(I’ve made a mini-career of ranting against the evil online forum Orkut in lighthearted – but sincerely meant – stories/columns. Here’s a composite)
I’ve developed a sudden respect for email as a form of communication. This was completely unanticipated: back in 1998, when I was so much older and wiser, I numbered among the technophobes who made sad clucking sounds about the imminent demise of good old-fashioned letter-writing and the general depersonalisation of human interaction. (Note: this was purely theoretical. In practice I preferred to avoid all human company anyway.)
But the relentless march of progress makes fools of us all. Where email was once the enemy, the harbinger of a cold dystopian age where people would talk to their computers instead of to each other, it now seems positively warm and personal compared to some of the stuff that goes down on the Internet. These days, when I receive an email – personally addressed to me – from a friend or acquaintance, my eyes brim over with tears of gratitude. “At last!” my wounded heart cries, “Private, one-to-one communication!”
The reason for this change in attitude is the advent in my life of something called Orkut. Even if you aren’t Net-savvy, you’ve no doubt heard of this ghastly social-networking forum: it’s been in the news a lot, what with controversies about online hate communities with such names as “Slap Gandhi’s other Cheek” (or similar names, at any rate).
My problem isn't with the hate-communities, it's with these intensely annoying things called “scrapbooks”, the virtual messageboards on which Orkutters scribble things at each other. These are public forums – anyone with an Orkut account can see anyone else’s scrapbook – but going by some of the things I’ve witnessed, no one seems to realise this. Lovers cootchie-coo and send personal notes of the sort that would in an earlier, more genteel age (that is, two years ago) have been restricted to private email or SMS. Colleagues sitting three feet from each other in that long-forgotten parallel universe we once knew as “the real world” use their scrapbooks to bitch about other colleagues (who probably have Orkut accounts too) and even bosses.
There are too many other examples to list – and most of them make you wonder if man deserves to be at the top of the food chain – but one that caught my eye recently was an ex-colleague leaving her telephone number on a friend’s scrapbook, with the hushed message “please don’t give this number to M” – completely unmindful that the said M was on the friend’s Orkut list as well. All this suggests one of three things: 1) a deep-rooted need for exhibitionism, 2) a touching – and foolish – faith in the idea that people respect other people’s privacy enough to avoid reading scraps that don’t directly concern them, or 3) plain cluelessness about how technology works.
Female friends routinely express annoyance about the many strange men who hit on them after seeing their profiles. There are random testosterone-charged alpha-males trawling this community, they tut-tut; they put up photographs of their flexed biceps and leave messages like “Hi! Wanna make fransip?” or something less refined like "wanna make sexies?". But with due respect to all ladies who dislike being harassed thus, I must proffer this observation: of all the people I’ve seen using the Orkut scrapbook to communicate, these desperate Romeos are easily among the most purposeful. At least they know exactly what they want and are trying wholeheartedly to get it (and despite their inane and ungrammatical methods some of them might even succeed, there being nearly as many stupid girls in cyberspace as there are horny guys). I can’t say the same for most of the Orkut users I personally know; the chief purpose of their existence seems to be the accumulation of as many scraps, “fans” and “testimonials” as can possibly be collected in a single cyber-lifetime.
When friends discover my Orkut profile (which, I must quickly clarify, was created purely to research for a story) and send me scraps saying “Yo dude! Wassup?” and suchlike, I politely convey that I would rather use email than communicate by scrapbook. But it doesn’t work. I answer a friend’s scrap with a mail, but instead of simply clicking on “Reply” he posts another scrap. And so it goes.
Well, if you can’t beat them, join them – so maybe I’ll form a “I hate Orkut” community. Meanwhile, in the interests of fairness (because that's so important to me), here’s the other side of the story; the transcript of a Gmail chat I had with a friend, an avid Orkut user (name withheld):
“Orkut is like life: pointless”
Jabberwock: Why do you love Orkut scrapping so much? Is it because you’re young, foolish and impressionable?
Orkut Lover: Um. It’s an amusing and pointless waste of time. It doesn’t work the same way email does, because other people are seeing and responding to our messages to each other...it’s more like a messageboard.
J: So most of your friends know each other?
OL: Most of my friends on Orkut know at least some of my other friends on Orkut.
J: While scrapping, do you ever slap yourself on the forehead and think “Look what I’m doing! I am SO jobless!!!”
OL: Of course. That’s why it’s fun...we’re all completely aware of how pointless it all is. It’s a bit like life in general.
J: You realise that while you’re pretending to be so clever and “deliberately pointless”, you’re really just as addicted to the evil thing as anyone else is?
OL: Um. No, not really.
J: Well, it’s time you did.
OL: No, I refuse! How dare you try to make me self aware?
It could be worse! I could be religious!
J: What do you have against religious people? Have you ever started a community called “I Hate Religion”?
OL: No...should I?
Orkut is just like...reading a Mills and Boon novel after a day of studying :P
J: I’ll use that quote. “This precocious teenager likens scrapbooking to reading an M&B after college. However, she still refuses to admit that she’s an addict, preferring to hide behind a veneer of delusional pretentious intellectualism.”
OL: I may never speak to you again!
J: Sure, why speak when you can, duh, SCRAP?