Diwate: Virtual presence of less worth than real life

Varad Diwate

“I hardly know you, but Facebook says it’s your birthday, so happy birthday!” — Unknown

Quite true, right? The very popular sites such as Facebook and Twitter called “social networking sites” have connected the world in a very different way. We make “friends” online with people who may never meet us. We prefer to say “hi” on the chat instead of saying it in a face-to-face meeting. With Google Plus Hangouts, we can even “hang out” with friends virtually. In short, there is an artificial value to relationships.

The point is that Facebook friends are somewhat different than real-life friends. So, are these sites more of “virtual networking sites”?

The pros and cons of using these sites are a contentious issue. There are layers of complexities which seem to get convoluted. Possibly the biggest difference between social networking sites and other websites is the sharing of personal information. Facebook possibly holds more personal information than your YouTube, Picasa or email account.

This information is cunningly used to advertise products relevant to you. This allows Facebook to rake in moolah. Another important issue is the use of personal photo albums. “Personal” could mean a wild weekend at the beach or a snapshot with your significant half. People make their photos public or even their profile public.

This makes it easy for any distant friend or complete stranger to have a look at your photos. Users were in for a rude shock when Facebook introduced the timeline feature. Your activities since you began using Facebook were available to friends. This included past status updates and photo tags. A person who met you once can know about your religious and political views.

For some people, Facebook is a virtual place for the latest juicy gossip. Facebook uses algorithms to place the most “relevant” updates on your feed. So, you may have the status of your best friend who just broke up. You may read about your friend who was high last weekend. Does time spent reading such stuff make you a better person?

There are lots of other things you can do to have an active social life.

Have people given a thought to how such sites can affect human psychology? According to Psychology Today, Alex Jordan at Stanford University conducted a study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, of 80 Facebook users, focusing on the number of positive and negative experiences their peers were having.

He concluded that Facebook may be worsening the tendency to think everyone else is enjoying themselves more than you are. “By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ Heel of human nature.

“And women may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses,” Jordan contends. Posting photos has become such an obsession that people have now started to use Photoshop before posting their photos in the latest fashion. Such people keep on checking the number of “likes” and “comments.” According to a Western University study, this appeals to our narcissistic tendencies.

On the other hand, Facebook has become a platform for social awareness. It gives an opportunity for various government agencies and also non-governmental organizations to spread their word. On Facebook, there are some really good pages which provide quotes, tips and news on your feed. These could be some of the productive uses of the emerging social media.

It may not be possible to completely stay away from Facebook as it is a part of your virtual presence. Employers are now having a look at their potential employees’ online presence before hiring them. So, it makes sense to keep your profiles sober. Just remember, anything that goes online stays online. You may delete some inappropriate photos from your album, but you never know who has downloaded them while they were online.

It’s also not a good idea to have your phone number, address and other such personal details posted online. To be on the safe side, it is recommended to not have your birth date on your profile. Your date of birth is an important part of identification and can be misused with a combination of your name. Keep track of the time you spend online commenting, uploading and “liking” statuses and photos. Most importantly, you don’t have to tell the world everything that you do. Keep some moments to yourself.

The bottom line: Your virtual life should not be a priority over your real life.