BLOG Facebook – It’s a Jungle Out There!

It was 2013 when I first came face-to-face with Facebook.  Joining the FB bandwagon wasn’t exactly out of a need to widen my social horizons or even the result of any techno-fascination. 

It was simply on account of peer pressure. 

What? You AREN’T on FB? My friends looked down upon me as if being a Facebook virgin equaled being a maladjusted sociopath. Actually, I’m a little shy… I fumbled in a lame bid to justify this blasphemy.

Right since my salad days I have lacked the channel capacity for overt social interaction. Kitty parties, girlie lunches, and coffee outings were all untried dishes on life’s to-do menu till I hit a half-century

Maybe this anomaly had something to do with my sun sign: Gemini.

We Geminians don’t really need to look outwards for company – because we are born with an inbuilt zodiac twin. 

Mine even has a name: Ajup, which is Puja spelled backward. Because Ajup is everything I’m NOT. Ajup is fun-loving, I am boring; Ajup is gregarious, I am reticent. Ajup loves Salman Khan, I despise the guy.

But Ajup is great company. Together, we both can spend hours… days… years… happily immersed in hobbyland. Whenever a social situation ‘befalls’ the two of us, we have to reluctantly put our rendezvous on hold. Needless to say, our relationship leaves me with scant vacant hours. Social media, therefore, has always seemed dispensable.

This brings me back to my story about how I joined Facebook under peer pressure when all my rants about being in a ‘happy zone on my own’ failed to cut ice with my friends. 

Apparently, only smugglers, history sheeters (and the like) avoid social platforms, I was told. That did it.

Not wanting to be a blot on the family name, I decided to join the FB fraternity and urged my daughter (an FB virtuoso) to brief me on the ropes.

Her tips were pretty straightforward : 
‘Go friend-scavenging on the net. Dig up old contacts (never mind if you haven’t met them since World War II). If someone says… ‘You weren’t my friend in playschool; you looked through me in high school; you hated me in college; why on Earth do you want to be my Facebook friend NOW?’

…well, tell ’em you were away on a secret mission to Mars or that you’ve just recovered from an extended bout of Alzheimer’s’.

‘Make sure you rope in as many FaceMates as possible. Remember, the longer your friend list, the more your ‘clout’; and the higher your ‘perch’ on the like ladder’.

‘Like a friend’s post? Press like. Love the post? Press like. Hate the post? Press like. Basically, like is all there is, and like is all you get… whether you like it or not (2013)

Haha… seriously? That seemed pretty simple (with a serious tilt towards senseless). I wondered mildly how Mr.Iceberg (or was it Zukerberg) expected ONE insipid like to compress and express a multitude of human emotions, reactions, and upheavals. 

Like is so meh. So limp. So dry. It tastes like dandruff! 

Anyway, baptism over, FB flung open its wanton gates to Ajup and me. I entered like a gawky sophomore anticipating ragging on her first day at college. ‘Hey… think of FB as a cruise; you are Columbus’, Ajup tried pepping me up. ‘Naw it’s more like a jungle; I’m goldilocks’ I said with the wonderment of Puja in FB land.

The FB social waters were swirling with action. They beckoned and threatened at the same time. I took a deep cautious breath and dived in. 30 minutes of tinkering passed. The creases on my forehead started relaxing. The butterflies in my tummy stopped flapping their wings. I even managed a stilted smile. Ajup was happy to see me get into the groove.

And then the corner of my eyes caught those little green dots: the ones that show up against your friends’ names telling you who all are online. Well, almost Everybody was online. 

Hey, wait a minute. If I could see who all were online, did that mean ‘whom all’ could also see that I was online? Holy Jesus! Mr. Iceberg? No privacy, you give us! Was I expected to say something? Acknowledge with a hi, perhaps? 

The thought of being embroiled in an impending communication ping pong unnerved me. It gave me goosebumps the size of melons.

My daughter hadn’t told me anything about those green dots!  Before Ajup could try and salvage the situation, I went scuttling to the ‘de-activate’ button.

That was my first encounter with FB. A 30-minute fling that set a new record – making Britney Spear’s two days long marriage seem like a decade.
The second time I joined Facebook, I lasted 10 hours.

The third time, a week.

HELLO… something wasn’t quite right. I was behaving like a psycho. And then realization dawned. My friends’ suspicion was spot on. I was indeed a mal-adjusted sociopath. 

Yikes… that didn’t feel good at all. It tasted worse than dandruff!
Then and There, I decided – To change the lens through which I had been looking at the world.

A fat portion of my 27 years of work-life was spent having silent albeit happy tete-a tetes with my square-headed boyfriend – the half-eaten Apple. My office cabin was my sanctuary and Ajup, my ‘sole’ mate (much to the chagrin of my soul mate).

Decades of languishing in a cube farm had taken their toll and turned me into a Spartan from Laconia. No wonder I had become a social misfit.
Well, I wasn’t going to let this happen. I was going to Retire. Rewire.

Rediscover. Whatever. I was NOW going to do all the stuff I hadn’t done so far – which included working on my underdeveloped faculties in areas such as socializing, chatting, making friends, joining girlie groups. 

And what better way to hone my social skills than to rejoin the big daddy of all social communication… Facebook?

So in 2014, after hanging my boots, I urged my daughter to re-open my Facebook account (one last time puhleez), pledging this time, to take the social media bull by the horns and stick to it. 

And stick I did. In fact, in an overzealous attempt to make good my pledge, I looked up the ‘people you may know’ column on FB and invited every Jill, Jane, and Mary to be my friend. Any name or face that even remotely tinkered in my memory bank, qualified for a friend request. The week-long exercise earned me 250 ‘friends’. Not bad, eh, for someone who leads such a lonely social life.

2016 is now my third running year on Facebook. After months of a now-on/now-off fling, I  have finally managed to stave off the ‘off’ and become a true blue, bonafide Facebooker. 

During the course of these three years, I’ve discovered that FB is the only place where it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to a wall. It’s starting to be a little like my fridge: I know there’s nothing in there but I keep checking it anyway…
Drawing my own inferences from this 3yr tryst with social media, I can say that the ancient Indian Caste System has now donned a new online avatar. It’s alive and kicking in the FB echelons.

Here are FB’s four ‘social castes’ in no particular sequence : 

The Candy Floss Socialites, or the FB Vaisyas

The bro’s, the babe’s, the aunty jis, and their beta jis. These are the ones who incessantly post pictures of their buzzing social parties and jet-set phoren trips: template destinations, template postures, template smiles. Like the Vaisyas, they promote trade. Because they inspire me to throw parties to amplify my social bandwidth. They goad me to goad my husband for another holiday.

They inject the excitement of domestic fights into an otherwise boringly peaceful married life. They are the Jonasses who keep my envy meter ticking. On the negative side, their weeds threaten to spread out and swallow my precious time and smother my intellectual growth. So I try and limit this number to one or two – small enough to save my cerebrum from the tentacles of hedonism, big enough for a healthy dose of envy.

The Social Media Rockstars, or the FB KshatriyasThe Social Media rock stars are the ones who are totally tuned in with the pulse of the audience. They are the warriors who excavate quotes from the womb of the net and share them on their timeline. Such is their command over their circle that they can garner 200 sycophantic likes even if they talk about their morning ablutions (how come I share something apparently sensible and get just 10-15 likes?). They are like MF Hussein whose paintings were alleged to command a fortune even if he rhythmically moved his brush to whatever music was being played. The social warriors can argue their hypothalamus out over every social/political opinion expressed by their friends. Definitely, the Kshatriyas.

The Fence Sitters, or the FB Shudras

These are the ones who watch all the action from the sidelines…pitching in only once in a blue moon with some input. They are the fillers who help you climb the like ladder. Like the Shudras, their main duty is to serve the other three castes. They are also the vicarious intellectuals who may not have the gift of expression, but they know a gem when they see one. They usually open their newsfeed and randomly start spraying it with likes. The last time I posted about my grandmother’s demise, I got 30 likes! Back rubbing is the name of the game. You scratch mine, I scratch yours. 

The True Blue Intellectuals, or the FB Brahmins

The true blue or organic intellectuals go by the commandment: have opinion, will express. Like the Brahmins, they are the conduit between God and the mortals. They spend their lives in the pursuit of knowledge and then pour it all out into the archives of Facebook. They treat social media as a channel to spread light, awareness, and knowledge for the upliftment of society. They are well worth a follow because they can pollinate your shriveled mind with the gold dust of their perspective. But they can be polarising. So you just have to cross your fingers and hope that their opinion is the RIGHT opinion. 

There are about 7 billion people on Earth. Over 864 million of them check the $200 billion worth of Facebook every day. So what is it that makes the social network so addictive?

Apparently, an individual’s Nucleus Accumbens (NA) – the brain region that lights up when someone takes drugs, becomes more active when receiving self-relevant feedback. So the more active your NA, the more likely you are to spend time on Facebook!

FB offers a whole bunch of self-promoting features such as posting what you are thinking, sharing pictures of yourself, giving your opinion on what others post, etc. A dash of suspense riding on an element of unpredictability (similar to the reinforcement schedule used by casinos) further adds to its aura and addictiveness.

It provides a forum for our ego’s quest for self-expression – especially followed by feedback from others. The small effort of posting a picture can provide a large investment return in the form of comments, or even better, compliments.

This system of reinforcement is very seductive and may help to explain why some people become addicted to Facebook.
The smartness of the product lies in the fact that it keeps you coming back. Every time you message/like/comment on Facebook, you prompt a trigger from FB in the form of an external notification that brings you back.

Facebook is uncharitably called a ‘vanity parade’ by the cynic brigade – a ‘compare and despair’ platform that feeds our innate voyeuristic streak. It is also panned as the emotional equivalent of eating a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. 
But to a majority, the shares, the likes, and the metrics feel good.

They’re fun. Even sesky. They do a great job of bringing a fragmented world together. Friends and family divided by geography, are united by Facebook.  Having online friends makes us feel appreciated.

It validates our sense of self-worth; boosts our self-esteem; appeals to the Info Junkie in us; and makes us feel part of an expansive exciting world.

There’s another upside to Facebook. It’s a zero-calorie, eco-chummy way to socialize. It allows you to hold parties, have discussions, bitch, gossip, admire… without spending a penny on booze, snacks, or fuel. No wastage, no traffic jams, no pollution. How’s that for eco-friendliness? 

One quick status update, comment, or picture is all it takes to reach out to the whole jingbang. A single-word message on someone’s wall is enough to rekindle dying relations and resuscitate dead contacts.

New technology, almost always, comes with the goods, the bads, and the uglies. Every single medium of communication can be used positively. Or negatively – depending on which side of the thinking pool you are.

If it’s the shallow end, FB will make you do what you do anyway – squander away precious time in meaningless pursuits. Just like television; you can watch channels that only entertain you or those that also educate you. 

If you’re doing Facebook right – reading articles, watching videos, sharing opinions – and not just stalking your friends, it can prove to be a hub of knowledge and infotainment; and of course a great boredom-buster. 

The trick is to seek a balance. Reign in your empty hours. Don’t get reigned in by them.

Yes, some people are annoying on Facebook. But people are annoying in real life too. At least on Facebook, you have the liberty to sigh when your friend posts another self-congratulatory reference. It’s much more tiring to hear the same in person.

The BEST part about Facebook is that you can even make money from it. All you need to do is Go to your Account Setting, Deactivate your account, and Go To Work!

Puja Bhakoo, author, MOOD SWINGS