Google fb32x32 twitter linkedin feed-icon-32x32

How Real Is The Virtual World?

How Real Is The Virtual World?

December 16, 2011

With many of us living a parallel life online, one wonders if this throbbing, invisible world is really virtual anymore!

I remember reading about ‘the Internet’ when I was in school, and quietly dismissing it thinking it was too ‘theoretic’. I could not have been more wrong!!

From my cute 8 year old neighbour in Chennai to the 70 year old retired school teacher aunty, almost every single person I know is alive and kicking in the Virtual world.

Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus
(and many more!) - being online is not merely a part of life, but a basic necessity for many. Facebook discussions, for example, are so real that I often find myself pondering the entire day about a single thought floating around somewhere in virtual space. Some people go so far as to claim their life has improved with being able to instantly gratify their need for friendship. We are so involved with the online world that it begins to affect our day-to-day life. We do things, go to places so we can tell the world we have done it. We argue, we strive desperately to show we are right, we eagerly seek approval.. and all this from a community that we do not ‘see’ but only ‘read’.

There is this nagging urge to create a strong online presence. It could start off with a completely useless discussion on New Year resolutions that you know will not see the light of day! Or RT-ing anything that Big B, Junior B, or Beti B say (or gurgle, as the case may be). Or even reading a controversial article and throwing barbs at the authors hiding behind a shield of anonymity.

One thing is certain - no matter what form our online participation takes, it is certainly assuming gigantic proportions. Statistics indicate that many Facebook users spend more time on Facebook than face-to-face with friends.

Basically, we do not live in one single world any more. There is this invisible, throbbing, pulsating virtual world all around us, drawing us deeper and deeper each day

I wouldn’t say it is a vice, though. Let’s take a look at the incredible benefits of our virtual world:

  • Pretend to be friends with @SrBachchan and go ga-ga about Beti B’s name
  • Find love in chat-rooms (Sure, that makes a great story to tell your grandkids!)
  • Valiantly keep Indian culture alive. Especially all those lovely NRIs living in the ‘aasum You-Yes-Yay’ who post photos of exotic Golu and drool-worthy Paniyaram!
  • Say NO to dieting and exercise. I mean seriously. All you need is Photoshop. And tada!! You have a sexy, new image. Throw on a pair of dark glasses, Copy-Paste Santorini in the background, and notice how easy it is to get ‘liked’ without the Kolaveri of sweaty gymming.
  • Keep a watch on your better half. You wonder why his SMS reads ‘stuck in boring office party’, when he is simultaneously tagged realtime with some hotties via ‘HTC Wild fire for FB’ ;-)
  • Keep an eye on that teenage cousin who wears two-plaits and goes to a girls-school, and quietly tip off her mom when some weirdo with spikey hair comments ‘Dat Pic Lukng Hawt’. Whatever, dude!
  • Find out what your retired dad is up to these days (even if you don’t really want to). ‘Dirty Picture at xyz Cinema with abc’. Gulp! Shouldn’t Zuckerberg think of introducing an upper age limit on FB users?
  • Free campaigning for events and functions. All you need is an IIT/IIM based story, and Voila! You are the next Chetan Bhagat, and FB is under a deluge of your book launch.
  • Forge great friendships and even greater enemies!
  • And best of all, you get all this for FREE!

All the same, we suddenly have many lurking dangers.

  • Trading Facebook for Treadmill. Er.. not a great idea, really.
  • Most of those porn videos that you think are ‘Chi..chi!’ and then click when nobody is watching, are actually spam and could contain viruses. What is worse, the bleddy link does not even play a video after all!
  • Attack by virtual trolls. There seem to be an increasing level of aggression and barbed attacks by anonymous trolls who trade subjectivity for offensiveness. Actually, getting to watch a fight for free should go under ‘merits’ of social media, but then, it isn’t always pleasant, is it?
  • Identity theft – This is more common than we think. When I saw my mum receiving FB notifications, I wondered how a lady who refused point-blank to turn on a computer, suddenly got so tech-savvy. Duh! Someone had stolen her ID.
  • There is just no privacy. You can’t lie to your organization or school. Like, for example, you cannot bunk school and go to Inox or McDonalds, because somebody is always watching.
  • And what is worse... those annoying/boring/nevertheless curious folks you desperately try to avoid in real life, keep such a close watch on you. Its like having a personal Bodyguard
  • And on a serious note, considering the amount of time and effort you invest into social media, you really cannot estimate the value of return. Unless you consider ‘3 hrs per day on FB = 5 kgs gain p.a’.

Evidently, all these merits and demerits of the virtual world are quite tangible. Increasing awareness, thoughtful discussions, resultant mood swings, friendships, enemies, losses (of time) and gains (of weight!) are all real.

Can we still confidently draw the line between the online world and the real one?

Do we know when exactly a Facebook campaign suddenly gains huge momentum, facilitating a mass-protest in a country, e.g. Egypt protests organized through Facebook and microblogging site Twitter)?

Why, we even saw a bunch of ‘real’ people who witnessed the Royal wedding and promptly went on to create a Facebook page for ‘Pippa Middleton Ass Appreciation Society’. The page has 241,492 fans!

We did not see this coming (And I don’t mean Pippa Middleton).

We did not realise when or how the virtual world became an integral part of the real one. When being online changed from a one-off indulgence to a gnawing daily necessity. When the power of the online world began to threaten that of the real one. Or when thoughts floating around online started influencing mind-sets in the physical world.

What do you think? Is the Virtual world really virtual anymore? Or is it so real that it poses social and even political dangers to society?

Perhaps we should ask Kapil Sibal.

Photo credit
: Emilie Ogez 


  • Writerzblock
    04.03.12 11:28 PM
    @ Harish:
    Like you, I too spend much lesser time on social media now that I ever did before (which also explains the huge delay in replying to your comment here :-)). And I actually feel 'liberated'!!

    @ Rajpriya:
    You have a very valid point there. It certainly is easier to get away with a handshake in the virtual world. Not much offence taken ;-) But the part about 'not getting provoked' - I think that is an art and needs to be mastered!

    @ Prateek:
    You hit the nail on the head. While the virtual world is interesting and engaging, it does become dangerous when we cross the line and enter the zone of addiction! I've seen people update every place they have been to on Facebook, and I simply don't understand WHY!!

    @ Vaibhav:
    True! Thankfully, it is not an addiction for 'everybody'. But for some, it is. And imho, it is a waste of time!

    @ Kirklops:
    Ha ha, that's a good one ;-) Yes, Internet is definitely here to stay. That mention of 'online character' statements - I hope that is only an exaggerration and it never actually happens!!!

    @ Jyoti:
    Ha ha, quite quite true. Facebook - dark glasses, straw hat, beachy background... wouldn't we all want to spend life like a dream?!!

    Beautifully said, Jyoti. Our addiction sometimes takes a toll on reality. For instance, I think we spend more time taking pictures of the food we cook, than actually relishing them :-) Or pictures of festivals/functions instead of actually enjoying them or understanding the meaning!!

    Internet... I cannot do without it myself! But quite boringly, that is because of the immense free information rather than scoring 'likes' on my FB page! Youngsters I'm sure will not agree!
  • Jyoti
    18.02.12 02:41 PM
    I once read a quote saying - " We all wish our life to be as great as we pretend it is on Facebook" This is the reality of today's virtual world. I recently had an overnight picnic with a group of friends and all they were concerned about taking pics of every small thing they encountered, just to upload them in Facebook.

    My point is saying all this is that we all are so addicted to the virtual world that we have forgotten to live the reality of real world. We do not enjoy the curerent moment just to ensure that we create memories by clicking pictures, recording vides, or something similar.

    I had a wonderful Valentine evening with my spouse and I don't need likes and "awwwwws" from my peers to really feel that that it was awesome.

    Any which ways, Internet is not only about social networking sites. It is a huge platform and its monopoly is only going to increase in future.
  • Kirklops
    30.12.11 12:15 PM
    "Twitter makes me like people I have never met and Facebook makes me hate people I know in real life."... haha

    Internet is here to stay. We are fast approaching a world where we'll have online "character" statements to decide our virtual interaction potential pretty much like the credit card statements that are used to decide our credit worthiness.
  • vaibhavGhevde
    22.12.11 10:47 AM
    I agree to the fact that the online world is becoming an integral part of the real one, but its not necessarily an addiction for everybody. An individual should set his/her own limits. I mean, I actually use the words "I have not visited FACEBOOK/TWITTER for a while".
  • Prateek
    19.12.11 09:34 AM
    Everything comes with some perils so does the virtual world.
    Addiction takes the cup of cake, losing track of time or getting bind by the Twitter is indeed the real life anti-reagent.
    But the ease cannot be ignored either.
  • Rajpriya
    17.12.11 03:28 PM

    My Real Virtual World:

    A little over a hundred years ago H.G.Wells described in “The Time Machine”, a set of golden discs that, when spun as directed, ‘assailed the mind with sound, images and pictures that could be unimaginable, the history of a race on each disc’. Wells was genius and a visionary.

    Many of us cannot recall the launch of the music CD. The conquest of the music market by the digital technology took less than may be six years. The printing industry to which I belonged since a long time: began its migration from conventional to digital production methods at a startling pace.

    Blending typesetting and graphics to make a formatted printed page using the desktop revolution, matured and computing itself became a dynamic driving force in the evolution of the printing industry. When I first sat in front of a Macintosh Classic in the late eighties it was like a dream that I never had dreamt before and was so much different to the giant Reproduction camera that I first became familiar with in the early days of my printing career.

    I learned that the increasing grey tones of a photograph from white to black have to be broken into tiny black dots of varying sizes and the funny term by which they called The Halftone that were needed to be printed on paper with the aid of contact screens, how exposures were increased or decreased to change the contrast of pictures, developing films in trays with self made solutions, to grain aluminum plates and to make them light sensitive to hold the images made through this camera, the fundamentals of the printing process.

    The computer, Internet and communication via email made us aware of the potential of digital data and the comfort and reusability it provided. Then we watched in awe, the analog world blend in to the virtual world unnoticed and afforded to us the computing luxury to sophisticated knowledge only as long as we grew and made technology our own.

    To the printing industry the use of increasingly modern Internet technology was no longer preparing content but rather a stepping-stone for all forms of media and the communication of concepts as clear as possible.

    Most management was faced with varied enthusiasm from employees who wanted to take the plunge as against those that were hesitant to understand differences between the old the analog and the new digital world demanded. We saw the old typesetter or the artist evolve in to the new problem solvers of the digital world.

    It was the beginning of a deviation from the labor-intensive analog era to the Digital Super Highway. Simply stated, massive graphic files required an enormous ‘pipe’ to move them around the network with speed.

    The digital file for a single design containing type, graphics and a photograph at the appropriate resolution for sufficient quality, can consume 100 MB or more when compared to the size of this article as text only at 100 KB or less.

    While most of us with basic computer knowledge, know that the essence of all computer data is zeroes and ones, we also are aware that any single zero or (1) one being dropped on the way to its destination can render the entire file worthless. Therefore, data integrity was critical and important.

    With all these changes pushed me in to the wider cyber world I am still an infant with the use FB and Twitter and my second ever online forum being NRI. But beauty of online forums is that unlike a boxing ring where you hit the other guy until he no longer can get up on his feet and lay with a bloodied nose, you get away with a virtual handshake unlike the real world.

    There is always one who provokes and other who gets provoked and forum admin the referee who blows his whistle to hand the yellow first and red card next to stop the crap. Sometimes I prefer to remain on my Digital Super Highway where I rarely get my face spat on. But I know the better way, you don’t just let you be provoked. Easy.
  • Harish
    17.12.11 01:03 PM
    @Pallavi: Internet Zombie is anyone who has just started engaging on web, for everything is new and hence, a lot of time is spend to find what's important and what's not. But, as we get accustomed, we begin to organize more promptly, be selective in nature, start appreciating, validating our sources, spend less time on what we used to, for instance, I spend less time on facebook than I used to, for now I have grasped the art to conceive information more profoundly, the same goes with everything.
    But, then again things change much faster, so if you don't identify your interest and droll onto everything that comes onto your screen, I guess zombies are much existent.
  • Pallavi Subramaniam
    Pallavi Subramaniam
    17.12.11 03:05 AM
    @ Aativas:
    I think you made a very valid point here. Getting 'unplugged' is also becoming a fad now!! And like you rightly said, I too don't think it is possible to be completely offline anymore. The NEED to communicate and reach out is far more than we imagine it to be!

    @ Rahul:
    Lol, I couldn't care much about FB, but my blog ... now that anxiety pang does hit me from time to time! And like you said about people in Germany not being very Twitter/FB-friendly, I find some similarity here in UK, among the older generation though, not the youngsters.

    @ Abhinav:
    Thank you so much :-)
  • Pallavi Subramaniam
    Pallavi Subramaniam
    17.12.11 03:00 AM
    @ Harish:
    I completely agree, online presence does help in various ways including finding jobs!! So do you feel the virtual world isn't posing a danger in its current state? Any idea, if there is a remote possibility that we turn into internet zombies some day ;-) ?

    @ Harry:
    Why do you feel FB friends are fake? They are very much real, Harry. I can't tell you the number of blogger friends, who went on to become FB friends, and now are literally my soul-sisters!

    I share your irritation on the 'stupid' FB status updates!

    Btw, I didn't have to 'count' Pippa's fans. You really are very FB-unsavvy Harry :-) Just take a look at her Page, and the number of fans appears at the bottom.. of the page.

    JLo or Piggy Chops?? I'm sure there are on FB as well. Seek, and you shall find!
  • abhinav singh
    abhinav singh
    17.12.11 12:12 AM
    beautiful post!! :)
  • rahul aggarwal
    rahul aggarwal
    16.12.11 10:49 PM
    i sometimes imagine what happens if someday facebook google plus or twitter goes down all together at same time...

    people will cease to exist in the real world ..

    thank god the virtual world has not stepped in the villages and other rural confinements....

    but strange when i was in germany .. i hardly met people who liked being on fb or twitter...

  • aativas
    16.12.11 10:34 PM
    Virtual world is becoming 'Real' - once it becomes more predominant, people would like to switch off. As it is 'to be unplugged' is getting to be a trend - at least people honestly want to be unplugged - not that they can be really!
    16.12.11 09:21 PM
    I think facebook and twitter are very real now a days in modern society. At one time they were virtual but now they are used in real world to do what we like. The facebook friends are still fake because in real life we would never speak or associate with them.

    What I can't understand for love of GOD, why would you want tell everybody who knows you, what you are doing every single minute of the day. Have this people got no life or better things to do with their time.

    Above are one kind who puts stupid status on facebook, but then their is another kind who uses to find their old flames. Then their is a third kind who uses it, to orgnise events to get together or even go to riots.

    I personaly hate facebook and twitter both with passion. I only know few people who do not use social networking and I can count them on one hand, thankfully I am one of them. My only vice is THE NRI website, and few others and that's all I do.

    My question is this to you PALLAVI, how do you get time to search for Pippa Middleton's ASS Appreciation Society has 241,492 fans ? The only way I am joining face book is, If you tell me, if there is one simmilar society for Jennifer Lopez or Priyanka Chopra. I am now drooling, see what you made me do talking about ASS, and it's all your fault. :) :) :) :) :)

  • Harish
    16.12.11 04:16 PM
    Virtual world is definitely no more virtual, for engagement in this virtual world sometimes leads to actual engagement in real world. Further, one's online presence can directly influence personal domains for instance job opportunities etc. On a similar note I had earlier written a post on "Bloggers being lonely or not", for their excessive engagement in virtual world.
    But all there is to say, is the interaction online has become far greater, which can also be conferred from the fact that Facebook is the place on web with highest average time spending. The driving points are of-course the ease to reciprocate and engage in a conversation. The freedom where even a child could have an opinion, who otherwise would not even be listened, and dismissed in the real world, is gratifying.
    But then again, putting yourself on Google does lead to impersonation, which is not appealing, but if someone has not faced it, they are not gonna understand the risk until they do. However, I don't believe it is a danger. Just because Egypt got rocked with bombs does not mean the same for all, it just means opportunities lie unprecedented if your cause has enough caliber to spread. It can deviate some for sometime, but if news travels fast, then credibility of news does not reside far behind either.

Leave a comment