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So how many New Year wishes, B’day wishes, Job success wishes , etc, etc did you receive this season end on your Orkut, Facebook, etc, etc ? 🙂

In India where “lonely hearts” are ample in quantity and quality, where marriages are “distinctly” and “distantly planned”, where singles are not easily allowed to mingle, social networking sites have boomed. Parents are attempting to be “open-hearted”, “broad-minded” by allowing kids to  keep “in touch” with their friends, friend’s friends, friends’-friends- friends — of course not “really” but through these sites. Kids (I will come to adult networking in a short-while) in their turn are happy to be “in touch”. I have observed a particular characteristic in the teenagers and the younger generation on Orkut (that’s the site I mostly follow) — they do not easily write their original names or put their pictures, partly because they are afraid that someone might misuse their names and pictures, and partly because they think it is “fun” to remain anonymous. Of course it is adventurous! 🙂  You can find strange names like “horny” , “butterfly”, “bee”, “f****** ghost”, “rambo”, “mah dreams” — sending friend requests, writing funny scraps and hovering around your page and visiting your site at least 30-40 times a day (if your page interests them). While female young networking “bees” take a pride in making new friends , males sometimes get into  extremes. They send queer (using it in its literal sense, no critical meaning implied) messages and threatening friend requests thinking that they can impress — and maybe they do!  Like a “lot can happen o’er coffee”, so also a lot can happen at your networking site 🙂 …

A very interesting element of these sites are “relationship status” and the funny ways that people deal with this clause. I know of many friends and acquaintances on Orkut who have declared themselves “committed” or even “married” (while “single” in status) to keep away creatures poking nose into their sites unnecessarily. Many of my students (ex-students) have declared themselves in interesting relationship patterns on these social networking sites. Sometimes, parents are shocked to see the site of their teenage son/daughter. I had once come across the site of friend’s younger sister who happened to be a reclusive and introvert in her “visual” life, i.e. as she appeared to us. But, I was amazed to see the breadth of her “virtual” life on her site. She was by all means a hyper-active and more than social  on her page. The image that she projected on her Orkut was so-so very different from that of the image that she had among her friends and fellow-beings. I have observed that teenagers (whom I personally know)  who are a little reserved and self-conscious in their personal lives become very open in their social sites — probably the reason being these sites open up avenues of anonymity yet friendships.These sites are great places to “flout” parental and societal rules.

Coming to adult networking; well it’s a more complex story. In the adult world rather than making friendships, networking sites are more of “partnership” building opportunities in their positive sense. Adults don’t bother making new friends, what we bother about is to be on a look out for opportunities — professional for some while personal for others. For instance, while travelling abroad if you need people to help you out — search for some communities on your networking site, or if you intend to look for jobs or professional networking look for some friends or acquaintances on these sites who might be of help. Similarly, if you are dating a guy or a girl peep into their Orkut/facebook and gain some insight into their “sub-conscious” 😉 .

However the complexities that I am talking of are subtle — the story zeroes at  “flaunting” and “pretending” in your network. The  interesting aspect is that these sites turn you into voyeurs peeping into others’ lives. The philosophy behind these networking sites is: projecting to the world what you or your life  is in your personal opinion, as we all intend (even if unconsciously) to be perceived in a certain way. The way the world perceives you on these sites is the way you-yourself want to be perceived. For instance, I may have a pathetic sense of humour in my personal life and I may hardly socialize, but my site might project me as the soul of every party. I may hardly have a philanthropic sense but my site projects me as a saint, I may hardly look gorgeous or hep but my site projects me as a diva with looks that can murder 😉 (thanks to hi-fi editing techniques), and thus goes the list.

Related aspects in this web of social networking are arousing “envy” and “flaunting” what you possess while others don’t! Oh, I am in a brilliant educational institution having the “brains” that can make an entire Google go shy of itself, and I have to show it to the “lesser-mortals” that exist in some far away places! I have the brawn and body that can make Angelina Jolie swoon, so let me show myself to the ugly ducklings! I have the palatial mansion of Charles-III 🙂 , come visit it virtually. I have a job that can mortify Prof. Amartya Sen, so why don’t you see my salary and my office ambience! 🙂 … thus goes the list.  In fact, the display artefacts can get even to the minutest level of  your new “laptop” or your favourite music system 🙂 😀 ! Interestingly, if you observe our motive, we display these things not for people whom we don’t know or who are mere acquaintances, these are in fact meant to be shown to people who know us very well and some of whom will be genuinely happy for us, and also for those who might just get “J” (the “J” thing is more pertinent in adults  😉  ). Some of the things that provide  genuine happiness (to most of us I suppose) is to see people’s art, sketches, creative artefacts, photographic samples, things which are beyond material worth.  Rest, one of the first emotions that is provoked is, Oh I wish I had the life which that person has…he/she is so happy! But, we do not realize that it is just a surface veneer which has many layers to the “actual” story.

There are different types of these networking sites — professional, personal and matrimonial. The less said about matrimonial sites the better it is. Maybe another Blog post can be written to specifically cater to matrimonial sites. However, in these sites too the prospective brides/grooms project the best of their image for making themselves lucrative “products” in the matrimonial bazar.

Regarding my personal experiences with social networking sites–hmm, I have a love-hate relationship with them. I am a voyeur thanks to these sites (some of my closest pals chide me for that) and also inspire voyeurism in others  🙂 … My anger sometimes bursts forth in form of deleting an entire account with some 5000 precious scraps 🙂 at one jerk, and then again I re-emerge like a Phoenix from ashes with 55 new pictures (joke intended)  🙂 ….

However, we are social creatures and on a positive note these sites teach us to project our very best to the world and be happy and share our happiness. But, on the negative side people take these projected images too seriously and unhealthy, deadly competition is aroused.  I have seen beautiful fairy-tale kind of love stories break due to one stupid error on such sites, friends become enemies and you have more spies than well-wishers to cater to and sometimes even established relationships like  marriages are plunged into danger.  Maturity in thinking and in analyzing is really important when we are part of any group — virtual or real! In fact it is trust, fellow-feeling and the way we handle our relationships which actually determine the kind of person we become in the long term. Unfortunately, most of us commit blunders in this context. By merely brooding over others’ achievements and following blindly their formulae of success may lead us not very far in our life.

So, folks if you are indeed hooked on to any of these sites, then formulate your own style statement and remember that all that glitters is not gold …Happy surfing! 🙂