How close is being virtually too close? Kalpana Mohan finds out for herself.
My husband is a simple, straightforward and good-natured man. Yet, sometimes, the children and I find it hard to love him in real life. It has become harder still for us to love him unconditionally on Facebook, Gmail and Google Talk.
Since he built his castle in the virtual world, the eccentricities that once rocked our family — those odd personality quirks of the physical world — are parlaying into seismic faults.
“Hullo parental units, why does father feel the need to tag his children in every one of their ugly pictures on Facebook?” our daughter pleads on Google Talk. “Why can't dad let the acne-ravaged, braces-filled past just be?” Meanwhile, our son, a high school senior, has marooned himself on an island on the Internet, far away, where dad cannot find or friend him.
My daily interactions with my husband often revolve around a social networking tool even when he's home. Rather than describe something to me, he'll send me a link on Google Talk just so I can read it myself. The precision in our hyperlinked lives is eroding into our imagination, especially when it's amplified by my husband's tendency to over-describe. On Facebook, that character trait can manifest itself as vishwaroopa, as when Lord Vishnu aggrandises into a “super god” of sorts and then proceeds, with one step, to take over the entire universe. The man for whom it's never 245 days, but always 244 days, give or take a few minutes, explains himself too much on Facebook. His Facebook album of photographs created for a close friend, whom we shall call Shyla, reads as follows:
Shyla Krish Birthday Party 5-17-2011
The photos in this album (http://bit.ly/ShyJ1), 1 of 2, are from the 50th birthday party thrown by Krish for his wife Shyla at the home of the Kumars in Saratoga on May 17, 2011. Album 2 is at http://bit.ly/ShyJ2 and Album 3 is at http://bit.ly/ShyJ3. For details of the dinner menu go to album ShyJ1 (see above for bit.ly link).
When he takes photographs of events, for every hour of an event, my husband will shoot about 300 pictures for a minute-by-minute coverage. This endears him to his victims. They feel like celebrities. But what it means for me, the wife, is quite the opposite.
Our domestic life is off-kilter. Friends watch my frustration through the statuses I post on Facebook: “Kalpana Mohan wishes her husband would unload dishes in the dishwasher faster than he uploads photographs onto Facebook.” My extreme statuses on the Facebook stage have become a window into our marriage, a marriage that was arranged 27 years ago in Chennai and feels slightly deranged in this age of social networking. And, oddly enough, through that sheer, droll curtain of my daily pronouncements, some friends have observed what a great couple we make, both on and off Facebook, even though my husband's penchant for transparency has led to civil strife in our home.
Did you know that whenever we go anywhere as a family or as a couple we are checked in, whether we like it or not — at the restaurant, the beauty salon or the coffee shop? I told my husband that some things are best left private: “Kalpana Mohan has told her husband that she does not want to be checked-in while she is in the bathroom.”
And so, one day, when I was tired of feeling like a branded iPod at an Apple store sporting a barcode on my derriere, I rebelled. I unfriended my husband. Our Facebook face-off became the subject of conversation among our real and virtual friends; discussion about it spilled into the living rooms of friends.
But it was lonely in my new world. It was inconvenient. I missed talking with my husband about things — a photo, a video or a story — that both of us had seen. Now, when he was traveling, I couldn't see his updates. As a friend had once quipped, at least I knew what my husband was up to, thanks to Facebook.
I realised, during this time, that Facebook had become another person in our marriage, a warm and fuzzy friend who had become too nosey and intrusive at unwanted times. But the hiatus also made me think about the many ways in which my husband was uniting the community — with his camera and his computer. Thanks to him, we now had a folder of photographs of every friend or relative, alive or dead. Thanks to him, we had memories — of braces, warts, awards, events, grandparents and all. While my husband has ticked off some friends and relatives owing to his online mania, our friendship with many others has blossomed because of it. He and his dad have made peace on the social networking platforms. They may be 14,000 kms apart but they keep in touch every single day via Gmail, Google Talk, Skype or Facebook.
A few weeks after our Facebook meltdown, I sent my husband a friend request. He ignored it. He snickered to friends. But one morning while he was making himself coffee a few feet away from his laptop, I slunk up. My husband became my friend, once again.