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In the world of Facebook
There is a fine line between vanity and voyeurism and you can seamlessly cross back and forth in the online networking space.
What is the sound of applause on Facebook? Ask long-time lovers Reshma and Karan. What years of cutesy wall posts couldn't achieve, a status update did. An ugly fight concluded in Karan, a banker, changing his status to Single. Determined to settle the score, Reshma gave it back and accused him of cheating on her. The couple's mudslinging match attracted 31 comments and a chance to feature in hundreds of newsfeeds, making its social sensex reach for the sky.
We love to go through people's honeymoon albums, fret when no one replies to our witty remarks and snicker over who got fat after marriage. The voyeurism is addictive and granting the world front row tickets has a peculiar effect on us. It makes us act in strange ways. Our profiles are engineered to be paisa vasool. Gems like "And I dreamed your dream for you, and now your dream is real" in the personal information section, having someone you can swear has never opened a comic add Pushkin to favourite writers, and status updates that reveal the colour of one's innerwear to battle breast cancer, make committing virtual suicide that much harder. Sites like Lamebook, which documents hilarious accounts of dirty linen being washed in newsfeeds, thrive on this voyeurism. As do some pathetic couples who love to pillow talk on walls, reality and audience demand notwithstanding. Take the case of a television producer and his wife, who work together, live together but cannot control themselves from poking each other three times a day and posting cuddly posts on each other's walls. The television producer, a master of the attention-seeking status update, posted this in the run up to World Cup: "Ladies, sorry but it's that time again when you're gonna get bored out of your skull". A few minutes later, his wife shot back (we suspect from the same computer) saying: "How unfair!!! While I slave in the kitchen making yummy food for you, you get to ignore me!!!"
One friend suggested they get a room, while another said they were the cutest couple around. The self-assured couple replied with a smiley, almost taking a bow.
The relationship between vanity and voyeurism is 'It's Complicated'. The feeling of being watched made Megha, an advertising executive who retired from her career to be a mother, use Facebook to prove to her advertising friends, who she says, "must've thought of me as one more Marwari girl who got married and was forced to leave her career", that she had made the right decision. She decided to upload a professionally-shot, sepia-toned album to show her advertising friends that the grass was green on her side too. For 91 photos, she posed with her T-shirt rolled up to reveal her full belly. With her husband, with baby books, on a chair, on the bed, on the floor, with her brother and her mother. By the end of the week, her album had 121 comments, prompting a friend to even pronounce her 'the Sachin Tendulkar of Facebook'. "The truth is that I did it for myself. It's a new phase of my life and I wanted it to be special," she says, with a straight face.
Facebook has always been celebrated as the medium where you get to look up and connect with acquaintances rarely acknowledged with a nod or classmates who were left behind in the third standard. But if connecting is the idea, why don't our conversations go beyond 'nice pic' and 'what's up'? "Because nobody is really interested in talking to anyone. Even if you're talking to someone, you want others to see how funny or deep you are," says Megha.
The status update is the most common attempt at upping one's social currency. The best of this kind is the deliberately open-ended message that's an invitation to start a conversation. (For example: "I just can't get over it"). Unless of course, there is some kind of sexual connotation like a FYJC student's recent status: "Sleeping semi-naked on a beanbagsized bed on the terrace for lack of electricity." Two hours, 24 comments.
Then, there is the need to constantly change the display picture (artsy Victorian poses in black and white to Warhol photoshopped photos) or uploading photographs so religiously (from the mudpie consumed to the last loo used) that even the most loyal voyeur wishes the cellphone camera had never been invented.
Every Facebooker, it seems, has a 'personality type'. The Activist posts status updates urging debate on global warming and traffic, the Buddha doles out spiritual gyan, the Intellectual puts up poems and recommends books, the Bandit throws in his opinions on everyone's walls, the Paparazzi loves to tag unflattering photos of friends, the Groupie gushes at every update and the Misanthrope lies low.
A Facebook page dedicated to virtual eavesdropping says that those who don't frequently update their status or are relatively dormant are the ones who are prying into people's lives while not wanting others to do the same. Must update my status tonight.
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