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By Ambarish Ray

ambarish ray metal communicationsThere are many ways to make an ass of oneself. In fact, as the list keeps expanding, so does the ingenuity of the subjects to find newer ways. If ever an attempt is made to chronicle all the ways in which men and women have made an asinine display of themselves, it would far exceed the scope of giant sized tomes. Certainly that of this humble platform that allows some people to write economically and hopefully, with perception and integrity. So, this is not that.

This, however, is to understand cultural migration and wholesale import of habits and behaviour without exercising that one asset that transcends gold reserves and economic divides – the human mind. I am talking of social media and its all pervasive impact on the thinking, acting and otherwise communicating of the larger Indian classes.

Less than three years back, Facebook was largely unheard of in India. It was becoming a rage in the South-east of Asia, much like pink hair and other edgy stuff. People were using it, flaunting it, adorning their conversations with it and letting its name dangle provocatively at the end of their canape sticks in cocktail parties to indicate their progressive coolness vis-avis others. Interesting, since the South-east of Asia is not where Facebook originated. But we need to understand the osmosis of western culture into these parts, offloaded especially by the migrating missionaries of the West who set up shop and strutted their stuff professionally in the teeming markets of Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and others.

For them, it is a natural way of life. SInce they cannot look over their lawns and talk baseball or describe the low growl of their SUVs, they do that now across the oceans through Facebook. A limited, exported and fairly neutral update exchange that anyway, largely, goes for conversation in those parts. But, not us. We are, as a people, used to knowing everything about everyone’s lives. Sugar neighbours all, we borrow the sweet white stuff, listen to stories and gripes, offer some of our own advice and generally know the deal in detail.

But the critical difference, in this case, is that we control it. We know who we are talking to, what we are borrowing and how much to tell. Not so on Facebook. There we feel strangely compelled to inform, announce or indicate – subtly or otherwise, how glorious things are with us. A grand posturing, a profiling of smokes and mirrors. Status comes from changing our status, oftentimes as frequently as every hour on the hour. And this cultural migration, without the backend knowledge of adaptation and acclimatisation, leads to strange things indeed – sometimes humorous, many times pathetic.

Like the time I saw some seriously compromising pictures of some people who had no clue they were put up purely because they were put up by someone else who did not make the album restricted and tagged by someone else altogether. Fantastic. But if Facebook is the preamble, Twitter really is the punchline. Anyone with half an eye on the media will know just how much grief, entertainment, embarrassment and headlines this little bird has caused in the last few months. Twitter tracking is now a focus of every would be journalist, yellow paper pushers whose job it is to keep an eye out for updates and shout ‘Cho tweet’ when they find a cute piece of silly rubbish that is utterly unprintable and, therefore, very printable nowadays.

Letting people know of one’s thoughts and stance, a sort of stream of consciousness blogging within a limited space, is altogether different from how the little bird has been employed of late. Grand plans, silly positions, infantile outbursts, not to mention skeletons propped up there and about to tumble out are all part and parcel of this platform.

And this is where the learning is probably – we are forever interested in peeping in, looking across and listening in. If this natural instinct is not allowed to bloom, we will fulfill our innate desires by laying siege on unsuspecting notes that others have made, albeit on a public platform. Facebook and Twitter (Orkut really is an affordable digital promenade that allows for the possibility of necking; hitherto contained in its capacity to damage) are game changers.

Their powers to alter human habits, indeed shape behaviour and break down inhibitions is tremendous.

However, like all true brilliant devices (whether it is the light sabre or the activated atom) its matter is as important as its manner. Fully knowing both is crucial. Else, the little bird will poop on all of us like it already has so many times.