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How to lose friends and alienate people

anamika@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 17, 2021
Reuters

Snapping my ties with Orkut, I joined Facebook that pretty much served a similar purpose without making you seem like a stalker.


In 2006, I opened my first social media account. Orkut was the talk of the town, and was seen as a platform that ‘helped’ you stay connected with long-lost friends. My interest in Orkut was not as much about keeping in touch as it was about keeping tabs on all the crushes from journalism school. It was going fine until Orkut introduced a feature that enabled a user to know who had visited his or her profile. Snapping my ties with Orkut, I joined Facebook that pretty much served a similar purpose without making you seem like a stalker.

It didn’t take long before my family and cousins — first, second and third — joined Facebook, and I began requesting friend requests from then. I was, admittedly, a social media butterfly, documenting highs and lows on my social network. I discovered that while the family loved to engage with my ‘sorrows’, any picture of me in a slightly short skirt or date-night photos rang alarm bells. Before I knew it, those pictures would be shown to my parents who demanded explanations.

For the most part of my youth, I enjoyed being on social media. If I was living it up, I wanted my page to reflect that. If there were filters that could be added to remove dark circles, I would unapologetically use them in hope of a few more ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, but, like everything else, social media too reared its ugly head.

I moved to the UAE seven years ago, hoping to start a new life with my partner. Apart from him, I was also looking forward to spending more time with a college friend, a ‘bestie’, who I had grown up with. Three months into my time in the UAE, she ousted me from her life. The writing was on the Facebook wall when she would not reply to

my posts inquiring about her or complimenting her. She had stopped engaging with my page completely. The final nail on the coffin of our friendship was when she removed me from a WhatsApp group she had been an admin of. My calls and (SMS) messages would go unanswered.

Looking back, I wonder if my reliance on social media has cost me a friendship. Would things be any different had I reacted to the estrangement a little early? Can a phone call do what WhatsApp and Facebook cannot? For some, the answer would be a straight-up yes. My rationale has been: if we are headed towards a digital future, why reject the new tools of communication? The pandemic — whether to our liking or not — has reinforced that notion.

Even as I champion social media, I am aware of how it has changed the scope of our interactions. We are either ‘right wing’ or ‘left wing’, ‘feminist’ or ‘anti-feminist’, ‘believers’ or ‘non-believers’ — when all you have are binaries, how do you enable nuanced conversations? It has also paved the way for the wok-ism that fuels cancel culture.

A conversation in the real world does not simply allow us to state our points of view, but also revisit and revise them when many perspectives come together. With social media, a screenshot is grabbed of a statement, which you may even regret making or are open to revising, and, in seconds, someone puts labels on you. A few years ago, I reached out to a well-known stand-up comic in India, who commands quite a popularity on Twitter, for a story and had, what I believed, a perfectly normal conversation. A few minutes later, she posted a meme about being forced into a conversation with a journalist. This desire to put up appearances in order to feed a following is not exclusive to her. The danger is in what it does to the one on the other end who does not have a robust base to have his or her voice heard.

Social media has brought the world on our fingertips. In doing so, however, it has also shrunk our world considerably.

anamika@khaleejtimes.com

Anamika Chatterjee





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