Thursday, May 10, 2012

LONELINESS ,THE SOCIAL ANIMAL AND FACE BOOK EXPERIENCES


I wrote a post with a similar title in December 2010 which received zero comments. So I am a bit hesitant to use the same title a second time.  I wonder why is it so important to  me – this need for a response?  I don’t know but all I can say is that soliloquy is alright for an actor on stage – when we do it  in reality people may assume something entirely different about us.

Anyway, coming back to the topic in question about loneliness. I read recently a very scary article about LONELINESS AND FACEBOOK USERS Scary- because I am one of those who is very much into facebook.

 It raises an interesting question Is Facebook part of the separating or part of the congregating; is it a huddling-together for warmth or a shuffling-away in pain? Put simply, the author suggests that Facebook is a coping strategy for lonely people. The article also explores loneliness as a psychological state superimposing it  against an American Social reality.

The social reality that the author mentions however, is not peculiar to the US . It is very much a part of our reality in India too. We are constantly surrounded by a crowd – yet are so lonely.. ! When was the last time we spoke to the  person sitting next to us on a bus or a train ? There was a time when I would have – but these days I prefer to spend that time thinking about what I plan to do when I get to wherever I want to. I see people around me talking all the time- but not to each other! They are on mobiles..

The conclusion that I can draw is that we relate very little to our immediate surroundings or our immediate realities preferring to divorce ourselves using communication devices-Facebook being one of them!

I will now try to reflect a bit on my experiences with facebook use. I got on it sometime in 2010- at that time it was just something I used to glance at –sometimes browsing through photo albums of friends. Then, in the middle of 2010-a school friend sent me a friend request. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement! I accepted her friend request and through her connected with almost everyone in my class. It was a very emotional experience for me because I had done my schooling in Kolkata and when we left the city in 1985, there were few links ( other than the memories) that bound me to the place. I don’t have family there so there was no question of going back either . There were a few close friends  with whom I kept in touch but this was different! It was like I was back in school! We were all together once again-this time as adults. About a decade ago, there would have been no chance to interact together on one forum the way FB allows us to do. I may have called some of the friends who had reached out to me once in a while but the casual conversation reminiscent of childhood and youth would not have been possible as FB allows. ( for example if  I post a message “ eating pakoras now” I would be sure to get atleast 2-3 comments from one of these girls asking me  to pass some pakoras to them too!) And that is how I became hooked on to it! Among the two hundred odd friends on my list those with whom I interact regularly on FB are mostly these  friends from school and some former colleagues

I am now trying to reflect whether I really long for these kinds of silly banter?  I think it is not the words but the spirit behind them that make them so attractive. We probably miss our childhood  youth and other good times.  This is a forum where we try to re live it. But not to say that we do not exchange more serious messages too.

I look at my FB use pattern- most of the time I do it through my phone and usually  when I am at work.  A very boring meeting, a tedious report or a long winded email require some respite! Now, you may wonder why I do not take a walk or speak to a colleague? Well,, I used to when the co workers were people I could relate to. When you work in an environment where you have little in common with the people you work with other than the work and sometimes some office politics you long for the world you can relate to! So, I guess you could certainly say that I am lonely at my work place. When I analyze the number of times I use Face book while at home, I find it is very few. I usually get on FB  late in the evenings just before bed time sometimes, usually posting songs that I find on Youtube. If you look at the FB activity over a week,  you will find that on weekends there are few people posting or commenting- which supports a theory I have that many people feel a sense of disconnect at their work place.( or as my husband would say - "people like to banter when the organization pays for the internet use")

My husband who is more a face book observer rather than a user has some interesting takes on such social networking sites. He says that people like to use them to present themselves and their lives as how they would like the world to view them. The article mentions that too. But then, I guess most people can also see through such messages and photographs. If society is being replicated through the virtual world, the social relationships are also likely to be mirrored through it. The people who experience loneliness on Facebook are lonely away from Facebook, too, she points out; on Facebook, as everywhere else, correlation is not causation. The popular kids are popular, and the lonely skulkers skulk alone- says the article.

I see this point about exclusion or avoidance even within such sites. There are some people who are in my list of “friends” with whom I do not have much interaction. While I do read all status messages on my home page, I may not respond to many of them though I may find some of them funny . I behave like this sometimes because the person is not one with whom I have much interaction outside of FB and sometimes, I do it deliberately to ignore the person. Let me explain the later reaction in detail. I will use the example of  a person from my college days. A rather quiet person  during those days, this person  appears through FB these days  as what can only be called as “a pseudo intellectual” - (so say  people who think like me but I am sure others may think differently). I deliberately ignore messages on this person's wall   Then there  is this rather tedious   person   who  had once posted a message “Listening to Mohammad Rafi”. I was inclined to type  “Poor Rafi” –bitchy you might say! But when I mentioned this  to another friend he burst out laughing saying that he had almost done that! ( Now I shudder to think how many people may be reacting to some of my own status messages in a similar way !!)However,  this is not to say that this person does not have people responding to  status updates .  What I am trying to say is that  the virtual world has its own inner circles or circle of “close” friends among a larger group of friends. But what I can never understand are husbands and wives constantly writing messages on each other's walls- I wonder if these couples stay together in the same house or are these  some kind of  long distance marriages? (I regret on such occasions that my husband is not a FB user- imagine, I could have posted the grocery list on his wall and pestered him publicly to buy them)

My husband often questions me about the depth of these relationships. He tells me that just because someone from my list of  friends   likes a message I  have posted, it does not really mean anything about the relationship. I disagree. As I mentioned before, the there are relationships and more relationships.. I know a lot of people but I am close only to a few. There are people in my office who may ask me “Hey Meera, new dress. Anything special?” Now even if there is something special if  I do not wish to reveal it   I might just nod and smile  and end the conversation there.

However it is not fair to blame facebook for loneliness. Loneliness is a deeper psycho social  problem. But I must say face book does help us address whatever social needs that we may have.  For the lonely it may be a coping strategy, for the attention seeker it is the perfect forum to seek the spot light while for the activist it is a platform to publicise issues. Why.. it is also  turning out to be a good market place where goods are on sale!

Face book interactions are not a defining factor in any relationship The width of all relationships need not have the same depth – after all even a river is only deep at certain points.

25 comments:

anindita said...

Interesting post. You know among my friends' list of about 200, I am hardly in contact with 10, they are the ones whom I have always in best of the terms, pre-FB, I must say.

There are others, with whom I may keep interacting on FB, I would not even care to meet if I am in their city.

You are right in saying 'Face book interactions are not a defining factor in any relationship The width of all relationships need not have the same depth'..could not agree more!

Meera, I am sure you and I will be in touch even POST-FB!

Arooj said...

i thing attracts me towards Facebook is my wish ti now about my old fellows.yet i am not really like Facebook i dont know why,may be i hate this thing that people just say you ''happy birthday'' just because Facebook reminds them

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks Ani for agreeing with me. Arooj you are right - people who really care for us should remember our birthdays at the least right?

Rahul Bhatia said...

FB has helped in reducing the distances and we are just a click away! So as a technology enabler it has achieved a lot! The virtual relationships have become more pronounced and like every coin it has the other side too where show off, unnecessary minute to minute updates are nauseating:)

anilkurup said...

The river is only deep at certain places.Is true. However to use the metaphor in the context of FB, I d say the river is shallow at more places than the depth it has.

This is just a virtual world and see it that way.

There are folks who get hooked to it and those who frequent it just for a while ( like me) and attribute no significance to the banalities.
And I also feel that the ones who are hooked to it , a kind of addiction to this virtual world do so because they are not aware as to what the real world can provide.

Jyothi said...

You are absolutely right Meera! Facebook is more or less like a classroom that we miss. And all the good and bad things about the classroom are present there too. Showoffs, boasters, liars, backbiters, complainers, whiners and many such. It's a reflection of life. A virtual life where you can be what you want to be. Some posts are genuine and it is very easy to make them out. It was a craze before, but I hardly use it anymore.

Rhapsody B. said...

Blessings......
Facebook and other social networks are just a symptoms to as you stated an already existing problem of loneliness. Is it a solution not really just a bandaid approach.

Good analysis...
rhapsody

Shomoita said...

I shared that article on Facebook few days back. And the article also says, "Being alone and loneliness are not the same thing." So, the interpretations may not be the same.

I think facebooking serves a different purpose. It makes one feel special. A kind of tool to come into the limelight! Let me explain. A person can decorate his/her profile just like the one only celebrities used to have once! This virtual world and websites like Facebook gives one the opportunity to feel like a celebrity. I see how people poses like a model and uploads that. I think there's nothing wrong in that. It's also a way of expressing oneself.

I believe facebook made us more social. Now we connect without thinking twice with the people we merely talked once! Of course, it has its drawbacks too. I think people should keep some information like birthdays, where they went to schools and workplaces open to at least friends of friends. So that we may be able to know some people just by their profile. I may have hardly talked to a colleague or hardly got time to talk, but I know few stuff about them through their profile. And I think that's an interesting thing. :)

And check this other article where researchers have found that people were much more likely to display their real personality on the social networking sites rather than their idealised selves.

http://www.spring.org.uk/2010/02/can-you-trust-a-facebook-profile.php

And about relationships, it's not only facebook I think, if we like someone and specially through written communication like blogs/FB interactions, it's always special. We hardly get a chance to really know everyone through real life interaction. I feel like I know and like my blogger friends more when they are added on facebook. :)

Meera Sundararajan said...

@Shomoita, facebook is obviously a way for young people like you to get the attention that is rightfully yours. I agree about this ability of FB to help us make friends too.. but the rest of it can sometimes get tedious.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ anil you are right- it is a virtual world and needs to be seen that way. But the real relationships remain FB or no FB!

@ Jyoti yes, the classroom experience rings true. I also feel like that

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Rahul, completely agree about FB helping us get past distances.

@ Rhapsody - you got my point!

Jack said...

Meera,

Technological advancement is a great help to us for keeping in touch with our friends who are far away but when such media becomes addictive or removes us from real world to only virtual world it is time to take a relook at it. If I do not spend time with my grandchild in the park but hasten to come back so I can watch some serial on TV or check my e-mails or blogs, it is time for me to shake myself up.

Take care

Rachna said...

I remember doing a post on social networking too recently. I think, it is a good thing as long as it does not become an addiction. Like you I was enthused to get in touch with school friends, some of whom I could not even recognize from their pics. Then there is a bunch of friends from college, graduate college and PG and colleagues. But, I've realized that once the initial euphoria dies down, it is basically people I was close to are the ones that I banter and interact with regularly. I have pulled back my FB use and now it is mostly sharing of my blog posts or other written work. I have cut down posting pics due to privacy issues. Yet, I wouldn't give up using FB. It still keeps me connected. But, this year I've resolved that I will call up most people I am close to instead of pinging them on FB :). I guess we really need to make a commitment to ourselves to be more social in real life no matter how difficult it might seem. These virtual obsessions are not healthy.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@Rachna and Jack thanks for your comments- the use of any technology is enabling so long as we allow ourselves to control it and not allow it to take over us!

KParthasarathi said...

Much can be said on both sides.It is a bane and boon.So long used judiciously it is a timepass and brings one into contact with several minds exposing oneself to different views.But it can also turn out to be an addiction and mean large volume of unproductive activity.It all depends how we use it.

specs buffy said...

specs-buffy.blogspot.com/2011/10/poker-face.html?m=1

Hey Meera, check the above link- do I need to say more:)

simply mee said...

Face book?..truthfully speaking meera,i DON'T like anything about it! It is very boring to me with mundane talks...monosyllablic comments{if there is a word like that..ehehe}....people putting their naked pictures..........i can go on and on about it....it has not add anything good in my life....so using it as a social networking to build up relationship should not be encouraged...but what do we see today?..some people would stay all night on face book and twitter...just talking?..arguing?...do you know letter writing is out of vogue now?...sorry for digressing, is just that it has done more harm than good.
An insight, well-thought post as always meera, you never fail to deliver.

Meera Sundararajan said...

Hey Specs Buffy and Simply mee.. agree about the addiction that FB can bring about - but then every thing depends on how we use it right?

Christopher said...

I read that article you sent, "Is Facebook Making Us Lonely". My answer is NO. Our lifestyle, more specifically the rat race that we are drawn into and the fierce competitive environment in academics and work, unstable family life etc lead to loneliness. Facebook offers an avenue to connect with people who can be a peer support system and hence a coping mechanism to partly address loneliness. Ultimately, FB is like a tool - you can choose to use it productively or destructively. It all depends on how to you use it. I enjoy using FB. I am able to connect with people who were my friends several decades ago and with some of my teachers who taught me while I was in school. What more can I ask for?

Regarding the observation "people like to use them to present themselves and their lives as how they would like the world to view them", my submission is that people do that in real life too.

I enjoy FB and in all likelihood, will continue to do so.
Regarding people who like to put

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Christopher, I agree Facebook -can be a peer group and have a stabilizing influence in our life. I for one am all for it! And you know, you are right about people behaving similarly within and outside FB

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

One of the things that worries me is the transition of "society" to a virtual world. We have already dispensed the wise man of the tribe, turning to web searches instead. Spouses and siblings live under the same roof, work different shifts for different parts of the customer world, and wish each other on their birthdays on social media. It takes me one click to like two weeks of exotic vacation pics, and no one is wiser whether I really saw them. I feel this growing "virtualization" of human interactions is just as worrisome as the value erosion in public life or the invasion of violence into popular recreation. In addition, it is perhaps robbing us of the social skills that had evolved as we explored our true potential. I hate to sound like a prude but I refuse to believe that all that has come before us as a civilization points only towards the cold, controlled and quiet comfort of digital social media. Quite a slip, this one. I thought I had come to say, Nice Post, but look what it turned into.

Tomz said...

This is not a comment on your topic. But I remember an article once I read. It says, if you feel depressed and want to be happier, go and delete your facebook account. Because we often compare ourselves with others. In FB, people post only smiling photos, and happy occasions. And it is a genuine reason for someone to feel blue seeing neighbors in happy situation. So to feel happy, go and just delete ur FB profile. :)

Gayu said...

Hats off Meera, I admire your indepth analysis...and the way you write on such serious topics.

Virtual world calls for people skills, how well you frame your Status messages will attract more likes. You go on vacations...and post pictures...you will get more comments.

You keep yourself well maintained and get branded stuff...and click pics...you will get more likes and comments.

the problem with people today is, they contunioulsy need a push. They want people to praise them...and they have become attention seekers, just like small children.

And yes I agree with Tomz. Its a rosy picture potrayed on FB. Happy families, friends, food and vacations. But is it the truth??? There are fights...issues in everyones life. there are everyday struggles...but people fail to see this.

Have a lot to say, maybe in a post:)

Emmy said...

Many people do use facebook as a way to cope with personal problems.. i know of a few

jkhona said...

good read. a new way of looking towards facebook. Yes, This is my 4th Life on facebook in 6 years. :) activating, enjoying, getting into depression and deleting facebook account has become a routine of life.. :) :)

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