I have a best friend (actually I have too many best friends) who also happened to be my roommate for five years. A perfect combination of beauty and brains, it was no surprise when she stood 54th in the 2003 Indian Administrative Services (IAS) exams under the general category. I remember the two of us driving to the UPSC centre that afternoon when results were declared and we couldn’t believe her name was right there. We were euphoric. My friend is not a bookworm, you know the types who oil their hair and shut themselves from the world in preparation to writing this mother of all exams, the IAS. On the contrary, she watched every serial on the idiot box and led a perfectly normal life – even with the exams looming large. Days before the interview I was conducting her mock interviews and we had a good session of laughter and seriousness. My friend got the Bihar cadre and served the services for a few years where she made heads turn by her dare devil attitude – making politicians wait in the queue, conducting raids on illegal operations and doing the right things. In fact someone even hurled a country-made bomb in her compound one time. Clearly, she had caused some ire. The local press also called her the angrezi-speaking bureaucrat. I looked forward to her Delhi visits when she regaled us with interesting stories late into the night. For her, the highlight of her work were the weekend family courts held in the premises of her office where bizarre stories unfolded before her eyes – of a woman pregnant but about to get married to someone else, of a man cheating on his wife, and so on. I too began to see rural India in a different light.
Anyway, my friend decided she had enough of the services and chucked it all to go study MBA at INSEAD in Paris. Today she is happily working in the banking sector in Europe. I call her the cynical touchstone of my life and would ask her advice on everything. They are always sound and laced with humour. The reason why I am writing this is to come to a different subject altogether. In today’s world of Facebook and Twitter, my friend and I still do the email thing and skype sometimes. I was not in touch with her for a few months between last year and this new year and lo came an email saying, “You both sisters (meaning my younger sister) don't reply to my emails man....I hate this Facebook nonsense; ever since Facebook has arrived on the scene people have stopped emailing! It's utter nonsense!” I wrote back saying it is time she signed up and opened an account to which she replied, “Indi, I really don’t like the voyeurism and self-obsession perpetrated by Facebook…”
It got me thinking. I am indeed a part of this voyeurism. I live and swear by Facebook these days. It is so much a part of my world that with the invention of all these smart phones (for dumb people like me) and apps, I feel the world is at my feet. I wake up surfing my phone. I have connected with friends who had gone out of my orbit for decades; I get a glimpse of everyone’s lives at the tap of my fingers; I love reading status updates, it gives me a good insight into people I thought I had known well or less; I love combing through photographs and I also get nauseated by the many “I love Jesus’ ‘I love Ganesh’ pictures and wisdom quotes.
Making fun of this voyeurism on TV was Conan O'Brien a few years back. He instituted something called the ‘Audiency Award’ in his show which had me in splits. Someone from his audience won an award for this: Facebook friends=2000, Actual friends=none. It is true Facebook started with gusto too for me, I befriended and added so many people to my list and in turn I got added to groups and more groups that I was suddenly thrown into these sea of Facebook friends. I have now learnt to spruce up and limit my circle to the people I know and regard as friends.
Someone once told me that people who live abroad are so lonely that they are either online 24X7 or facebooking. Stories have appeared on how the new social media is making us so ‘densely networked but lonelier.’ An article in the Atlantic magazine says, “Facebook arrived in the middle of a dramatic increase in the quantity and intensity of human loneliness, a rise that initially made the site’s promise of greater connection seem deeply attractive.” Partly true but mostly untrue. From my own experience, I find immense joy in interacting with friends both virtually and in real life. I am not a lonely soul because I am surrounded by loving friends. So why there is a cloud of suspicion over Facebook users still baffle me. Yes there can be saturating updates from people who sit in malls and update every second. But what would happen to my news feeds if all of them stopped updating?
I am not ashamed about being on Facebook. The way I see it is technology allowing me to stay connected to my friends and family. I can’t spend my entire day cooking, washing, working on deadlines. Few moments in the day for me are whiled away browsing updates, putting a comment here and there and wishing an obligatory happy birthday to all my friends, apart from stalking my family. But I do have a discipline and that beyond a certain time in the evening I am all about my family. I know for the health of my marriage and well-being everything else is secondary.
As for my best friend, I love and admire her individuality for being the few who have not succumbed to an addiction called Facebook at a time when users have crossed the 300 million mark. But, oh yes, no Farmville for me.