We know each other, right? You’re on Facebook? No? Maybe we tweeted about “Unnaipol Oruvan”? Or, did I give you a job reference on LinkedIn? No? Catch up! If you’re not plugged into social networking, you’re out of the loop. You’ve got to admit — the technology is pretty amazing.

The exhilaration in connecting with long-lost classmates and getting movie stars to be your ‘friends’ is unmatchable. Twitter is changing history with the power of 140 characters, one message at a time. So powerful that when the Government asks social networking sites to delay maintenance, you know something is changing. But let’s get down to you and me.

As scientists start to study our newfound connectivity, this electronic cookie slowly starts crumbling. If you are an avid social networker, you’ve, perhaps, felt a growing confusion between weak ties (people who might help us with a restaurant reference or suggest a pet breeder) and your strong ties (is your sister one among your 1,356 FB friends, getting to know you got promoted, through your status message?). The distance between genuine friends and acquaintances gets blurred, and you might be spending way too much time maintaining relationships that you don’t really care about. Plus, of course, the age-old hazard of ‘friends’ misrepresenting themselves, showing only their good side, online. And, the fact that this anonymity has been known to encourage darker impulses to flourish.

Now, there’s a subtler, new fear. Studies have apparently proved that heavy reliance on the rapid intake of certain information — especially in younger, developing minds — could have consequences on morality. It could be a whole new source of unhappiness. For instance, on Twitter, the conversation never stops. You start to feel that if you’re not involved in it, you’re missing out. But what truly freaks me out is the way every gesture and expression is now virtual. A kiss, a hug, a bunch of flowers, a drink. The spoken word is replaced by status messages, scraps and posts. There are 12 different technologies through which multiple relationships are made and unmade every day. Exhausting!

Time to change your FB status message? Or, pick up the phone and call your friend home to connect over a good old cup of coffee?


(A fortnightly column on relationships)

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