|Picture from Orlandeli|
There is a constant grumble I hear from people about the bane of our generation: Facebook. It is one of those things people love to bash up. We like and we share, we poke and we post but we also crib and we crib and we crib. By defending Facebook, I often find myself on a lonely island. People look at me in incomprehension. "You're trying to tell us you don't waste time on it?" "Are you saying you actually have that many friends?"
I explain. I don't use Facebook to nurture my friendships. I know and accept that the 560 people on my account are not my friends; not in the sense I understand the import of what being a friend is. They are a list of people I know (some well, some not so well) and link with from time to time. Facebook to me however, is a tool. It is a place to gather information about things I am interested in; a literary event next month or perhaps a screening of Moonrise Kingdom close by. It serves as a venue to subscribe to interesting insights from organisations and people I am interested in personally and academically. It is a place to network with former classmates and colleagues; no, not to become 'friends' but to perhaps discover similar interests and as a result, form an interesting 'peer group'. A long-lost school friend on Facebook whom I used to edit articles with is now my favourite critic. No, we aren't the friends we used to be, we acknowledge we have grown along different paths, but we have, through Facebook, found that there are bits of our old selves that exist and are still mirrored in each other. Facebook is not where I disclose my inner torments, it does not serve as a solace for loneliness.
Facebook and my time spent on it is never a contradiction. I take the good parts and have no problem in ignoring the unnecessary. I don't chat on Facebook, I don't upload pictures from my travels. I share an occasional article I'd like people to read, and I like the occasional picture that makes me laugh. Facebook to me is a phenomenon that helps me connect to the things I like. It is, in a way a customisable channel where I can choose what I want. Like someone said recently, MS Word is a word processing software. If you want to get that chapter written, you have to think of it. Word will help you organise and manage it, but you still have to type it out. Similarly, Facebook is what you make of it. You can grumble how you barely know the 726 friends on your list and how you waste all your time on Facebook. Well, don't. You have a choice. And no one is going to make it for you. The whole game of deactivating one's account to 'disconnect' and 'take time off' amuses me. Don't you see? It is not Facebook that is the problem, it is you.
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We (and by that I mean urban, educated 20-something Indians) are living in an increasingly solitary age. None of my friends (most in their late twenties or early thirties) are married, something quite unheard of just a generation ago. At my age, my mother was married, ran a household, was bringing up a daughter and was well-entrenched in her job. I on the other hand, am studying, am far removed from domesticity, and do not have either spouse or child. Something is afoot. The structure of our social space is changing. Caught between family that keeps one threaded to a place that is familiar but often conflicting with our notions, I see many people live by the "friends are the family we choose" axiom. And many people, I see extrapolate that to "the more friends I have the better". Facebook helps us reaffirm this myth. But as Deresiewicz, points out in his must-read article:
"The more people we know, the lonelier we get."
This weekend, I set off, mufflered against the chill, to meet a friend. Bruised by disturbing events in both our lives, we found laughter crinkle our faces and we chattered incessantly; the warmth of a friend well-loved enveloping us both. We threw out ideas to each other, hop-skipping from one beautiful tangent to another, we gobbled a freshly cooked meal, we laughed into our coffees, reliving memories from another time, we walked about, and shivered at the end of autumn. When we returned to our own homes, she sent me a link to that website I wanted. On Facebook of course.
Follow up with some