society Is Facebook the opium of the information age, wonders Pheroze L. Vincent

If you lose sleep over Facebook, stalk old flames, feel uneasy when you are offline or, are updating your status when you have work at hand, then you may be suffering Facebook addiction disorder.

While facebook.com helps us connect better, find old friends and show off our photography skills, many fear that it has captivated our imagination like nothing before. While there are myriad social networking platforms on the internet, it is Facebook that brings out an obsessive compulsive urge to be in touch and be “cool.”

But is it all bad or is Facebook just helping people connect more efficiently.

Chennai based commercial photographer Kapil Ganesh says Facebook has found him more work. Kapil, who created a profile this year, already has 684 friends- 60 to 70 of whom he regularly connects to for his work.

“People follow my work through Facebook. They spread the word,” says Kapil who has done photoshoots for leading ladies of Kollywood and the ad world. “I don't connect when I'm working. It's not much of a problem for me,” he adds.

Gaia Lassaube, a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, confesses that she refreshes her home page every three minutes. “My studies are interrupted by slices of Facebooking. It's like an oil spill on a time table.”

“But it helped me get in touch with interesting people in India,” adds Gaia, who is currently at home in France. “People meet and stay in touch because they have the same social background and Facebook is increasing this, on a global scale,” she explains.

Gaia met her best friend on Facebook and then they even began to hang out together in the real world. “I've even learnt a couple of Sanskrit words from applications like Dhongibaba ki bhavishyavani,” she adds. On the flip side, she admits that she has annoyed people around her because she was engrossed on Facebook.

Facebook also lets one stalk others, without breaking the law. Searching for old crushes and failed love interests is something many Facebook users have done. Nitin Soman, a logistics executive with Kanoo Rapid Transit in Dubai, says that he has hooked up with old crushes on the site.

Thankfully, he says, it did not turn ugly though one of them declined a friend request from him. “They're all happily married now and we're all just friends,” he emphasises. “I'm hooked to Facebook mostly because of the lack of recreation here,” he says. He spends his time tracking friends' statuses, links and pictures on his computer or mobile.

Ranjana, a software consultant in Coimbatore says that her work does not require her to spend all her work hours working. That's when she visits Facebook or reads news online. If her firm blocks social networking, like many other Information Technology companies have, she would find something else to use like Google Reader, she says.

Ishita Chanana, a human resource executive at Titan Industries, Bengaluru, says that the work culture in her company is very different from others who have blocked social networking. “While we are given freedom, we also have a conscience. No one is on Facebook all the time. But even if it is blocked on our computers, we can use it on our mobiles,” she asserts.

She says that her boss won't feel offended if he sees employees on Facebook, but people do notice if you spend too much time on it. “But, there are hardly any non performers on my team,” adds Ishita.

Dr. Alok Sarin, Consultant Psychiatrist at the Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and Research in New Delhi, says that “Facebook Addiction Disorder” is not an entity in its own right. While some are hooked to facebbok, others gossip with colleagues or obsessively text message.

“As societies grow, and technology progresses, individuals, and society will grapple with the use of newer advances. It is also likely that conservative authority will automatically be wary of newer technology, and will treat it with scepticism, explains Dr. Sarin. “What we must be careful about is not to rush in with the process of pathologising what essentially is a variant of normal human behaviour.”

“An adolescent who spends hours on Facebook, is not necessarily ‘suffering' any more than someone who spends hours on the phone,” he adds. The problem of an employee's performance suffering maybe due to low motivation and involvement rather than the much vilified Facebook, he states.

Neeraj Jha, another JNU Facebooker declares, “I won't mind if I'm disconnected forever, because I think if you really want to connect with people you will find a way.”