Friend's request and tests

From time to time, I am perplexed by an apparent dramatic declaration I see play out on Facebook. It is a post which can be paraphrased thus:

“I do not like to have a lot of friends and have deleted some because they’re rude/ un-cool/ ugly/ don’t agree with everything I say. Now I want you to prove that you deserve to be my friend. Like this post and copy this to your page — copy, don’t share it, ok? Nahin toh Gabbar aa jayega.”

I often wonder what the poster feels the outburst will actually achieve. For instance, if you find someone intolerable, you can un-friend them online much as you might avoid them offline. If you don’t tell them you did it but tell us without naming them, you can’t even let them know, so there is no petty revenge to be had here.

If it’s meant to threaten those who don’t engage with you, then it’s worth considering that they might not notice because, um, they don’t engage with you, so therefore they won’t feel threatened.

Also, if you want to engage with someone, you could just engage with them. Why test your popularity like a demure girl in a Georgette Heyer dance party yaniki ball?

Some nights, unable to sleep due to thinking about this issue, I wonder, maybe folks don’t realise that algorithms run the Internet and determine some sense of our reality — including who sees our posts and whose posts we see. Then I think, oh, maybe these people know this and are manipulating our emotions so that we will like and paste these messages, and they can gauge how the algorithm works through this activity (yes, correct, I don’t have any other work). At such thoughts, I start feeling outraged that I am being made a guinea pig without consent or compensation and start composing Facebook posts full of petulant hints and dark emotional allusions to myself. Luckily, that’s usually when I fall asleep.

Other nights, when I lie awake thinking about this issue, I think the spirit of Nirupa Roy has taken over social media to conduct a social experiment. Because, who but a filmy mother, aided by Salim-Javed, could achieve this tone mixing martyrdom, (no one notices me, yet I soldier on) high dudgeon and entitlement (you should be engaging with me because) along with the desire to make us feel shifty, guilty, reprimanded and desperate for escape, in one meaty dialogue?

Social media expands our circles and interactions in wonderful ways, beyond what offline life offers us. But, like offline life, it too requires a mutuality for friendships to build. Its instant numerical gratification of likes and engagements makes us crave that confirmation and sometimes mistake that as a rite of friendship. Sure, it might tell us something about how people feel about us, but it doesn’t tell us everything.

Offline we accept the different ways in which people display friendship — some friends communicate often, some rarely but we find ways to accept and enjoy each one’s ways. The uniform lines of an online platform perhaps sometimes make us expect uniform behavior.

Facebook too has now begun informing us of Facebook Friend Anniversaries — as if that is the only universe our friendship exists in, exacerbating this feeling.

But the offline and online are not sealed off from each other. It’s not that online is fake and offline is real, or one replaces the other. Rather, today, life is a potentially beautiful interplay of the offline and online. If we see this, we could enjoy its multiple riches; if we divide it we just improverish ourselves.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com. The views expressed in these columns are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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