Collecting ‘friends’ on Facebook with whom we have nothing left to share.
I am new on Facebook, and I am still trying to figure out what ‘social media’ means. I have been able to get in touch with schoolmates and collegemates who, when I last saw them, were mugging their butts off to get into medical college, or just pissing into a promising wind. But there is very little we have to say to each other, so many years later: where are you, do you have children, and so on. Then? Do you have anything left that you can share? The years have been many lives away, and the girl you went to see Ssssnake with, hoping she would faint in your arms, now teaches Physics in Wisconsin. Anyway, you clutched her arm when the man started developing scales and turning into a giant King Cobra. You were scared, she was laughing. Not much to be mined there.
She writes nothing, I write nothing. We have nothing in common. The others who went to see the film with us, bunking college, who knows where they are today. They must also be on Facebook. I don’t have the energy to search for them. I don’t even remember all their names. Some of them may even be dead, for all I know.
So the messages I get range from lethal non sequiturs—‘I am feeling good’—to acts of altruism that I can only classify as cries for help: ‘Let me share with you a song composed by Madan Mohan.’ Facebook has 400 million users. On average, 50 per cent log in every day. The fastest growing demographic is the 35 years and older age group (the getting in touch with schoolmates and collegemates market rocks). More than six billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day worldwide. There are more than 60 million status updates daily. More than 3 billion photos are uploaded to the site each month, as are 14 million videos. More than 5 billion pieces of content (weblinks, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etcetera) are shared each week, an average Facebook user spends/ wastes 55 minutes a day on the site, sends eight friend requests per month, clicks the ‘Like’ button on nine pieces of content each month, writes 25 comments a month, and is a member of 12 groups.
Psychologists have introduced the diagnosis FAD (Facebook Addiction Disorder) as a new kind of addiction disorder. Other than addiction, it has also been proved that Facebook causes intense jealousy: competition over the number of ‘friends’ you have. By the way, the average Facebook guy has 130 friends. I am way ahead of the game, with about 450 ‘friends’, 70 per cent of whom I have never known or heard of .
The word is ‘anomie’. When we lived in joint families, or rural societies, the familial and support structures were larger and stronger. Put very crudely, there were many laps to cry on, there were many people out of sync with what we call the normative who were accepted and taken care of with no thought about choice or judging, and everyone around you knew who you were. With urbanisation, we lost the connections, we got anomie, the perceived anonymity we all have and which many of us are uncomfortable with. There aren’t enough people who know your name and ask about your child’s health. Then Facebook happened.
But I don’t want to watch your honeymoon pictures. I don’t want to see photos of your child’s birthday party. I don’t want to view your dog in a playful mood. I don’t even know who you are. We all suffer from anomie. We deal with it in our own ways. Let’s at least do it with dignity.
Aren’t some things precious because you share them only with loved ones? Why do you need to share your happiest moments with strangers? Interestingly, I haven’t read a single sad post on Facebook, like ‘I lost my job today. Anyone knows of someone who is hiring?’ It’s all happy stuff on Facebook. Social media is about fairweather friends. You never communicate with your true friends on Facebook in any meaningful way. You don’t want the kindness of strangers. And you know that. That’s what Facebook is about.
Sandipan Deb is an IIT-IIM graduate who wandered into journalism after reading a quote from filmmaker George Lucas — “Everyone cage door is open” — and has stayed there (in journalism, not a cage) for the past 19 years. He has written a book on the IITs.