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