They say the world has changed. This is it now. Cyberspace. Not the village centre, not the town square. This is the place where people meet, talk about their lives, barter their goods, band together in cliques.
So it’s a huge thing. I know you. You know her. I know her who knows her who knows her. Social networking. I have a web of contacts I can use and who can use me. I ask a question, a virtually attentive audience replies. I get my attention fix. People listen to me. I feel valued.
It’s that last bit I have had a problem with. Apart from some strange need to be a closet social rebel and a strong desire to not be sucked into Groupthink and Groupspeak or be sucked into a social networking phenomena without knowing precisely what I think and why I think that way about it, that was probably the main reason for not joining Facebook earlier. Why should I seek being valued by virtual friends who probably do not, by view of their virtual-ness, know the real me? I tend to make close friends very slowly; I think at some basic level I’m cautious of being hurt by people. Although my life is quite an open book— I share my dreams, likes and dislikes quite openly — I’m not the needy friend who wants and seeks your attention, simply because I’ve learnt how to deal without that aspect, having been let down by (admittedly formerly high) expectations of friendship before.
I think joining Facebook will open up that can of worms again. Pessimistically, I would have a lot of friends, people I’ve known from school, churches, travelling, but only a handful would probably be bothered about me. To the rest I would be a stamp in their collection, a number to add to their virtual popularity. Ever holding onto my idealistic view of friendship, I wonder. Would I be poorer without those friends?
But it’s all about networking, they say. All about knowing her from a friend who knows a friend who knows a friend. That “her” who might be the key to your business success, your intellectual breakthrough. Instead of finding “her” in the midst of a crowd, or though the rare benevolent recommendation of a friend who happens to remember that she knows a friend, who —- through another low-probability occurrence of rare benevolence— remembers she knows a friend, who takes a month to consider and get back to that friend, who takes a month or two to get back to your friend who dilly-dallies and takes some time more to get back to you. Virtual networking puts you in contact with “her” in an instant, cutting through benevolence, saving time on friendship favours and real-life broken telephone pass-the-message.
I do like making friends, I do. But this way just makes it so cold, doesn’t it? I want to be your friend because there is something you can do for me. That’s so transactional. (Yes, I remain, at heart, an idealist.)
I hate the idea of getting gratification from talking to people online, from using people online, from waiting for online friends to reply you. It’s tough enough in real life, why should I double the rejection ante in cyberspace?
Perhaps I’m just a recluse. I love being alone, love thinking alone. I’m linked in enough to the world already. Yet paradoxically, I want to talk. Want to make my voice heard, want to publish my ideas, want to hear my written voice on the Internet alongside other voices. That gives me satisfaction, being a part of a whole.
Is that what a sense of belonging means?
I think this way, oh no. I think I’m crazy. Oh, you agree? (relief) Why, then I’m not crazy afterall then. A sanity checkpoint. Is that the same as having a sense of belonging? I belong to a group of people. They love me, I love them.
I do have groups of friends like that in real life, but they originate mostly from childhood innocence, when no one really thought that hard about “What’s in it for me?” when it came to playground bonds. Perhaps that’s the only way true friendship can exist.. Friendships borne out of non-intent will stand the test of time, will be whatever, however, whenever (barring, of course, the inevitable friendship-diluting entry of a romantic Other).
That last realisation jolted me out of my treatise. The list of friendships diluted (I won’t say lost, just, well, de-prioritised, I guess…once again) due to friends getting attached/married/work-mad/school-mad has increased, hence automatically decreasing the number of close friends from the already scanty few groups of nomads to puffs of vulnerable we-used-to-be-close connections.
So I joined Facebook.
This is probably a classic case of Gen thinking too much.
I actually wrote that quite some time ago, when I joined Facebook to check out C’s group page for an article. Then I left the account dormant, not doing anything, not really bothering, until push came to shove, one more friend offered to set up an account for me, and I finally relented. During the quarantine period,I promised.
And so I finally put up a profile pic and as of now, have 11 friends.
Of course, this has opened up all the old insecurities of fears of vulnerability. Ironic, since I’ve been blogging for the last 12 years… but I guess one can hide, somewhat, behind a faceless blog (pun intended) whereas Facebook puts a face to your thoughts and faces to your friends too.
Perhaps it’s the nature of my job, one that seems to mandate that my personal life be kept almost saintly, in line with a professional responsibility of setting some sort of example. Or perhaps it’s just me being very paranoid.