16/01/2016 8:42 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

I'm A Celebrity And So Are You: The Fictional World Of Social Media

People on phones with social media icon chalkboard
Justin Lewis via Getty Images
People on phones with social media icon chalkboard

With the advent of 2016, I've been subjected to a deluge of party photos and New Year selfies on my Facebook feed. For someone who is a millennial and is supposed to be mobile, social and what not, I do miss the good old 80s and 90s, when life seemed so simple without all those gadgets and social networking sites to keep track of. Most of us didn't own a mobile phone, tablet or laptop back then. No one would peer at my three-year-old Blackberry and exclaim, "Is that really a keypad? You use a phone with a keypad?"

Then came the floods in Chennai, giving us all a complete two-day digital detox. Though it was terrifying at the time, looking back, it was quite amazing to suddenly live the 80s life all over again!

We keep saying that we lead busy lives and have no time for our parents or friends. Doing what? Constantly checking social network feeds on our phones?

We have seen some extraordinary situations in which social networks have helped people, including the recent floods in Chennai where a lot of celebrities and volunteers took to Twitter to help those stranded. But some of the pictures I saw made me wonder if people were actually doing it just for the publicity. Are social networks a way of portraying ourselves as the person we want to be? We all like to have a larger-than-life persona, at least online. Social networks massage our egos and make us celebrities at the click of a button. Ah! The adulation we get when we put up a picture on Facebook -- the 100+ likes, 50+ comments, celebrity status in an instant! And most of us feed off that, wanting to be celebrities in our own right. Never do we think that the likes and comments on social networks are a manifestation of "I scratch your back and you scratch mine!" We actually believe that people really adore us. How gullible can we be?

In my mind, I divide social network users into four categories:

1. Little Bo-Peeps: All that they want out of social networks is to see what others they knew/know/want to know are doing. Is he flaunting his new BMW? Is she flaunting her new Louis Vuitton handbag? See where she is now! Brazil! Australia! Timbuktu!! Wow!!

2. Show-offs: Obviously, these people go "social" to flaunt. These are the people who put up pictures of anything new they bought or got as a gift. Sometimes I wonder whether they actually buy all those things just to put up pictures -- or whether they even buy them at all (maybe they just borrow them).

3. Dinosaurs: These are the people who have social network accounts that seem to be dead. I belong to this category. They have a few friends on Facebook that they never seem to talk to. Once in a while when someone asks "Hey, are you alive?" I reply with "Yessir, am alive!"

4. Documenters: These people would have made great journalists. They document their lives with such detail that it makes the reader squirm with unease. One of my friends recently put up a picture of her husband and congratulated him on some achievement. "Am proud of you," she wrote, "And I love you!" As expected, there were 200+ likes and 100+ comments. Three days later, her husband puts up a post, "Congrats on completing your course honey, am proud of you, love you!!" Scratch each other's backs at home, folks! Spare us the PDA, we deserve much better.

Social networks... monetise our insecurity, inner void, ego and the constant need to be loved and adored.

On a more serious note, we seem to be a generation always short of time. We keep saying that we lead busy lives and have no time for our parents or friends. Doing what? Constantly checking social network feeds on our phones? Posting messages about what we're doing? Connecting with people who don't give a hoot about us? Or soaking in all the adulation? Is that all we have time for these days?

What we are doing is living a parallel, virtual life which is sometimes quite far from reality. During vacations and those once-in-a-lifetime moments, we are so engrossed in capturing the moment for eternity (and for Instagram, obviously), that we forget to live that moment. We forget that mindfulness, being in the moment and capturing the moment in your memory forever is a lot more valuable than capturing it on camera. Now with video blogs, we also have an entire new category of experience sharing (some might say social bragging) where people take videos of their day-to-day life and build an adoring fan base on YouTube.

So exactly what are social networks monetising? Advertisements? Data? Technology? No. More than all that, they monetise our insecurity, inner void, ego and the constant need to be loved and adored.

Are we, as a generation, becoming more "social" and less real?

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