With the turn of the century, I graduated from inland letter cards to email; from landlines to mobiles; and from social visits to social media. Now, I am one of those who take pride in collecting “Likes” and “Comments” on facebook; on being the originator of discussion trails on WhatsApp; hash-tagging anything and everything on Twitter &c. In short, I would like to be known as a social media bug, rather than be called a slave to it, although both epithets are one and the same.
Reclining on the sofa after a long day, what is the first source of entertainment that I reach out for? - My smart-phone, of course. Four notifications against the Facebook icon give my spirits that much-needed fillip (I cannot imagine the depths to which they would have fallen had I seen none). On opening the application, my heart takes a leap as I see a friend request from a beautiful lady. But she is not someone I ever knew, not a friend of any one of my friends, and with a profile which is nondescript. Another of those fakes! My rising excitement sank like a stone in still water. I ignored the request. I scrolled through the other notifications: two likes for my recent post, birthdays for two of my friends and a group post. I am interested only in the “Likes”. But only two Likes? For a post which filled me with pride and self-admiration only a few hours ago? I am disappointed, and my self-esteem slightly deflated. Then I shake it off with a touch of disdain: “why should I care for anybody’s appreciation anyway?” Scrolling through the innumerable new posts from my innumerable “friends”, some of whom I cannot even recall ever meeting or interacting with in my life, I look for flippancy and mediocrity in the posts of others in a bid to convince myself of the superiority of erudition of my opinions, and thereby reassert myself in my own eyes. By and by, I come across the occasional post which does stimulate my interest, and sometimes even my admiration, but I refrain from clicking “Like” it or commenting on it just because that “friend” does not ever “Like” my posts. By the same principle, I impulsively click on “Like” for a post or comment which I would have otherwise dismissed as inane, stupid or irrelevant, but for the fact that this post belongs to a friend who regularly likes MY posts
This relationship of reciprocity has become the defining feature of friendships on social media, very similar to actual friendships in the physical world. Accordingly, as in societal relationships, in social media too objectivity and reason gives way to personal attachments in creating and sustaining friendship. There are many of our close relations who reside in the same city as us, and have resided thus for a long time now. Yet, some among them have moved farther from our lives than the most distant of lesser friends, owing to lack of reciprocity. I cannot convince my mother to visit her childhood friend who lives at a stone’s throw from our house. She is adamant that she will not make another visit until her visit last year is returned with a visit by that friend to our house. And until that happens, any news relating to that friend, barring that of the most catastrophic nature, will be anathema for my mother. But things will reverse most dramatically once that much awaited “visit” happens.
In today’s world, social media reflects the state of our relationships with the outside world. I can boast of tens of friends on my Facebook profile, but cannot say with confidence how many are actual friends. Every “Like” and comment on a post is a “visit” which is expected to be returned in kind, and until that is done, all further “visits” from the other party can well be discounted. So, in a profile with, say, hundred friends, it may be possible to keep visiting only about ten or twenty all the time, and so that’s what we are left with in the end. The others may well not care whether we remain their friends or not. To be the popular friend with an ever-buzzing social media drawing room, we must keep “Liking”, whether we actually like or not, just as we must call upon each of our friends once in a while, whether we have the time or appetite for it.
So the evening, like every other, ends with the mind still full of it, and I go to bed with my dear device still awake beside me, letting in more visitors through the night. Come morning, my fluttering eyelids will invariably open first into the drawing room to see how many visitors are in waiting, and the start to the day would be made or unmade by that number.
It is tough work being a socialite, even if it is just on the phone!