Google — can’t live with it, can’t live without it!

Originally written for Gulf News ‘Off the Cuff’

Published: 20:00 November 30, 2014google.png

A box like computer sat in the back of the living room, and all of us crowded around the spanking new Pentium 4. Dad glowed with joy as he told us about everything it could do and it looked as though Dad himself had created the superfast RAM. And would you believe the computer came with an HP scanner? Not many people had scanners back then, and we put our silly drawings in it just for the sake of seeing them get scanned. The mysterious lighting up of the scanner was delightful, and we would lift the cover and peek inside. But the best thing about it by far was the internet!

You could hear the dial-tone as the computer would connect to the internet via the telephone line. The line would buzz and whirr and there would be an air of expectation. Would we get connected? Oh yes! We were connected to the World Wide Web! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today the computer, and in particular Google knows everything about me, from what movies I like, to what has been making me curious lately. When I type “How to” in the search bar on my phone, Google automatically throws up suggestions such as “how to soothe a crying baby”. Coincidence? I think not. And guess what? Intuitive as it is, Google is usually right — by my personal estimation – a staggering 90 per cent of the time.

Unobtrusively, inconspicuously, Google has been retaining every little detail about me. And about you. From the annoying videos about foreign exchange that pop up when I watch a cricket match online, to the “Charlie bit my finger” video the girls played about a hundred times, Google has it all on database.

We don’t really think much about it, do we? When I typed in “is painting my house harmful for baby?” Google showed me exactly what I wanted to know. But the next time when I was online guess what the advertisements were about? Child-safe paints from the UK. So suddenly Google knows (and remembers!) that I have a baby and am thinking about painting my house! And because I am practically addicted to and fully reliant on Google Maps for navigation (think lots of driving with not the best sense of road geography) Google knows exactly where I conducted those searches from, and what places I am likely to frequent. So it shows me stuff nearer to me. Convenient? Yes. But creepy? Definitely. And an invasion of my privacy? Most certainly!

It’s like walking into a mall, saying “Where’s the…” At these words, the sales staff pre-empt my question (usually correctly) and find me what I’m looking for, in the store that I like, in the size I need, in the colour I prefer and in the budget I have and offer to deliver it home because they know exactly where I live. All very well, but throws you off, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t just end there. My recent shopping on (and the searches that led to it) had Amazon very thoughtfully nominate me for “Amazon Mom”, so that I could avail interesting deals and discounts on baby stuff. Thanks Amazon, but is there no end to the amount of data you have on me?

My reasons for aversion to social media such as Facebook and Twitter include (but are not limited to) those mentioned above. Imagine, if I were on Facebook, how much more information about me would be saved in some far away megabytes in Silicon Valley? Have you ever wondered about just how much power these organisations have over us? And what could (God forbid!) happen if all this information fell into the wrong hands?


There is life after Facebook

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff”:

fbookbanner copy

Dear Facebook,

You asked what’s on my mind. Well, there is a lot that we need to talk about. It’s been about three years since I logged into my account. When I quit Facebook, family and friends were not pleased. They thought I was being antisocial, and such a spoilsport! However, I bowed out of the online social party as gracefully as I could.

At first it seemed like there was nothing left in life. I missed checking the ‘likes’, friend requests and friends’ updates every few minutes. Life felt … empty. But when the initial feeling of being cut off from the world was conquered I realised I had so much more time, and I was so productive!

I didn’t have to log on to Facebook every few minutes, and I didn’t need to know what other people were up to. I was suddenly getting some actual work done! It was possible.

A life without an over-reliance on Facebook was possible. Life could go on without needing to know how much weight so-and-so in New York had gained post-baby, or without knowing how magnificent a party had been, or without knowing what someone else’s children were up to.

Without getting a number of ‘likes’ on my oh-so-witty and well-thought-out status updates, and without getting a bunch of compliments on my latest pictures, as much as I would have liked to deny it, life really could go on.

And quite smoothly too.

Life after you, Facebook, had an odd satisfaction to it, a secure feeling that the world did not know what I was up to. There were people who totally ridiculed my idea of not using you, Facebook but I was more in touch with my real friends than ever before.

Those who wanted to find me landed on my blog, and we became even better friends than before. I became accessible and available to a selected few, who knew how to reach me, and who knew that my email messages to them were not broadcast conversations over status updates and pictures, and were real chats.

Slowly, Facebook, I forgot about you. I had a life that did not need to be lived online. I had family and friends in person, and admittedly on whatsapp and email. And I wouldn’t even have written to you today if a colleague hadn’t asked for my Facebook ID. When I tell people I’m not on Facebook, they generally have two reactions.

One group thinks I am a totally antisocial person. The second group thinks I am an eccentric woman who probably has an interesting story to tell about why I quit you.

Well, Facebook, the truth couldn’t be farther away. I’m just a normal human being who decided to quit you because I was growing addicted to you.

When I told my colleague I wasn’t on you, she insisted that it was good to have a Facebook account, and that one can stay in touch with one’s friends. Yes, Facebook, I miss that.

I also miss being able to share my articles to a great number of people in a single click, and I miss sharing thought-provoking quotes and the like. To my colleague I mumbled something along the lines of “Yeah, Facebook’s really cool that way,” and wondered if I would ever join you again.

Join you again? Is that even possible, or likely? Well, anything is possible. Maybe I could join you and keep myself hidden with the privacy settings you thankfully worked out and add a total of say, 15-20 people?

Wouldn’t I look like a completely unpopular moron if I didn’t have at least 200 ‘friends’? And then if I didn’t share any of my own pictures, I would definitely look like a snoopy observer of others’ pictures. And Facebook, is it not all about letting others know how wonderful and awesome I am, and what an exciting life I live?

To be honest though, I’m nothing spectacular. I’m just an average person with an average life, but all my friends on Facebook look like they have the most amazing lives in the world.

Look at me. I sound like I am in a ‘Facebook frenzy’ already. Perhaps I’ll wait a little more before I can join you again. In the meantime, I’ll work on living a real life away from the carefully crafted perfection of the internet.

Yet another reason to quit social networks

gulfnews : Facebook and Twitter ‘creating self-obsessed people’.

Keep it brief

Daily Mail

London: Facebook and Twitter have created a generation obsessed with themselves, who have short attention spans and a childlike desire for constant feedback on their lives, says a top scientist.

Repeated exposure to social networking sites leaves users with an “identity crisis”, wanting attention in the manner of a toddler saying: “Look at me, Mummy, I’ve done this.”

Baroness Greenfield, professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, believes the growth of internet “friendships” – as well as greater use of computer games – could effectively “rewire” the brain.

This can result in reduced concentration, a need for instant gratification and poor non-verbal skills, such as the ability to make eye contact during conversations.

More than 750 million people across the world use Facebook to share photographs and videos and post regular updates of their movements and thoughts. Millions have also signed up to Twitter, the micro-blogging service that lets members circulate short text and picture messages about themselves.

Baroness Greenfield, former director of research body the Royal Institution, said: “What concerns me is the banality of so much that goes out on Twitter. Why should someone be interested in what someone else has had for breakfast? It reminds me of a small child (saying): ‘Look at me Mummy, I’m doing this’, ‘Look at me Mummy I’m doing that’.

‘It’s almost as if they’re in some kind of identity crisis. In a sense it’s keeping the brain in a sort of time warp.”

The academic suggested that some Facebook users feel the need to become “mini celebrities” who are watched and admired by others on a daily basis.

They do things that are “Facebook worthy” because the only way they can define themselves is by “people knowing about them”.

‘It’s almost as if people are living in a world that’s not a real world, but a world where what counts is what people think of you or (if they) can click on you,” she said.

“Think of the implications for society if people worry more about what other people think about them than what they think about themselves.”

Her views were echoed by Sue Palmer, a literacy expert and author, who said girls in particular believe they are a “commodity they must sell to other people” on Facebook.

She said: “People used to have a portrait painted but now we can more or less design our own picture online. It’s like being the star of your own reality TV show that you create and put out to the world.”

Also read:

My feelings about Facebook:

How I feel about Twitter:

Social not-working: why I think Facebook isn’t all that great

Question Mark Clip Art

A staggering 500 million people around the world use Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg  has been adjudged the most powerful man in the world by Time magazine for the year 2010, and Facebook, Inc. has been regarded as being the best place to work. The movie, The Social Network (a movie about Zuckerberg)  has made its presence felt at award ceremonies around the world. Social networking, and in particular Facebook, has taken over our lives in a way few would have thought possible a some years back.

Looking closely at the way social networking works, one finds that it is all about creating a more ‘open’ and ‘connected’ world. I wonder though, how necessary is it, for all 250 or 400 of our ‘friends’ to see pictures of our new set of wheels, or of our lovely vacation in Florida, or of our children’s birthdays? Conversely, how important is it for us to learn about their activities?

Most of us have Facebook friends that can be roughly classified into three groups: family, good friends, and those ‘friends’ who are in fact merely acquaintances. Why do we feel compelled to bond with all those people? Are we simply keeping up with the Joneses, or is it that artificial high we experience when someone tells us how awesome we look?

There was life before Facebook, and as far as I’m concerned, it was simpler. People hang out on Facebook, just as they do at the water-cooler at work or school, to get the latest gossip, chill out and make friends. And like in a social environment, people are praised, bullied, ignored or respected. That is the reason why Facebook can be so addictive. There is always that inquisitiveness – did that hot guy from work comment on my status? Suddenly you become all-important, and you find yourself wiling away precious time on the site.

And then there is a plethora of uncomfortable situations that this tool can create. There are times when one must add the boss as a friend, or worse, a family member who happens to be annoyingly nosy. You do not want these people to end up learning a little too much about your life, but you must add them because if you don’t, you might hurt their feelings, and who knows how a hurt boss might react?

Everyone, from the bespectacled girl you hardly spoke to in Biology class nine years back — to the boy who was the football captain- to the geek who sits across your table at work is on Facebook. And you must wish them a very happy birthday, and engage in light-hearted banter that makes you appear witty and smart. You must present yourself as a happy, successful, popular and beautiful individual who would look forward to a class reunion or just about any party. In a life full of pressures and deadlines and challenges, do we really need the added stress of maintaining a Facebook profile?

Another sensitive issue is that of running into exes, which can rekindle emotions best forgotten and can even wreck present day relationships. And the games! A new life was breathed into computer games when the Zygna guys launched Farmville. People spend hours on Facebook in an activity that is – well – pointless. One of the pieces of news in the recent past that infuriated me was about the woman who killed her child because she was too busy playing Farmville.

High school life as we know it has changed, and you would be hard-pressed to find a teenager who does not spend time on Facebook. I don’t mean to sermonize but I would rather the kids spend time with good friends you can see in person, rather than stare blankly at the PC for hours.

I sign off with the knowledge that Facebook is very much here to stay and indeed, grow, and that management gurus have called it the way forward for corporate executives and businessmen. But for the individual, caution when using social networking is a must – after all you must have heard about the privacy issues that surround Facebook? Don’t even get me going on that one!

Who knows though, when the ‘next big thing’ will come and make us forget Facebook like we forgot Myspace? I do hope for our sake that we can use this tool to our advantage – for certainly, a facility with such remarkable possibilities has its positive points too, provided it is used with lots of common sense, caution and awareness.