Technology has done it again! Normalized voyeurism and dignified it with sophisticated terms like “social networking!”
Through networks like Facebook, Twitter etc, anyone can keep tabs on your life while you can also closely follow and monitor the lives of friends and foes alike. It is absolutely amazing how people you do not even talk to can know so much about your life through such networks.
These networks are now the fad/hangout/coolest place to be for everyone who believes they are somebody or with it. They create bustling communities with all the trappings of real places. Not being on facebook is the cardinal sin and could seriously decrease one’s social ratings. Absence from this cyber hangout implies that one is out of touch with current realities, clueless about technology and their acquaintance therefore requires revision.
Like everything else, such networks have their pros and cons. Today, I learnt of the death of a childhood friend through condolence messages on her facebook page. I must admit that had it not been for facebook, we would have lost contact and I never would have known about her sad passing away. Thanks to facebook, none of us had to mourn in isolation because we had a community we could lean on. This, I suppose, is one of the few benefits of such social networks.
On the other hand, these social networks can be like a bad neighbourhood where evil lurks. Here, one finds all sorts of characters and negative associations.
There are the Joneses, who love to publicise the minutest details of their lives and flaunt their achievements, no matter how trivial. Naturally, this lot has no qualms with anyone spying on them. They lavish the attention decked on them and go all out to sustain it. Such people are so full of themselves that when they fart, they behave as if a new perfume has been created and try to publicise it as such to the whole network in the misguided hope that it will get around the world and earn them more attention.
Cyberspace has also become a refuge where the lonely find company. I suspect that some people live online, waiting for someone to log on so they can strike a conversation. Ever noticed how some people waylay you every time you log onto facebook and bombard you with questions about your personal life? Thankfully, this is a virtual community and one can exit anytime.
Social networking has also become a preoccupation for the idle. Some people are on Facebook 24/7 and the minute you log on they suddenly find reason to chat. It’s a bit like the neighbourhood gossip who strategically sits where s/he can waylay passersby just to engage in conversation so s/he can authenticate the rumours s/he’s heard and pass them on with confidence.
When you log on and these people prompt you for a chat, you almost want to duck, literally, to avoid their attention because you know the conversation will be trivial and the focus is to pry into your life. Of course don’t be surprised if tomorrow, they are cited as the source of information that is going round about your life, as if you spend your every waking moment with them.
Of course these social networks have also become a breeding ground for undue familiarity, a place where people can cross boundaries they would not ordinarily go near. For instance, a colleague prying into your private life and discussing the contents of your page with other people is rather invasive and totally unacceptable.
Sadly, for those of us who are shy, reserved and really like to keep our lives private, social networking has torn down whatever protective walls we had constructed. Indeed one can apply the security settings, but the truth of the matter is, people can still access more information about you than you really wish to share. Comments about your photo albums and some of the postings you make from the least likely source, tell you who has been on your page and which areas they visited. Sometimes it leaves you wondering what on earth they were doing there, after all, you’re not even that close.
A friend of mine was shocked when she recently received an e-mail from a recruitment company telling her that someone was interested in employing her. The company provided a number of links, including her social networking sites, and asked her to confirm if she was the one. This was in spite of all the security features she had activated. That was when it dawned on us that there is no privacy in this world anymore.
I appreciate reconnecting with long lost friends and relatives. Those have been some happy moments on Facebook. On the other hand, however, it has also put people in touch with their nemesis, people they hoped they would never meet again. The high school bully who intimidated you suddenly wants to be your Facebook friend and behave as if you were always chums. The ex-boyfriend who broke your heart, the girl next door who was always your competition, the cute guy you had a crush on but whose attention you could never draw – you name it, they are all on Face book spying on you while you do exactly the same and pretend you’re not interested in each other’s lives.
I am convinced I have even unwittingly interacted with human traffickers through these networks. I have met people who have perfected the art of looking at the profiles of individuals and weaving a tale about how they have met me in the past. They then try to arrange an appointment in a neighbouring country and I cannot help but wonder why they find it necessary to meet me on unfamiliar ground. Perhaps these familiar tales work on the gullible, but not on those of us whose brilliant memories stretch as far back as our first taste of breast milk.
Whether we like it or not, the moment we enter this virtual space, we open up our lives to scrutiny beyond the scope of our imagination. There is no guarantee of privacy and the walls we have constructed around ourselves become inconsequential. They offer but a psychological benefit. Anyone can invade our privacy anytime without even walking into the same room.
The thought is frightening, but such is the reality of the world we are living in. In this place of cyber voyeurism, there is no place to hide and no refuge from prying eyes. In fact, the private has become extremely public.