Facebook draws out our desire to impress people, even if it means making a spectacle of ourselves, says Aditya Mukherjee
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The other day, a friend posted some photographs of his marriage anniversary on Facebook. It garnered ‘likes’ of seismic proportions. A middle-aged friend of mine, holidaying in Goa, shared some beach pictures; his whole frame resting in perfect stillness and repose as he gazed at the sea; the breeze ruffling the stray wisps of his hair. What should have ideally been his unforgettable private experience, in one fell swoop, morphed into a public spectacle, as his Facebook friends erupted into a feeding frenzy. The dividing line between private and the public is no longer sacrosanct.

Another young FB friend keeps posting photographs of his visit to foreign countries while on official tours. He, like any other FB addict, revels in the very idea of living in the public glare. Facebook gives him that much-needed visibility he always craves. His friends go into raptures and the ‘likes’ are followed by soapy compliments and buttery praise. A prerequisite to being liked on FB is to promote yourself unabashedly, with rare verbal scintillation and confidence. It also beggars the question: Are FB friends for real? We often interact with those on social media with whom we have neither met nor spoken over the phone.

Fast visibility

Indeed, being on Facebook, that laughable conceit and other social media, can guarantee visibility at a fast clip. The endless stream of ‘likes’ grease the wheels of seemingly superficial interaction, otherwise devoid of spontaneity and human warmth. From birthday parties, honeymoon selfies to marriage anniversaries, birthday parties to selfies in the backdrop of majestic mountains and rivers, FB posts tickle our vanity.

A couple who got married two years ago, are leading their lives virtually on FB, posting anything from their birthdays to marriage anniversaries to their visits to numerous places. Before posting their pictures, they also go the extra mile in making sure that they strike the right poses in their colourful and fancy dresses for their FB friends to salivate and ‘like’.

Then there are parents who lose no opportunity to tom-tom the achievements of their children by regularly posting pictures of their paintings and academic achievements. Not to be left behind, other equally ambitious and FB-friendly parents join in this Gadarene rush to promote their children on the social media platform. Immediately, a wave of ‘likes’ from their followers washes over their shares. All this Irish blarney makes these puffed-up parents feel on top of the world.

Desire to impress

If you are on Facebook, you are supposed to have an opinion about everything, regardless of whether they carry any weight. No wonder, the platform is teeming with opinion-peddlers of all stripes ready to shove their ideologies down your throat. The social media platform brings out our innate desire to impress people, even if we end up making a spectacle of ourselves. The other day, yours truly stumbled upon a ludicrous picture of an FB friend making a face in his monkey cap, to get a laugh.

The fact is, human eccentricity passes muster on this platform as one’s decisions are hardly judged; the mind goes as dry as fiddlesticks and people, while praising such tomfoolery, are happy to “practice a strange ingenuity in wasting on tedious exercises the brief span of life.’’ In other words, compliments and ‘likes’ are nothing but a Pavlovian response, completely disconnected from emotions and sagacity.

The ‘likes’ also act somewhat as the lubricant which keeps the machinery of our narcissism running smoothly. It is an imperative that has completely enslaved us. Somerset Maugham once wrote, “… the desire for approbation is perhaps the most deeply seated instinct of civilized man.”

Hunger for 'likes'

There is no gainsaying the fact that people send friend requests only to garner more ‘likes’ for their posts. This is a medium where you are not supposed to sell yourself short. After all, we are living in self-obsessed times, with its emphasis on me-me-me. The more you talk, nay brag, about yourself, the better would be your chances of being liked and feted on this platform.

An article titled ‘Evidence Grows That Online Social Networks Have Insidious Negative Effects’ appeared in the MIT Technology Review in 2014. According to it, a study of 50,000 people in Italy revealed that online social networks have a significant negative impact on individual welfare. The study discovered that “interactions on online social networks are not face-to-face and this may impact the trust you have in people online. It is this loss of trust that can then affect subjective well-being rather than the online interaction itself.”

Another sordid side of Facebook is the gruesome practice of people going live to kill themselves to justify their act. The jury is still out on whether such acts of self-destruction really end up stirring the emotions.

My enthusiasm for sending friend requests petered out long ago. The idea to ingratiate oneself with FB friends through self-promotion has never appealed to people of my ilk. The reason yours truly doesn’t want to quit FB is because there are still some positive things about this platform that we can swear by. Once or twice a month, I interact with like-minded writers to exchange views and ideas. Watching videos of animals and their antics is so much more exciting for me. If that were not enough, watching videos of young singers provides some balm to my frayed nerves. My idea of Facebook has nothing to do with the narcissistic self and the face.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Delhi.

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