When virtual identities overshadow real ones

Through the lens, lightly


Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 8 Sep 2022, 5:45 PM

Some years ago, there was this woman who ‘disappeared’ from a friend’s life. One day they were the best of pals and having idlis and filter coffee at a dosa diner and exchanging life updates animatedly. The biggies were: this woman — my friend’s friend (a former colleague who became a good friend) — had quit her corp comm job and was taking a sabbatical, and she had just moved into a new place somewhere on the eastern fringes of the city, where a housewarming party was due.

And the next day she was gone. Vamoosed. MIA, aka, missing in action.

So, here’s how it played out. Soon after that idlis-coffee meet, where the ‘vanished’ woman appeared “perfectly normal and her usual fun self”, my friend noticed her pal’s WhatsApp ticks weren’t converting to double ones. When she called her, a disembodied voice informed her that the “number you are trying has been switched off”. The missing woman used to live alone in the city, and she had family in a different part of the country — with who she never really got along (or so she claimed)… ergo, my friend had never bothered to get to know her pal’s family members. But now she heard — the whisperings had started in right earnest — that this woman may have left town and gone back to the family fold. There had been “sightings”, but nobody wanted to be held accountable for the lore. And nobody seemed to have a contact out there.

“One thing is for sure,” my friend told me with a hangdog face. “She’s no longer in this city… What rankles is that she never told me she’s leaving… in fact, she gave no indication she’s disaffected with her life here... and the fact that she doesn’t really want me in her life.”

“Have you tried checking her out on Facebook, Twitter and all of those platforms?” I wanted to know.

“Uffff, that was the first thing I did,” my friend snapped. “She’s logged off all social media, and now that she’s gone off social media as well, I truly feel I’ve lost her! What do you think happened?”

“You’d think it’s some form of ghosting,” I said, trying to sound like I am a pro on the subject when the truth was I’d only just learnt the term (remember, I said this incident occurred some years ago?). “But this is not ghosting, is it? Ghosting is when you block someone from your account or accounts and, therefore, render them redundant. In this case, she has disappeared from social media.”

I was reminded of this story recently. What happened was, I read a fantastic piece online. I started doing a search on the author’s name because I thought I would send him a note of appreciation. I couldn’t find him anywhere on social media. And because he’s not on social media, I felt I could never track him down. Everyone I knew who I thought may have a ‘media’ connect with him said the same thing: “He’s not on social media — so basically he doesn’t exist.”

Which got me thinking. Are our modern-day identities subliminally linked to social media? More to the point, do we believe we are “in touch” — or at least within striking distance — because we share a common social platform, along with billions of others?

When I couldn’t find the author of the fantastic piece on social media, I felt he’d slipped through my fingers. Maybe I’ll never be able to get in touch with him.


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