Social, mobile, local … but what about “humane”?

Yesterday, I got the sad news that a friend of mine in India passed away. I had never met him, but he was a collaborator on a couple of comic book projects I had worked with and we were facebook friends too. Even though we lived a few continents apart in the “real” world, the wonders of social networking kept us in touch. Facebook would keep me abreast of his life, one news feed item or tagged photo at a time. I knew when he got married, what new projects he took on and most importantly his “mood” — being a true artist, his posts would reflect the infamous ups and downs of the artistic whim. His forte was horror and the supernatural. He could tap into some dark cavern of his subconscious and come up with monsters and dreamscapes like only a few gifted ones can.

I got a mail from one of our common friends in the weekend that he had suddenly passed away. It was a shock on many fronts. But, as the day progressed, something even more shocking happened. Our friends started posting on facebook and remembering his work and life. He had influenced quite a few friends and fans and some of them (actually most of them) started @ tagging his facebook profile in their posts. Everytime I logged into facebook, it was a bit creepy to see his name hyperlinked to his profile pop up on my ticker. He’s survived by his wife and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain she must live through again when the same items pop up before her (a tagged photo of my friend smiling, an image he worked on, condolences from a common friend). Loss is something we all have to deal with, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of the connected social/mobile world of ours scratching the tender wounds of a departed loved one again and again and again.

We hype our world as being connected, social and mobile. Everything is converging, everyone is connected and everything is shared. But that is not necessarily a good thing… always. 🙁

Image from here

Friendship 2.0

Someone whose Twitter feed I subscribe to recently posted a status update to the tune of “I really, really detest overfamiliarity from strangers.” I can’t speak for the populace in general, but this brings me to something I’ve been thinking about for the last few years. I’ve been working out of my basement office for last 4 years and my only interaction with other human beings (apart from my wife and kid) have been either during the daily trips I take to Trader Joe’s (my neighborhood grocery store) or online.

With the explosive burst of Social Networking, our lives or rather the parameters for interaction in our lives have become really weird. I’ve always been socially awkard, so it’s no surprise I have got more “online” friends than real ones. It never actually seemed unnatural to me, but sometimes I do step back and try to think about what, if anything, it tells about me as a person.

Online acquaintances are a way of maintaining a disposable emotional squash wall for me. I’ve never met more than half of the people I interact with online. I work for a company spread across half the world and my only contact with them is via IM, E-Mail and phone. So keeping that aside for the moment, most of the people I do prefer to have “conversations” with are online buddies (not the anonymous kind, but people I’ve come across in my double life as a comic book creator / netizen). I know their names, gender and where they are from (I sincerely hope so, anyways  ), but I’ve never met them face to face.

Some people I chat with regularly, share my narrow (in genre) yet broad (in topics) interest with comic books, pop culture etc. Some I interact because I really dig their sense of humor. So I feel an affinity with these “web-friends”. Plus remote interaction takes away a kind of personal involvement (social quid pro quo) involved in a face to face acquaintance. That’s a big thing for me. Generally I treat the internet as a shrink’s couch, venting my frustrations or cracking jokes to alleviate my myriad insecurities / complexes / neuroses. Works for me.

There are some downsides though. First thing is over IM, it’s kinda hard to judge the other person’s mood when you initiate a conversation. An accidentally omitted smiley can put you in a tizzy.  Sarcasm, that cornerstone of pseudo-intellectual conversations is hard to translate across the net. There is always that “did they say what I think they said and did they mean what I think they said” kind of hesitancy involved in chatting, mostly with recent internet acquaintances. And the Big Bomba – timezone difference. Human beings are kind of slaves to the circadian rhythm. Our moods and perceptiveness vary along with the schedules of our Sleep-Wake cycle. When you’re chatting with someone half a world away, you might have just woken up and be feeling fresh, but the other person might just have returned from a grueling day at office or staving off insomnia.

Weighing the pluses and minuses of online acquaintance is perhaps a subject best addressed in Media theory / Anthropology tomes of the near future. But it is something to mull over for me. Hell with it, I think I’m going to pink crazydude666 and ask him how the weather is in Philippines. 🙂