[Blogging will be sparse for a while, so I’m putting up some odds and ends. Here’s a little piece I did for a magazine recently, to go in a tiny box alongside a feature about social networking. What happened here was similar in some ways to the case of the child-free zones story. Because of a jokey column I had written about Orkut long ago, it was assumed that I was eager to be the Anti-Social Networking Voice and that I would write a serious rant about how terrible it all is. I replied that I didn’t mind doing a sarcastic piece about my personal view of Facebook, but that I wasn’t interested in being an activist getting up on a soapbox. Predictably, this non-strident approach didn’t work for them.]
Every few weeks, I visit my Facebook profile – created out of idle curiosity long ago – and find pending friendship requests (mostly from people I may or may not have met at some social gathering) and a long list of notifications (182, at last count). These include invitations to: pet other people's goats, pigs and iguanas (though not, so far as I can recall, to spank anyone's monkey); take various tests and quizzes, including one titled “What German philosopher are you?” (the only sensible response is “Sorry, I Kant”); set fire to people; serve a bowl of pain to a friend's Ancient Vampire; and gift or accept eggs that will eventually hatch into something cute (like a man-eating brontosaurus) or something monstrous (a teddy bear). The option of tossing said egg back at the sender does not yet exist, but they’re working on it.
There is also a “let's see how well you know me” invite from someone I have never met and never spoken to. Meanwhile, the news feed tells me that “A and B found each other using the Friend Finder”, a sentence that's creepily evocative of “Chainsaw-wielding cannibal found clueless teen using the Victim Finder.” It’s clear enough now that social networking, like much other online activity, fulfills an important atavistic need: the need to assert our presence, thump our chests, and bombard others with random word arrangements that confirm our ape ancestry. Once a “friend” “finds” you, you will be sure to get frequent messages like “Hope you had an inspiring and thoughtful Republic Day”. People who wouldn’t recognise you if you chanced to meet will send you syrupy messages just because Facebook has notified them that it’s your birthday.
Sceptics say social-networking sites intensify the alienation of the Internet generation, allowing people to substitute virtual mass-poking for Meaningful Personal Interaction. This may be true, but not being a particularly sociable monkey myself, I'll can't get judgemental about it. What I do wonder is how anyone gets their work done anymore. Most people I know go to office just so they can log on to Facebook. (It’s like the Pearls Before Swine strip where Rat interprets the phrase “I’m swamped” thus: “I spend 8 of my working hours surfing the Net every day but you caught me in the middle of a five-minute project.”) When their offices block the site, they leave their jobs, steal their parents' money and buy laptops and broadband.
Also, there is the matter of muscles atrophying. In the good old days, if you wished to fling a sheep at a friend, you had to step out into the meadow together (presumably after working hours). Now you can do it sitting at your computer. This makes us slothful. Expressing our inner apes is one thing (we’ve always found ways to do it, regardless of the technology available), but can we afford to physically devolve into hunchbacked primates, with poor eyesight to boot? How will we read our Facebook Walls then?