As I sit at my favorite joint, enjoying my Irish Coffee, I watch hordes of men and women sitting together, but far apart from one another, engrossed in their tablets, smartphones and iPads. We do not need a survey to prove that we now spend more time online than we do with our close ones.
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The free social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp have given people a new way to connect with old flames or ‘casually’ meet someone new. Be it your high school crushes, college sweethearts or former lovers – all are easily found on the social media with one click. Many individuals use these sites merely to flirt or window shop, not deeming that it can lead to something more intimate. However, the conversations gradually become intense, and even flirty, particularly if intimacy was once shared in the past. Journalist and a regular contributor to Bonobology, Lekha Menon, wonders if WhatsApp, Messenger, Twitter, etc. were not free, would we still talk, connect, fight, argue or flirt so much?
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The virtual world is always very tempting where everything seems to be more perfect and ‘in place’ than the real world. So it has become a leading trend to run to virtual life for self-satisfactory calmness, says Joyeeta Talukdar. Somewhere this leads to disbelief in real life and results in pre- or extramarital affairs, she agrees. Concurring with Joyeeta, Niks says, “It is not free Twitter or easy affordable Internet but the free society we live in that makes us talk, connect or argue online.” With heavy professional competition and no time for each other in real life, people try to find solace in the virtual world where their intellectual, emotional or even spiritual needs are satisfied, he believes.
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Deepshikha Tahiliani begs to differ and argues that we may not chat, flirt or argue as much had we had to pay exuberant rates for using the social media sites. But is the free social network in itself creating problems?
A survey conducted among Facebook users by Russell Clayton, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, found that higher levels of Facebook usage led to higher levels of conflict and the consequences included negative relationship outcomes like a breakup, cheating and divorce. The research also found that excessive Facebook users are more likely to connect or reconnect with other Facebook users, including previous partners, which may lead to emotional and physical cheating.
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Archana Sharma, an avid traveler, opines that paid or free, we have become technology-driven and dependent on social sites. People are drawn to them since the virtual world offers great convenience, flexibility and secrecy as well. Seconding Archana’s observation, Ashwina Garg points out the flip side that technology has also made it easier for a person to find out if their spouse is having an affair. Careless messages, emails, GPS, browser history are the friends of a tech-savvy partner and God help their cheating spouse.
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Though Saheli Mitra agrees that most communications these days happen through virtual media, she doesn’t feel that the social networking comes for free. “Does it?” she asks. “Because I have to spend money to fill my mobile data card or for a net connection. But in a way if the services came at a higher cost I have no idea if such long conversations would continue,” Mitra ponders. I suppose that the ‘free’ part does make it easier, but making it paid is hardly going to stop people from communicating,” observes Sid, citing his own example. “About 15 years back when my wife and I were in the budding stages of our relationship, we spent hours on the phone (and it was not cheap!). But yes, perhaps if it was not free, the opportunities for pre/extramarital relationships would be far less,” he quips.
The virtual society has developed beyond a sub-culture into our lives. We may hate to agree, but the social sites have become the very essence of life for many. In the end, we are only human. Men and women today are getting caught in the chasm between virtual and factual reality. I wonder will the gap between our virtual and actual relationships ever grow so broad that we will prefer living and interact with others only in the virtual world – in the form of sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. Will a time come when we would no longer want or need face-to-face interaction? Reminds you of the movie Surrogates? Me too.