Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why I Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg’s brain child now has more than 900 million monthly active users, and chances are it is there that you found this post as well.
900 million—an article I recently read said if that were a country, it would be the third most populous! At least, that is what the latest stats say.
For more details you can always Google the latest news stories or check their filings if you are that fastidious. Or else, you can just trust me and go with it! I won’t link a news article to this blog. Reason one being I think if you are curious enough, you’ll Google it. Reason two, I try to keep my work and blog posts as far separated as possible. As a reporter, I don’t opinionate. As a blogger, that’s all I do.
Well like with anything else, once the first blast of news is done hitting you in the face, people discuss it, and some, even in this day and age, actually try and attempt to go beyond the stats to understand what it means to the everyday man. Don’t pick on me for not saying “woman”, I am not your nitpicking, irritating-to-everyone-else-but-their-own-closed-group kind of feminist and I do have something of a dislike for them.
Anyhow, when some people I know asked me why I Facebook, and presented their ideas on why people should not, it obviously got me thinking.
Here’s this immensely popular social networking tool that seems to have made the world a much much smaller and well connected place than was thought possible. And yet, here are some otherwise very logical, thinking individuals who vehemently oppose its popularity and think it is rotting society in some way. In fact, I also saw billboards inviting people to attend a session titled “is social network making us unsocial?” at the Red line train stop.
I have no desire or will to go and attend that session, but think it’ll be fun to hazard a guess on what the non FB-ing intelligentsia’s problems with the lesser mortals are.
What will be the obvious complaints? “Kids” are always on their phones, FB-ing. Now I am your average working girl with no claims to anything extraordinary, so quite obviously I’m totally in with the multitude. I’m almost always on FB, I have my Blackberry to thank for that, and I have a clinical urge to respond to messages and posts addressed to me. Just like with emails.
And I would like to think it stems from some sense of courtesy. When people talk to you, or ask you something, or include you in a conversation, you respond. If you do not want to, you say “I don’t want to”, or “I think you are a moron, so leave me out of this”, but you still respond. Basic good manners, I say.
That and a bunch of other stuff like my daughter does not talk to me because of FB, I got hit by a truck because I was poking someone etc etc.
Well, here is the thing.
Your daughter does not talk to you because she thinks you are immensely boring, and because you have nothing interesting to say to her that will hold her imagination. Don’t blame it on FB. Don’t blame it on anything, really, other than yourself, because if you had that bond with your kid, s/he would respond. They still do talk to their friends, don’t they? Or to the “cool” teacher from school who is everyone’s favorite? Or the neighbourhood aunt/uncle all the kids love.
You get my drift? Trust me, if there was no FB, the kid would hide in a book, phone, or in anything that could rescue her if she has decided to give you the cold shoulder. The problem lies deeper than that, fix it.
And of course, if you got hit by a truck because you were poking/ commenting while on the road, you are plain stupid. No other words there. If there is one thing that we owe to ourselves, it is to be careful about what can hurt us and what is OK. That you still haven’t been able to figure it out, or are unable to teach your ward the rights and wrongs of life are hardly Zuckerberg’s fault. Just like when my class mate in junior school crashed with his motorcycle, it wasn’t Gottlieb Daimler’s fault.
Oh yeah, my mind has collected enough useless trivia over the years, as I realize intermittently.
Blame the addiction to reading. I remember, as a very young kid I even read the back of the shampoo bottle while my mom would wash my hair. Till she decided to ask me to stop it because I would get shampoo in my eyes while reading and the strange redness would creep her out. I would also cry sometimes, depending on the intensity of the wash.
But I deviate (hey, my blog, my memories!) and I’m sure no one finds an account of a precocious baby getting her hair washed that captivating. So, let’s return to my point.
Which is that, I think most of the so called problems that FB and other social networking sites have given us are really allegations that we can easily ignore. Indeed, if we are honest enough, we might even accept our own shortcomings here and agree that these sites are really not the villains they are often made out to be.
There is only this one “crime” charge that I am not sure I can totally defend social networking from. That of creating shallow bonds and making us lazy. And, of encouraging very bad use of grammar and language. OK, so that makes it more than one. But let me try.
My use of FB grew tremendously in 2010, when I was away from India for the first time, and was phoneless for about a week. FB was an easy and accessible way of keeping in touch with friends and family, and it helped them to know that I was safe and not dead/robbed/raped/dying/sick in some foreign country.
I have kept at it since, and have found many, many long lost friends and acquaintances through it.
One of those people I mentioned among the anti-FB group avoids social networking studiously because that person believes if someone really wants to talk, or cares enough, they will find a way to get in touch without help from a poke/tweet/comment. And say something meaningful in the process. It is a great thought, and as someone who loves reading long emails that are NOT forwards, I totally understand that demand.
But here’s my counter argument. If I really want you in my life, I will definitely find a way. But does it prove anything when you make my attempts more difficult by avoiding a popular platform that could make you more accessible to me?
And what guarantees that the people that do manage to connect with me beyond the shallow “likes” will, in fact write or say anything that is more meaningful?
I once had a teacher who was brave enough to encourage discussion in class. Not a common trait among people anywhere and less likely when your paycheck depends on finishing a syllabus that no one really cares about.
I learnt from him how important it is to hear other people out, and to try and give everyone a fair chance. It might not be the most perfect platform, but I would like to say social media does it. The number of arguments, discussions, conversations I’ve personally had on FB over countless issues that touch our daily lives is proof in itself.
All shallow, you say? How many people in your friends list do you really know about, you ask? Not all, sure. Do I want to be best friends with the girl from school I reconnected with after more than a decade? No. But do I still want to keep in touch and exchange occasional snippets of our lives and share her happiness when she puts up wedding pictures on her wall? Yes!
Would this be possible in an age before FB (or any other social media that you like, but 900 million commands respect. If you haven’t already figured, I’m using FB as the generic term for social media here. Like “Xerox” and “Maggi”)? Having lived in that world, I think we’ll all agree and say “no”.
So shallow bonds with many notwithstanding, it really helps to communicate. And you never know when an acquaintance becomes a good friend, right?
Now the bit about making us lazy—that people would rather wish friends ”happy birthday” on FB and comment on walls than pick up the phone and make it more special. And that people do not remember birthdays unless it is on your calendar.
Guilty as charged. I have done that at times, and I know it is not a good excuse to say I was tired and it was the middle of the night for my friend. But how about this—thanks to the websites, I could at least let my friend know that I tried but was not able to get through, when that was the case. Better than getting lost in a hole of non-communication, no?
So that leaves us with the bad grammar and bad language charge.
*I surrender*

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sex is not such a bad thing. And neither are strip clubs

There, do I have your attention now? Good, because the rest of this entry is about algebra.
    Hah, got you!
    Why I'm writing again is because I visited a strip club last week. Not my first visit, may I add, but being there as a customer is definitely nothing like being there as a reporter who's trying to be all business-like.
    Because for starters, I could actually stare. And second, I could get out when I wanted to.
    So that was that, and apart from the initial 10 minutes of ickiness, we all eased into the ambience pretty well, and was at home enough to compliment a dancer on her shoes, and reject a lap dance.
    And no, I'm not going to give you a blow by blow account of their routines. You get your own trip for that. Or read Savita Bhabhi or whatever. Basically, look elsewhere because what I would actually want to do here is make some observations, as always.
    1. Didn't Bernard Shaw ask whoever looks at beauty when it's been around for three days? Make it 30 minutes. The rule still holds, and equally well for everything from the nice painting you paid a bomb for, to SRK (yeah I met him once when I was in college) to naked women. None of us said the experience was life altering, all captivating, or even that big a deal. And yes that includes the man in the group. His wife appreciated the lingerie, my other friend liked how fit the dancers were and I, well, complimented one girl on her shoes.
    2. When I was over the gaping, I noted how controlled the environment was in the lounge/bar. Not one person misbehaving, not one unwanted or unsolicited comment or even gaze. If you want some action, you pay and you get it. If you don't, no one will bother you. One might argue that the big bouncers have that effect on people, but hey, it is a dark room and the bouncers aren't everywhere. Plus, the men who were getting dances were not allowed to touch the girls, and I actually saw one poor person's hands go up and then him willing them back on the couch. Couldn't help but feel bad for him, poor bloke. I really did think it comes from people trying to behave by themselves. I mean if external control stopped men and women from misbehaving, why would we have weirdoes touching themselves in a crowded bus?
    3. Which brings me to the real reason why I am writing this. Sex and sexuality is so very oppressed in the society I come from, it is really ridiculous. And it is refreshing to see a change from my norm. And this extends way beyond strip clubs into everyday living.
     Most Asian families I know behave like the very concept of sex does not even exist, and yet we give birth to more and more children every passing year. I mean sure I am happy that society has cast some rules that people are expected to follow.
    A free rein sounds cool, but think about it-- would you like to be the person who is not really sure of who your father is, just because no one can tell? Call me a prude, but I like to know where I come from. I also like the fact that I get to decide who I want to be with, and no one has the right to force/persuade me if I don't want them. And that in the current social framework, all sensible men accept that. Or I've just been lucky.
    But does that mean we turn a total blind eye to the very fact that men and women have some urges and that it is needed that they satisfy some of it? Mostly to stop them from turning  to be weirdoes that get kicks from throwing themselves at random strangers in public areas?
    Think about that man I just described at the bar. That he could freely walk in and buy his dance probably saved New York City one sexual offender.
    And what is the other option anyway? Fine, we as Indians (my favorite sample, because I know us the best) won't accept that our children have any physical desires, so we don't allow "dates" and if we are really that stuck up, we don't even allow free mingling of both sexes. Do we even look around us?
    Each public park that I have been to in India is a make-out spot for teenagers and sadly, even older people to various degrees and at different times of the day. We are generally still not at home with kissing in public, but we accept the fact that grown men and women can slip their hands inside each other's clothes at places where children can watch, under the safety net of an umbrella. An umbrella!
     I appreciate cultural differences, and I subscribe to the idea of not everyone needs to be "Westernised". But why is it that while we have no trouble accepting Coca Cola, mini skirts, Hollywood movies and even foreign accents, we can't man up and accept this one true fact of life? One of us did write the Kamasutra, did he not?
    I have seen parents being extremely protective about their children-- no boys/girls, no late nights, no sleepovers, no nothing. And I know for a fact that ALL of those protected children have consistently done all of it, but without telling their parents.
    Or, the one chance they could try out "freedom", they went totally overboard leaving the rest of us to clean up after them. Literally and metaphorically. Concept of freedom lost, and concept of self restraint totally done away with. Not funny. Especially since these very boys and girls grow up to be men and women and still do the same. Why else would 50 year old men throw up after drinking too much at parties? Most people across the world would agree that the throwing up stage comes and goes with your teens.
     At 50, or for that matter even at 30, you need to know how to hold your drink. Or how to control your hand that "slips" below your lady dancing partner's waist or rubs against her in such a way that you can't tell if if was deliberate or not. Why do people do that? Here are my guesses:
    A. Because they do not know that there is another way of propositioning. That you can actually talk about it without being sleazy.
    B. Because how can you ask! It is so "isss chee chee". Or because even if one did ask, there are very few people that will say "at least s/he was upfront and respected my decision of going with it/not going with it." Most will say "OMG, can you believe what s/he did?" And the honest person gets branded a philanderer for life. So let us just molest each other and pretend nothing happened.
    From what I understand, on a deeper level, this culture of having a fake respectability also breeds a more dangerous culture of lying. I mean, because most parents won't say "yes, I am ok that you have a boyfriend at 16" even if they are and even if they know it is really normal, in a twisted manner, they force their children to lie.
    Were you with that girl? No mama. Is aunty lying? Maybe mama. Where were you? In the coaching class that was never actually scheduled for that day and so on and so forth till meddlesome local boys find the young kids fornicating under the slide in the park and raise hell. 
    The park keeps coming back, sorry about that.
    Wouldn't you rather these kids had some chance at normal mingling under some supervision than be forced to hide in dark alleys? I know a 8 year old that was introduced to pornography by a 13 something year old. In India, in a decent, bhadralok middleclass environment. So the naiveté of "our children are not like that" is lost on me. Every children is like that, ignore the English.
    Having siblings and cousins that are as much as 15 years younger has its benefits-- I am unusually up to date on the latest in teen and tween town. And take my word for it: 14 and above year olds in mid to big cities in India not only have sex, smoke, and generally do whatever their parents think can never be done, they also do it under the constant pressure of not letting people find out. Which equals to lying 24 X 7.
    (I add my usual caveat here: not everyone does it, and I did not conduct an official poll. But I do know that the percentage is rising, through first hand accounts and anecdotes.)
    You think I am exaggerating? I am not.
    Now give me the argument that not having any control or rules will only create a mess of everyone. Yes, I agree, but the point never was to do away with all kinds of rules and regulations. The point is to do away with rules that are so far removed from reality that you would think those who come up with them never lived on planet Earth as we know it.
     So do I have to sleep with someone just because they want it, because we are cool like that, and society won't disapprove and/or I want to one-up them? Hell no.
    But should people be able to do it if/when they both want to without fearing the collective raised eyebrows of everyone they knowl? "Yes" seems to be the only logical answer, does it not?
And that begs the question: is it so bad then, to pay for it? 

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..

where the mind is without fear and the head is held high..