Facebooking your roots

On a regular week day morning, while performing my daily morning Facebook ablutions, I noticed something quite interesting. In one of the infinitely long list of friend feeds, those little white spaces where friends’ individual expression finds its crammed place in my social world, I found an interesting comment from a not so intimate friend: “In this place[Facebook], I don’t feel lonely at all

The comment left me with mixed feelings.
Especially, the choice of the word: lonely, if you remember my earlier writings.  I was unsure whether to feel remorse over the state of human affairs where shallow virtual interactions are taken for real or to feel optimistic for the resurgent shift in the way social relations amongst individuals are being rewired, thanks to the virtual world. Although I wanted to chat with my friend for posting such a comment, I never felt comfortable to ask the person about it, with the perceived separation I felt despite Mark Zuckerberg’s noble intentions.

The comment, for some vague reasons, reminded me of Merusault, the bored, alienated protagonist of Albert Camus’ existentialist novel The Stranger (1942), although I was sure I was over analyzing an innocuous comment.   While there may be reservations on Albert Camus’ disillusioned world-view landscaped with indifference, I am sure most of our urban-lives can be looked from that world view, where we live in cities, trapped within our isolated worlds, while living amongst faceless neighbors in towering apartment skyscrapers.

However, if we are willing to go on a sepia-tinted flashback to the good old, pre-urban days, we would obviously begin our stories of nostalgia when the world was much more simple and meaningful.

  In the beautiful book on reflections about values in post-crisis world, Good Value by Stephen Green, the author explains lucidly the spirit of the times in our chaotic, urban landscape, as described by George Simmel in his book, Philosophy of Money, and I quote,

“..The atomism of modern urban society means that individuals have an ever wider range of ever shallower relations with other people…The growth of the city, and the brevity and scarcity of the inter-human contacts of the metropolitan dweller, as compared to the stable social intercourse of the rural community, meant that indidivual self-awareness became a private matter as never before.

He then goes on to describe the good ol’days. Watch these words carefully.

In more intergrated, pre-urban societies, individual self-awareness is a shared, social shaped personality. But, in urban experience the individuals come to perceive themselves as ‘other than’ the relationship they have with their environment – thus posing for the individual the question of how to react to this reality ‘out there’.

Now replace the word pre-urban with Facebook society, or if you prefer otherwise, use the word social-networked society, and read the above mentioned paragraph again.

What essentially has happened is that we have come over a full cycle. Starting from the pre-urban phenomenon, when self-awareness was shared to the necessary shift to the urban landscape, which facilitated the growth of the individual awareness to fully establish itself to back to its pre-urban avatar,facilitated by the virtual world, with an evolved understanding between the self and the other. 

While social networking has been more prevalent in urban societies in India, it essentially brings us to the surprising truth that the virtual world is indeed making us go back to our roots. The shared-social personality created in the world of social networking however, has far wider self-awareness than in that of the pre-urban society. Although this might seem outlandish at the first sight, looking at the r-e-volutions [Are you following the one happening in tunisia?] and the changes happening around the way people are harnessing the power of Web, it’s indeed unmistakably true.

 With all our social connections wired in one common network, we are embracing ourselves to a new world, which,  paradoxically seems to resemble, an old world, which existed long long ago.