To ask Facebook generation kids to imagine a world without social networking is like asking them to imagine a world without air or water. Ask us trentagenarians (a big fangled world for “old people”) to try and imagine the same, it’s easy – you’re basically asking us to recall the larger chunk of our growing years. I probably belong to the last generation of kids who wrote “letters” to each other. Yes, “letters” – written with an ancient gadget known as “pen” and an archaic device called a “piece of paper”. There is a sense of fond nostalgia in being a part of “history”, the days of rotary phones and dial up internet, but boy, am I glad to be part of the Future as well.
Today, without Facebook, we would lose our common playground to entertain ourselves, connect with friends and break the monotony of life. Without Twitter feeds how would we know the very second a scandal surfaces in any given corner of the world; who’s dating whom and who got dumped, who’s genuinely homesick with the flu and who’s partying in Goa on sick leave.
But in a world without “tweetups” people would actually meet up. There was a time when we called friends regularly, and/or, shocker of all shockers: actually visited them. Yes, we physically got our a**es off the couch and went to our friend’s houses. Now, if you need to get in touch with your best bud, why call, why even SMS when you can send a Tweet, a DM (direct message), a Facebook message, a LinkedIN Mail or even Facebook chat. Old schoolers would feel this amounts to killing any real human communication, whereas new-schoolers would believe they are communicating now more than ever before.
In a world without Napster, the music industry would be an entirely different place. In a world without social media, Obama might not have become president. In a world without Facebook, geeky boys would not stand a chance to say “hi” to the pretty girl in their class. In a world without Youtube, we would never be able to enjoy watching some child across the globe getting his finger bitten by his baby brother. In a world without Match.com, one out of five couples would not be together. In a world with no Wikipedia, it would take a couple of hundred years to double human knowledge. Without Twitter, “nobodies” wouldn’t get the chance to hobnob with the “somebodies” and become a “somebody” in their own right.
This social network and texting culture is changing how people relate to society, their parents and friends. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to develop relationships, based on common interests. We would be about going through the old-school motions of nurturing relationships like growing plants. Without social networking, our group of friends would possibly, be a lot less geographically diverse, but perhaps also a tighter local circle of really good friends. People today are more connected to one another than ever before in human history, but without this social networking, ironically, perhaps we’d also be a lot less lonely and distant from one another. In a non-virtual world, would there be fewer emotional disconnections, less mental fatigue and anxiety?
To analyse whether old-school friendships were hardier and meant more than the social networking ones do, is a matter of opinion. And in my opinion, the very definition of the word “friend” has changed.
Does this scenario sound familiar to you? A group of friends meet up for coffee, and the conversation stops abruptly as everyone’s checks-in on their Facebook status. Following which, they begin answering “urgent” e-mails, text messages and replies on Twitter. Social networking has given our real-world social situation a 360 degree turn. So outside the context of the cyber world, is social networking still “social”? Besides engaging online, perhaps it is important to engage offline as well. What happens to a family where the children and parents are all hooked to their gadgets at the dining table in pin-drop silence? What happens to a marriage where a wife needs to connect with her husband in cyber space to show affection? Call me traditional, but face to face engagement is still important, and perhaps a world without social networking would be a world with fewer strained personal relationships. After all, you can’t cuddle up to your mobile phone at night… although I have to admit, I do sleep with mine cozily tucked under the pillow.
Without social networking, the World Wide Web would be a lot less noisy, but also a lot less fun, as it would be more about finding information than making personal connections. So yes, in a way, we would be a lot more productive, but also have much fewer “friends”.
Then again, without social networking, wouldn’t productivity itself be affected adversely, considering the fact that these sites have become a major portal for making business connections and work contacts, where people can reach thousands in an instant with the added touch of human element? Without it, we would be stuck in a stone-age world conducting business one phone call or email at a time.
My friend’s daughter, a 15 year old Facebook gen-baby, says it allows her to go “elsewhere” at any given point in time. It gives her a chance to escape difficult social situations where personal interactions are hard, go to another place where they do not have to be dealt with. It seems the stressful world of teenagers still is what used to be, except for the added benefit of social networking providing a sort of safety fuse. Perhaps married couples use this outlet to diffuse a potentially disturbing domestic situation, by mentally opting out temporarily online, while still being physically present together offline.
So do we conclude that a world without social networking would be a lot more precarious and socially volatile than the world as it is today? Or alternatively would we have the stress free existence of being our selves, rather than having to perform a character a.k.a. one’s profile, and in some cases, multiple profiles, on different social networking sites, almost all the time. Yet, we all do it, and compulsively. Can you really call this dependence on social media an addiction when almost everyone is collectively hooked on to it? I think not.
Whether we cyber talk or Facebook stalk, it’s safe to say that the revolution of Social Networking has become our evolution into a new way of life. So a world without social networking, regardless of whether we consider it as being better or worse off, would none the less be an anthropologically backward one.