faces wanting to tell me about their lives. I can at the choice of my whim get entertained by my friends doing stupid things or choose to wonder about the beautiful world through that friend’s pictures who just spent the last month in New Zealand. I can feel nostalgic by hearing that old song which was posted by another friend or even choose to cry reading about the sad story of a friend who met with an accident and who’s ‘wall’ is full of messages from well-wishers. I can choose to feel jealous about my mate who just found the hottest girl-friend or go to the profile of my class topper and get a dose of Schadenfreude from knowing that he is on a minimum wage job. I have the whole platter of emotions served to me everyday at whatever time I would like.
The cherry on top of this platter is that I also have the choice of declining to listen to any of these stories without it being considered rude. It’s great. Even King Louis XIV could not afford this kind of social luxury with all the power and money he had.
We live today with hundreds of friends on Facebook and similar number of followers on twitter. We have the ability to broadcast are thoughts in words, written or spoken, to millions of people for free. I can build friendships across the seas and over the mountains. I can have intellectual debates or learn something that blows my mind away. I can buy gifts for my parents sitting at my desk at work. The Internet has made plenty possible and yet I can’t stop but wonder when I heard the following from my dad.
“I was at your aunt’s place the other day and had a somewhat surprising experience. I was chatting with your cousin and asking her about her work. She explained it well in detail and we had a nice chat which was interrupted only because she had to leave. When she left your aunt came to me and told me, ‘You know she has never before explained to me what she does at work, despite having asked many times before.’ On further enquiry your aunt explained that she spends most of her time at home on the computer. She’s either on Facebook or watches some videos on YouTube. Rest of the time she doesn’t talk much. And I could not disagree because this was the first conversation that I had had with her in many years where she answered in more than a few words.”
I know my cousin somewhat well. We used to have lots of fun as kids but it has been many years since we spent any substantial time together. I know that she is a smart girl and although I can’t say much about her conversational skills. It makes me wonder that if the social media revolution had happened while I was still at home, would I have fallen in to the same ‘trap’ – showing a lack of interest in the people around me but paying more attention to those on Facebook. I tried to dismiss it as a singular case but my dad retorted that it is not a singular case. He’s heard the complain from many other parents in the recent months. More importantly though, the case my dad described was of an urban Indian family. In India, Facebook hasn’t quite reached the levels of penetration that it has in the US or UK.