Mark Zuckerberg has changed the world. He is the pioneer (actually I don't know if he is, but at least he is the successful pioneer) of this new thing called Facebook, which is part of the new phenomenon called Social Media, which has changed our lives in profound ways. Tracing the history of that and the impact it has had on our lives is interesting.
Young college kid starts a social media venture and becomes immensely successful. He offers a platform for people to 'friend' each other and socialize online. Lots of people join up – it's free, it's a new way to communicate, it's a great place to hang out, and there is something immensely gratifying about letting people know what you are up to. We human beings are social animals and want to see and be seen with each other. We want to know what everyone else is doing, and want to impress them with gory details of our entirely uneventful lives.
Many people join up, it becomes popular and soon Facebook crosses a point where more people join because of the lot of people that are already on it. If you joined another social network – and dozens of them came up and vanished back into the ether – you were likely to be very lonely. And loneliness is something we don't like. Being in the company of other people, even virtually, is comforting.
So people go online and check out what their friends are up to. And all their friends seem to be having a great time. They have posted pictures of themselves at a party, in a group, drinking with friends, out on the beach, with beautiful babes or gorgeous hunks as the case may be, standing on the mountain top with a backpack and clouds for company, wearing a new dress; and pictures of their cute boyfriend, cute child, and even cuter kittens. No one posts pictures of themselves lonely at home, staring at a wall depressed, getting abused by the spouse, being shouted at by the boss, crushed in a crowded train travelling to office, doing mundane daily chores, or doing what most people actually do most of the time – that is, navigate the mundane aspects of daily life.
Which is what, you the Facebook user are doing, most of the time. Navigating the mundane aspects of daily life. And you resent the fact that all your friends are having a gala time, while you are stuck in your daily rut. And this leads to Envy. In the real world you envy your neighbor for her Miss Universe looks and the million dollar inheritance she has received from her dad, but this is quickly tempered by the fact that she has an absolutely pathetic dolt for a husband, and cannot speak good Hindi. Life has a way of equalizing which is not apparent on Facebook.
You get more and more hooked to the whole thing, and visit Facebook whenever you get time. You connect through your mobile, and post pictures of whatever you are doing immediately. There are cases of couples interrupting the marriage ceremony on the third phera, uploading a photo on Facebook, "getting married right now – doing the pheras" and then resuming walking around the fire. The pundit doesn't mind since he is catching up on mail in the meanwhile. More than focusing on what you are doing right now, you are always focused on your next update so that you can tell the whole world what you are doing right now, and checking out what others are doing right now. Instead of living in the present, where you are, and enjoying the moment, you live for projections – projecting what you are up to, and imagining what your friends are up to, based on what they are projecting about what they are up to.
And it is not even true friends that we are talking about. Your friends consist of people you have last met while in school, whom you never got along with while there, ex-colleagues who just happened to be in your lives for a brief period, and friends of friends who are into collecting friends on Facebook. There was somebody called Dunbar who did some research on friendships and came up with the conclusion that no one can handle more than 150 friends in real life, and that includes real friends and virtual friends. By definition, friends are people whose lives you keep close track of, and the brain switches off if loaded with too much data on too many people. In the process, what is the bet that you become less and less aware of what your real friends (as in true friends, those who will come to your aid in times of need, stand by your bedside when you are ill, and have a drink with you when your spouse has thrown you out of the house) are up to, and load yourself up with useless data on people who don't matter to you, who you have not met and are not likely to meet anytime, and people who are staying thousands of miles away? You have crossed the Dunbar limit long back, and you find you are unable to cope.
In the meanwhile your girlfriend breaks up with you. Publicly, online. She posts it on Facebook – "with new boyfriend on the beach – left the old one, poor sod, whose face looks like a truck ran over it" – without even bothering to inform you about it. Seventy three of your friends "like" her post which makes you even more depressed. Your true friend, who is not on Facebook by the way, breaks open your door, and rushes you to hospital where they extract the residues of thirty sleeping pills with a stomach pump. Of course you cannot keep away from Facebook for long – you post "was in hospital for a minor stomach problem", get two hundred likes, and are rehabilitated into life.
Meanwhile your spouse sees a photo you are tagged in, with your arms around your girlfriend, not the one mentioned above, but the one whom you broke up with after college and caught up with after fifteen years, courtesy Facebook. The court case becomes very messy since her lawyer has dug out lots of dirt on you from Facebook, which proves that you are a philanderer deserving of the greatest punishment and the most punitive alimony. Your wife does not post anything on Facebook, since vicarious voyeurism is her kick in life, and there lies your misfortune.
The alimony is really punitive. You feel like you are being punished for the sins of your past lives as well. To compound the misery, you have just seen a Facebook update where your wife is tagged with your ex-girlfriend – the one who didn't like your face – having a gala time on the beach in Hawaii. You have had enough of girlfriends and wives in general and want to divert your energies to getting rich. Which is when the Facebook IPO is announced.
A once in a lifetime opportunity! Mark Zuckerberg will be among the world's richest men! Grab a part of the story! Subscribe to the IPO of Facebook! You are at a very vulnerable time in your life, and you borrow a huge sum of money to invest in the IPO.
What happens after that is another story – we shall leave that for next time…