Opinion | Off the Cuff

On cyber communication and friendships

Concept of online friendships is preposterous

  • By Vanaja Rao
Stone Editor
  • Published: 20:00 November 8, 2012
  • Gulf News

I read with great amusement an article on police forces across Britain being forced to deal with petty spats on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. If it weren’t so funny, it would be tragic. Imagine people getting so upset over online ‘friends’ or nasty messages posted on your page by people who hide behind pseudonyms.

My concept of a friend may be old-fashioned, but I can be sure that I can rely on this person not to publicise a disagreement or present our case before prying eyes in a virtual world, inviting people to take sides or comment on what should be a personal matter between the two concerned.

The very fact that you can befriend or ‘unfriend’ someone online should alert one to the preposterousness of the concept. When a British police officer suggested to a complainant to ‘unfriend’ the abuser, he was told that then the person wouldn’t have as many friends. It’s like one’s popularity is judged by the number of hits one gets or the friends one has online.

I have overheard people say, “I don’t want to boast, but I now have 200 friends” and the pleased tone in their voice is obvious. It’s like clapping yourself on the back if you were a contortionist.

If I were asked for my opinion on this, I would say I find it hard enough to keep in touch with my 20 real friends, so let’s keep the numbers small and manageable.

Observing a group of 20-somethings doing the rounds of the UAE with the obligatory visit to all the landmarks such as Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, what struck me as strange was the compulsive behaviour.

Clicking obsession

Every bit of evidence proclaiming that one was at this famous stop or that was closely photographed and posted on Instagram, instant proof of “I’ve been here”. So, seeing people photographing the plaque at the entrance to a famous building took me by surprise.

Shouldn’t a tourist be gawping upwards and not looking for lateral distractions? That was when I was informed about the craze to post instantly where one is and what one is doing so that your followers are kept up to date.

Then there’s the ‘liking’ bit. Every comment one posts seems to invite a reaction from others. There seem to be hundreds of people with nothing better to do than to lurk online and post a comment as soon as one has written something as innocuous as ‘the weather here is good today’. What is there to ‘like’ about this?

This is the kind of comment one hears often in the course of inane conversation and all one is expected to do is nod in agreement if one is physically present in that place blessed with a clement climate or just read that bit of information and then promptly forget about it. It’s not as if it is a dire prediction by Nostradamus, it’s just a statement of fact.

The few times I have decided to get in touch with an elusive friend or relative on Facebook to ‘catch up’ on news of the family or self, I am astonished to see so many reacting to the same although it is obvious I had no intention of drawing such public attention to the mundane reality of my life.

Why should a relative of a relative feel compelled to express their approval of what has just been said when it is clear that no opinion has been sought?

I enjoy viewing albums as much as anyone else. But I never feel I have to remark on each and every photograph or inquire ‘who is that standing on the extreme left next to great-aunt Netty?’

Chances are that our paths will never cross and there is much we are better off not knowing anyway.

Gulf News
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