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.