Lolzzzzz was the cryptic comment in reply to a facebook post I had made on social media. I had just vented my spleen about how social media had taken over our social lives. How every time I opened my facebook account with trepidation, I would encounter several ‘invitations’ to a confusing welter of subsidiary sites where I could view the birthdays of all my friends or view other peoples’ blogs. The only problem was that clicking any of these sites and ‘pages’ would inexorably draw me in as a member. And there’s the small matter that Facebook already tells you whose birthday it is on any given day, so all you have to do is to click on an icon of a birthday gift.
In the year or so that I have been on Facebook (principally to keep in touch with my school friends of 40 years ago, many of who are strung out all over the world) I have watched my world crumble with a certain amount of dismay. First of all, I have acquired a whole slew of acquaintances, but few friends. To me, the definition of a friend is necessarily one that you do not wish to ‘unfriend’. And none of my new acquaintances have much in the way of intelligible conversation or identifiable personalities. Even the flesh and blood vegetable vendor, milkman and chowkidar around my house have more clearly delineated personalities than the over 200 persons I am proud to call my Facebook friends. Though, I hasten to add, I have not met all of them.
Some I added after painstakingly tracking down. It was no easy task. My classmates have all, without exception, changed their surnames, and many of them are not tech-savvy. A few have difficulty saving numbers in their cell-phones; it is those few who are home-makers and grandmothers. Others of my friends on Facebook have ‘added’ me because they have seen my name in the newspapers for which I write and assume that I will become their best friend, commenting on their every banal post. Still others have requested me to add them as a friend because they have spoken to me on the telephone once, or have interacted with me at work twice.
In the era in which I was born, you either had friends or acquaintances or colleagues. Today, the three are jumbled together in a knotty tangle that makes it difficult to know how to treat a Facebook friend. Then, there are the loonies that slip through the cracks. One or two of the food forums that I follow on Facebook has a lady whose display picture is not a human image. She sent me a ‘friend request’ and in a moment of weakness, I accepted it. After all, she was active on all the gourmet chat sites and seemed to know the bigwigs of the food industry. Now I am being stalked rather frighteningly and obsessively.
The stalker is probably in need of help, as stalkers even offline are. In this case, the reason is probably a quick ticket into the inner circle of Delhi gourmets, food bloggers and restaurant critics. Because if there is one fallout of the internet age, it is that everyone is a critic. You don’t need experience or the maturity to figure out whether a restaurant is good, great or really trashy: you just need a computer with an internet connection and a camera. Even a cellphone camera will do.
On the other side of the fence, those entrepreneurs from the food and beverage world who are the most successful are those who are on Facebook more often than in their kitchens. There are those whose restaurants are shockingly mediocre but who know the art of blowing their online trumpet skillfully. Entirely thanks to Facebook, they have acquired a cult status, but the truth points in another direction altogether.
My chief grouse against social media and the online world is how easy it is to don the equivalent of a wig and a false nose and metamorphose into another personality altogether. A few bloggers are disconcertingly different in their online too-cool-to-be-true personae as they are in real life. Even a few of my classmates, all, like me, in their mid fifties, are on top of the social media penchant of pumping up their personalities like botoxed cheeks. Meet them in their homes and they are off-hand and somewhat brusque. Catch them online and you’ll have difficulty recognizing them, so gushing are they.
But then, what can you say when you are faced with a medium where lolzzzzz constitutes an articulate response! You can only mutter WTF!