Wandering through cyberspace: alone among 100 friends

I know I'm not the only one out there, but the internet is my virtual sanctuary. Even though it's crowded, it's the only place left where I can be left alone.

I opened a Facebook account a couple of years ago and left it to rot. I paid for a swanky URL and design for a blog I wanted to start but which never took off, and I still think that dial-up is more reliable than a wireless connection. I vowed I would never tweet. Not only do I have a twitter account now but I follow exactly three people; Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian and Abu Dhabi Police. I tried venting on Twitter, but found that 140 characters are not enough to get everything off my chest. Besides, nobody cares what I'm craving or if I have a headache, really.

I've recently upgraded my MP3 player from a 256MB to a 4GB. I can't figure out how to save numbers onto an existing contact in my BlackBerry and I still can't tell if Apple TV is hardware or software. My iPad is a better collector than me; at least it collects dust. Just thinking about how technologically illiterate I am gives me stress. Trying to catch up with my tech-savvy generation gives me stress. New technology popping up faster than jaywalkers on Airport Road gives me stress.

Technology is wasted on me, but for some reason, cyberspace is the first place you'll be able to find me. Marketers, media specialists and public relations practitioners all swear that online and social media are here to stay, and if you don't get with the times and update faster than your anti-virus protection, then you'll virtually get left behind. My first accidental encounter with social media was Flickr, a blocked photo sharing website which became a nesting ground for amateur Emirati photographers, although it has since faded into history. I doubt its creator ever intended it to become a meeting place, but people showed up to socialise while showing off their creativity. The epitome of social interaction got captivated in comments like "NiCe piC bRO ^_^"

Before that it was online chatting. Remember FreeTel? That was my first online chatting experience. Admittedly, I can give FreeTel credit for helping me become more articulate. FreeTel transmitted what you wrote as you wrote it, so if you think the joke/pick up line/story you are halfway through typing won't get you any results, no backspace would have saved you. The person you are chatting with sees it, and the Wizard of Oz mystique you had spent days perfecting was lifted to reveal the Average Joe that you are… and now we worry about the "R" superscript that you get when somebody reads a BlackBerry message. Ha! Or the fact that the other person knows you are writing something back and should expect to hear from you soon. Kids these days have it easy.

After leaving high school, my friends all went their separate ways and suddenly found each other again on Facebook years later. Without physically meeting again, Facebook made us family. Together, we vacationed, got married, partied into oblivion and occasionally did some really stupid things just to impress. If you want a glamorous version of the life you already have, create one on Facebook. Your new life doesn't come free though. The first time I saw an online advertisement, it was for a draw to win the lottery for an American green card. Most online ads I see now promise me tips for a flat tummy. We all know how impossible it is to get either. But seriously, do they actually work? Has anyone bothered clicking to find out?

I'm sure someone has, it's why I get even more ads telling me where I can bling out my name, or find single girls, or play dress up using avatar models. All useful and entertaining to someone I am sure, just not me. I'm not completely ungrateful for what's orbiting around cyberspace. Planning a trip has become faster and cheaper thanks to holiday booking sites. If you are looking for instant satisfaction, all you need to do is score an amazing bargain online.

I used to find many things to occupy myself with on the internet, but now it has become a web of contradictions. Content has obviously increased but the appeal is gone. You can have 100 friends but still feel lonely. Even when you want to get a company's contact details, they ask for yours first. The internet was my America, a dangerous new land to explore and get lost in. That was until people found ways to find me. It's inevitable, the internet and the people who own it get access to you every time you sign up for their latest offering. We all know what checking the box to accept a licence agreement means, but we still do it. We don't want to get virtually left behind right?

I know I'm not the only one out there, but the internet is my virtual sanctuary. Even though it's crowded, it's the only place left where I can be left alone. Maryam Amiri is a graduate of Zayed University.