Social Networks: A New Outlook

English: Data from April 2011 Editor Survey th...
English: Data from April 2011 Editor Survey that lists Social Media activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Remember when we were kids and our parents warned us not to talk to strangers? I wonder what parents tell their kids these days. It’s bad enough in the crowded towns and cities we’re living in, where sometimes even our neighbours are strangers, but if Earth wasn’t tough enough, we’re now dealing with everyday worries in the virtual one as well.

I’m not trying to suggest that social media or technology in general is this big, bad tool that’s killing us all.

After reading media hype about the stuff people do online – tweeting through childbirth, their own wedding ceremony and various other events in life that should really be private, I can’t seem to fathom what drives people to do such things. It’s not just Twitter – on Facebook, YouTube, any virtual public gathering, or anywhere there’s an audience, the court jesters show up screaming, “Look at me now!” But who are these people we are all trying to please?

Honestly, we seem to interact with strangers or acquaintances more often than ‘friends’ on social media platform these days. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it? Unless it’s someone you’re wooing, how boring is it to interact with the same people both online and offline? The devil is in the details though – I use the word ‘interact’, which so many of us just don’t do anymore. It’s more about trying to define oneself in the eyes of strangers. It’s the school or college canteen all over again – we all want to be popular and will do anything to try and gain that acceptance.

Of course, people will cry foul, and claim “Not me.” Of course not you; you’re special – just like the other 1 billion.

Why not abandon your current avatar and start from scratch? Ask yourself if you’d continue to do it if no one else ever read any of it or responded?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m some prude who’s advocating an end to the net or anything else that’s ludicrous. I’m just trying to understand our psychology in the virtual world, because understanding something is the key to using it wisely and safely.

It is after all a very human need for us to try to rise above the crowds and make a name for ourselves. It’s what drilled into us from the time we’re able to comprehend our first words. We have to get better grades than the neighbour’s kid, or behave like he or she does. When we go to college, it’s the group we hang out with that defines how cool we are. Later at work we jostle amongst our over-eager colleagues to find a niche for ourselves in, and will do anything to get promoted, or even noticed. The bar can never be set too high.

At first, the net was a way to escape all that and that’s what fuelled its initial surge. It was anonymous, it was free of guilt, and you didn’t really care about one another’s opinions. That hasn’t changed of course, and if you want to, you can still choose to be anonymous online.

Do you?

Hasn’t the whole web experience just become just another clone of your offline life? Sure, the people you meet are different, but the needs are the same. You want to be popular, but so does everyone else; you want to express yourself uninhibitedly, but fear that your boss or family might read what you said – it’s the same rat race all over again.

As CEO, MD and financer of brand You, you know that you’re nothing if Google doesn’t love you, or if people don’t follow/like/poke/message/friend/ you. So you update statuses no matter what you’re doing, you like everything and add everyone as a friend on Facebook, and eventually…you’re stampeding through life with the rest of the e-cattle. A few lucky ones get their 15 seconds of fame, might even make some money, and then are forgotten as everyone moves on to the next net sensation. It gets harder each time though, no one wants to see a me-too. So you do something crazy and unique to get noticed.

Real life is hard enough to deal with, without getting carried away in the virtual one. Use the net as a tool, and it can help you succeed at work, college or whatever you do. Start taking e-popularity too seriously and you might end up hurting your chances of success. You don’t want to be the person everyone watches on YouTube, but only to make fun of…

Do you?

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