My life: Shoba Narayan on social networking
As a memoir writer and columnist, I am comfortable with the first-person narrative. I write about the events and people in my life. I disclose what some would view as intimate details about my spouse, my marriage, my children, my pets and my parents. I am not a private person. Yet I find I have a deep disquiet about posting on Facebook. It doesn't make sense; it seems illogical. How can someone who writes publicly about her life remain conflicted about revealing it to her 448 Facebook "friends"?
I think it is because Facebook mixes up the public and the private, confuses intent and trivialises the notion of friendship. True friendship is a beautiful, sacred thing. A friend "gets" you — not just your public persona, but also your inner inconsistencies, failings and flaws. Good friends call your bluff, goad you when needed and point out uncomfortable truths. They enjoy you warts and all. I have been blessed with such friends, but they are usually two, maybe three people - five at most.
Many of my 448 Facebook friends are not people I know. Some are acquaintances; others former colleagues whom I have lost touch with. Many are old school friends whom I haven't seen or kept in touch with for 20 years. I have fond memories, but know next to nothing about their current lives. Still others are people I have never met, who feel connected to me through my writings or through common friends.
My early days on Facebook were heady. I shared articles that I enjoyed, posted questions ("Does Muji retail at airport duty-free shops?") and talked about events in my life ("Daughter's exams today" or "Going to the dentist for a root canal — wish me luck"). That type of thing.
The uncomfortable thing about Facebook is the element of voyeurism. Users can peep into lives they have no connection with. I have surfed Facebook and discovered photographs of wild parties at friends of friends' homes; wedding pictures and even photographs of children in nightclothes snuggling in bed. Who would put all these photos up? I assumed it was a generational thing. Today's teenagers, after all, are willing to live out their entire lives on Facebook, posting every music show, restaurant and party they attend. But I know individuals who are my age and do the same. They allow people to violate their privacy, which leads me to the question of intent. Are we posting updates to share our lives with close friends or are we candidates in a public forum? On Facebook, we do both. We share news and views with people who are dear to us while allowing strangers to have a peek into our lives at the same time.
Posting updates can be addictive. You reveal banal details about your life. Five "friends" comment on it and you feel validated, like a minor celebrity. Nothing is real unless it is on Facebook and five friends comment on it.
Some users disengage completely. They post nothing personal on Facebook and instead use it as a platform to market themselves. I've started doing that, too. I post my articles. Even that confuses intent. I don't want to market my articles to friends. I want to do that with editors, colleagues and agents. LinkedIn is easier that way — it is clearly a networking and professional forum.
My solution has been to use Facebook in spurts. I like reconnecting with my old college mates. I hate that random users will see these connections. Some day, I will go through my friends list and cull my 448 friends into the five to 50 friends I really know. Until then, my Facebook conflict will remain unresolved.
Shoba Narayan is a journalist based in Bangalore, India. She is the author of Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes and is working on another memoir called Return to India.
Published: December 7, 2011 04:00 AM