Facebook Friends 

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After 12 years of somewhat confused matrimony, my husband and I are finally “friends” on Facebook. In a world where virtual life and existence matter more than the real, how did this anomaly of not being friends on Facebook come about, I can’t say. That married couples are more in the league of sworn enemies than friends in real life is beside the point. Appearances must be maintained so politically correct online relationships are a must. Since how long we have been estranged on Facebook, I have no idea. And since neither one of us is much prone to any public display of affection (or acrimony), we have refrained from wishing the other on Facebook while sitting next to each other in real life. No wonder this slight virtual lapse went unnoticed until now.

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Imagine my surprise when on a rare occasion of wanting to tag him in a family picture, I failed to find him on my friends list. Now to set matters straight, we are pretty much married on Fb, albeit not to each other. So while my relationship status intriguingly reads “It’s complicated”, my hubby’s is a rather prosaic and to the point “married”. Period! Who or what it is that has complicated my life or that my husband is married to, is left to the reader’s imagination, of which there is no dearth in any case. I remember being asked so very often why my relationship was complicated, if it meant that there was “trouble” in the marriage. This is a question that never ceases to intrigue me. And my answer apparently does not please those asking the ludicrous question- “If there was any trouble, and I don’t confirm or deny the same, Fb is the last place and you the last person, I’d share it with”.  Why would people be presumptuous enough to think that someone’s private life and its affairs would be the subject of status messages or relationship status on Fb is beyond me! But then why do people declare their undying love and affection on Fb rather than in person has been beyond me as well. If only we were as careful about privacy in its true sense than just the Fb and WhatsApp privacy settings!

Coming back to the original mystery of the missing friendship on Fb, well the mystery still remains unsolved. If my life was a Yash Chopra or Karan Johar movie, I’m sure I could say that there is more to it than meets the eye. But sadly, my life is as boring as it gets so no surprises lay in store. After an intriguing few hours, and a host of conspiracy theories involving aliens and AI, we went back to our staid existences. The photograph though still remains untagged. However we are friends on Facebook…till the status do us apart!

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I went on a “Braincation”

After 15 days in the “wilderness” I’m back in what we call civilisation only to read an article in Times Life ( June 16, 2013) about something called “Braincation”. On reading it I realised that I have done something hip and trendy; I have been on a “Braincation”!! Only that I didn’t know that I was on a Braincation. It’s only in retrospect that this realisation has dawned upon me and I’m basking in the glory thereof!

For the uninitiated like me, Braincation is a vacation for the brain which primarily, though not only, involves a break from technology that has made much deeper inroads into our lives and psyche than we can imagine. No wonder then, as I read somewhere, digital detox is what it is also called. My Braincation actually was self imposed. Pokhara ( Nepal) is not exactly in the back of beyond where my Smart phone or Laptop would not work. However when I got the chance to not switch on my overzealous smart phone, I grabbed it. It was as if my very being needed to tune out the over bearing intrusion of the outside world. In all honesty, I was not totally devoid of all gizmos and gadgets. There was a good old Nokia 1100 mobile phone that lay somewhere around the house to talk to friends and family. I did check my mail once a day or every other day; I logged into the bane of our existence, Facebook once or twice and I did write a few blog posts. But I kept my smart phone far away. Neither did I bother to pick up a local number and get data activated on it nor did I try and connect to Wi-Fi anywhere. It was then that I realised that the biggest culprit invading our existence second by second is our over smart “smart phone” which, in the guise of keeping us “connected”, has driven us to a point where we can’t bear to part with it even for a minute . Be it Mail, “WhatsApp”, Facebook ,Twitter, Viber or numerous other apps and games – there really is no rest for our over stimulated brains. To think of it, why blame the poor inanimate gadget? It was designed to make our life easier. Yet we have allowed it to take over our lives so much so that now there is a wholly legitimate phrase for a vacation that the brain needs from it- Braincation!  How is it that we get ourselves to a point where the things designed to make our life simpler, end up complicating it instead? The smart phone doesn’t prod us to reach out for it every time it beeps. We do it out of choice. Our need for constant and varied stimulation, the global attention span deficit that plagues us, our inability to simply be, even for a few minutes- all this make us jump for our smart phone every few minutes. Excuses are there in plenty, work being most common of all but at the end of the day, that is just what they are- excuses. It’s not uncommon to see a family out for dinner ( or even on a vacation) where the husband and wife are busy on their respective phones while the child is handed an iPad to play on. Why bother going out at all when all that you want is your phone and not the people or the surroundings ? What happened to good old family outings? People whose very life is on line, be it on the phone or tablet or a laptop are on the rise. Take these gadgets away and the person won’t know what to do with himself. If this is not addiction, I don’t know what is. No wonder then that after proudly proclaiming “free Wi-Fi” on their banners, hotels and travel destinations are now offering digital detox and “technology breaks” as their selling points.

This “use to the point of abuse” is a pattern that we human beings seem to have mastered. Plastic carry bags were supposed to offer ease of usage and disposal. We didn’t think twice before chucking out our good old cloth bags for them. Now we are fighting tooth and nail to ban those very bags. Simple mobile phones, the kind we hardly see much anymore, made communication easier. Today we are talking about the adverse effect of these phones and communication towers on our health. Microwaves are pretty much indispensable in every kitchen. Yet there is research to show how their excessive usage is detrimental to health. What is it with us that we just don’t seem to be able to maintain any kind of balance- be it in our lives or in nature? Recent Uttarakhand floods are a case point. Blame God, blame Kedarnath all that you will. At the end of the day we just have ourselves to thank for it.

So how did my mini Braincation feel? Liberating. After what seems eternity I had my privacy, my life. Not too strangely not only did I survive these 15 days beautifully but the world around did not collapse either. Yet as I reached our good old T3 terminal at IGIA, old habits seemed to be craving to take over as I switched on my smarty pants phone and found myself looking for Fb status updates, WhatsApp messages, mail etc. However having experienced digital detox, I’m determined not to fall back into the old mould. So all that I use my phone for now is what it was originally intended for- calls. Will I succeed? I sure hope so. For there is nothing that is worth losing one’s peace. Like it or not, for most things in life, there is a “later”.

 

 

Living Life Facebook Style…

                             Every time I log into Facebook I cannot help but wonder about the same thing- how did we purposefully waste time prior to the FB onslaught? How did we wish our friends and family on their birthdays? How did we announce the arrival of a new family member or our new flashy car? Or tell the world about our great holiday destination or what we had for breakfast or the hippest new joint we went to for dinner? How did we play games without applications like Zynga Poker, Farmville, Criminal Case etc? How did we, in fact, have a social life?

                     Not limited to simply sharing, Facebook has taken the whole concept of PDA to a new level. It is no longer just a Public Display of Affection but a public display of everything. The age old Hindi adage of “Neki kar dariya mein daal” has now become “Kuch kar na kar, Facebook par zaroor daal”. So you have people wishing their spouse on birthday or anniversary, with picture of gifts received or given,to boot, even though the spouse is living under the same roof; people expressing love for or thanking their parents, children, siblings, friends ; people announcing grandly how they survived 2-3 days in the “wilderness” without any internet or updating their status to tell everyone how they are enjoying a movie or a beautiful natural spectacle or on a more sombre note, informing all about a trip to the hospital- this is communication at its easiest and yet its weirdest.

                       To say that we are living in a “Facebook Centric” world may not be an overstatement. More often than not, our day begins and ends with simply ‘checking’ Fb. You may not post, like or ‘do’ anything but checking it is almost an addiction. Fb has allowed us to locate and be ‘virtually’ in touch with people we may otherwise not care to know about let alone share our life and its ups and downs with. Or as a friend joked, Fb has wrecked more marriages and relationships today than mother in laws could in the past! Locating exes or finding new people who ignite your interest is easier than buying groceries. And so is “liking” a friend’s photograph of trip to Disneyland than actually taking out time to meet that friend for some quality time together. Yes..life, and socialising, was never so virtual and never so easy.

                            Is it just a reflection of changing times or symptomatic of some deeper malaise in our society that today we have more friends on Fb than in real life; that we give more thought to what shampoo we use than to what information we post? What is it that prompts people to share their lives on Fb by way of status updates, likes, comments or tagging? Showing off is one part of it though the answer I often hear in defence is that people are just “sharing” what they want to with their near and dear ones; there is no public display at work here it is argued. But is it really so simple? Have we ever given it a serious thought? I doubt it. For if we did, we’d realise that the information we put is on one hand of far more personal nature than we realise and on the other hand more for the purpose of bragging than actual ‘sharing’. If we were to sit face to face with those very “friends” we share information with on Fb, the chances are that we won’t tell them 90% of what we put on Fb. With a novel and impersonal way of communicating, we share more than what we ordinarily would. Nothing is personal anymore; nothing is sacrosanct. We are willing to share everything- where we are, who we are with, what we think, what we feel without realising that anything we put up there – a picture, a status update, a location- is out in the open, regardless of our personal privacy settings- there really is no point in screaming later about privacy being violated.

                             What makes me sit back and reflect however is the nagging thought that today our lives are so busy yet so lonely, so full of activity yet so bereft, that our basic human need for sharing, loving and caring is met on line than in our daily real lives. We may not know of a death in our own neighbourhood but thanks to Fb, we will know of an Audi a long lost acquaintance has bought; we have no one nearby to share our grief with so we update our status to tell about an ailing parent’s hospitalisation or have no one to share our joy with so we talk about our 10th wedding anniversary on Fb. A few “likes”, a few “comments” fulfil our desire for companionship through all times good and bad. It’s almost like a validation of our existence.

                       Did Mark Zuckerberg think so much before he unleashed Fb on us? Did he realise that what he was creating from his dormitory room would forever change the way we live? Probably not. Just like we don’t realise how much of our waking moments we needlessly while away on it. Thank you indeed Mark Zuckerberg for revolutionising the way we kill a precious commodity like time. Oh!!Let me check how many “likes” has the photograph of that annoying colleague of mine got..humph !!