A question of real connect

Perhaps people talk to us on social networking sites because there is no commitment

Perhaps people talk to us on social networking sites because there is no commitment  

Is there depth to friendship on social media?

Facebook’s newsroom reports “968 million daily active users on average for June 2015” and “On August 29, 2015, one billion people used Facebook in a single day.” Scroll down and you read “Approximately 83.1 per cent of our daily active users are outside the US and Canada.” What is interesting is a photograph under the section ‘Our Culture’, which has three men staring down at their laptops, one chap eating by himself at one end, and two women looking away from the frame in the foreground. No one is facing the other.

I am as guilty as the rest. I am talking about the woman whom I pass when I go for my evening walk — she is busy texting instead of looking at the trees. I’m no better. I’ve managed to squeeze the walk into my tiresome schedule, with increasing screen monitor eyestrain and tendinitis from constant typing. When I am not at the keyboard, I am scrolling my phone. And despite all of this, I keep getting asked, “Don’t you have Whatsapp?” I refuse to look at more of who is eating pizza where.

Wanting a change from my cooking, and on a sudden whim, I ordered a dum diriyani at a pick-up last Sunday. As I waited at the entrance for my package, a family of three at the first table was waiting for their order. The father texted away busily, looking intensely at his phone, as if it might disappear if he did not. The ten-year-old son sat across, legs stretched out with headphones on, completely oblivious to what was going on around him. The youngish mom stared into the distance, not protesting the lack of real conversation at the table. She had given up, evidently. I was aghast that she was being ignored totally. My friend from Mumbai, who only recently joined Facebook, was avoiding the pitfall all these days. She finally put one toe in, gingerly. Anu does not want to go beyond ten friends, which is mighty unusual. She says when she posts pictures of amazing cats, architectural marvels and magical embroidery, someone responds. “I don’t know who they are,” she says. “But you see, someone or the other writes!” She continues, “It’s very odd, you know. My neighbours don’t talk. I don’t know any of them, and here I am corresponding with strangers. Tell me, what happens if you try to meet these people?”

“I don’t think it will work,” I tell her. “Even my cousins, who faithfully like my posts and post comments, never tell me when they come to town. The reason these people are talking to you, unlike your neighbours, is because there is no commitment.”

“Really?” says Anu, who is too kind to suspect the world. “That means all of this is pseudo?”

“Yes, a farce that keeps many happy. I mean, we don’t have to keep appointments, drive to the other end of town, cook for guests — all you have to do is just talk and share pictures.” Not that I have not tried to go out with my Facebook friends – the ones I’ve never met but came across accidentally because I liked their posts.

Take, for instance, Julia. She would post these wonderful artistic photographs and write little nuggets of wisdom. I came to sincerely believe that Julia was a kindred spirit. Then I made that dreadful mistake. I happened to be in the city where Julia lived, and messaged her on Facebook. “I am here! Shall we meet for coffee?”“Oh, what a surprise!” came the message back. “Yes, let’s fix up a time. This week I’m off to Bangalore, and the next week I am back, but I am busy organising this event for the summer. Call me after that.”

Of course, she never gave me her number, but I tried her on Facebook again. The answer came, “Let’s meet tomorrow at eleven. I’ve a meeting at twelve, so we have exactly one hour for coffee.”

At half-past-ten the next day, when I was about to start, I instinctively checked my Facebook page. I still did not have a number, just the address of the place where she worked. There was a message from Julia. “Sorry, my meeting was preponed. We have to cancel.” After that, Julia said she was leaving the country and she would, most unfortunately, never again be available to meet me.

Of course, there is another explanation. It could be that our virtual friends are like mythical beings, and if we meet them, it will dissipate all the suspense and magic to bring us face-to-face with who they really are. Let’s face it — virtual is so much nicer than real.

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Printable version | Apr 3, 2020 6:05:34 AM |

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