Adiós Facebook

I have a confession to make: I  was an addict, a social-media addict. I was so used to mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed without registering any information, or at times, remembering insignificant details of others’ lives. I found myself remembering random irrelevant people (destroying the natural progression of life where people and friendships fall by the wayside ) and during the last five years, found facebook nothing but a glorified wedding album of sorts.

I remember creating my account sitting in my college library upon hearing about this new facebook website that seemed so much more fun than Orkut, the social media craze of its time. (Gosh, it feels old typing this). I missed the Myspace wave but was firmly latched on to Orkut. Orkut testimonials felt like an electronic slam book with conversation threads and groups. Slam books were all the dope in high-school and it felt nice to immediately convert the slam book filling experience to an electronic one bolstered by the sadness and uncertainty experienced at the cusp of college life leaving one’s home and school behind. But Orkut wasn’t addictive and the dull blue and purple color gave it an old-fashioned feel. Facebook, with its clean white and blue page structure and “poking” options was a fun thing to do in college. The influence and power wielded by the social media giant today and its content and feel are nothing like what they were 10-15 years ago. To be honest, I think it lost a lot of its “fun” feeling converting itself from a college hobby to one of the largest media outlets in the world ( Even though Zuckerberg might insist on calling it a tech company, I think he should just accept that it isn’t just a tech company anymore).

With advancements in AI, algorithms, big data, social media evolved into time black holes and emotional manipulators, tapping into basic human vulnerability and emotional depravity. I read about tools such as SDK which spy on you all the time, algorithms and features deliberately designed to make one addicted and about how the facebook model has turned users into products with targeting advertising. The look and feel of the website has changed so much not just superficially, but in its ability to control people’s minds as well. Targeted posts, so much advertising, ability to log and post every single detail of our lives started out as interesting at first and now feels rather scary. For me, the final straw was fake news – the true black plague of the cyber era.

Fake news is poison and clickbait is like mold that threatens to infect any lesser-vigilant user. I needn’t mention the ramifications of fake news at all – just look at the Presidential elections in the USA in 2016. As legal authorities clamp down on what actually transpired leading up to the national debacle, Facebook’s name gets thrown around frequently. Indeed, as the largest distributor of (fake) news and targeted advertising, it brought to light the algorithms and psychological tricks used by the giant to draw users and keep them hooked.

I am not qualified to describe these algorithmic inventions and uber successful psychological warfare unleashed on the unsuspecting users by facebook. But I definitely was one of its victims. As studies upon studies come out  revealing why this social media platform captured the public’s imagination and time, one thing is clear – it clearly worked. I found myself opening the app and wishing to “check-in” during my activities or scrolling through profiles of people I have no contact with or have no intent to contact. It was unnerving to know what my friend from kindergarten ate for dinner yesterday without a conversation in over two decades.

It isn’t without its benefits. For people from the older generation who are now slowly settling into retired life, it is a second chance at re-establishing their friend’s circle and reconnecting after decades. When I hear my mom or dad talk, I can envision Zuckerberg’s lofty, well crafted and seemingly innocent vision of having the world more connected come to life. The first few weeks of being on facebook are indeed exciting – you  get to see how your friend’s lives shaped up and view photographs of them and their families. For the generation that grew up with facebook however, the thrill and excitement is long gone.

So I quit. I quit cold turkey one morning when I decided I no longer needed to see and debate if news articles were authentic or click on useless videos that were trending. I realized at the risk of losing out, I would get back my peace of mind, restore sanity and read news articles from their trusted origins and forego the requirement of leaving behind an electronic trail of my life for data scientists at facebook to pore over and decide to push out advertisements tailor made for me.

The surprising part is I don’t miss it. Not one bit.

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Faux friends

The other day, I was asked if so-and-so was my friend. I casually replied,”Nah, Facebook friend only.” The nature of that friendship was immediately clear. It got me thinking, has Facebook introduced that mezzanine level of friendship where the person is neither forgotten nor in touch? Have we introduced that intermediate where we never let anyone fade from our lives, but are too uncomfortable really talking to them?

It is a strange dilemma for me. I’m routinely aware of very intimate details of people’s lives splashed across my news feed. Weddings, honeymoons, babies, new jobs, relocations – events in life that were previously restricted to family and close friends are now visible to me, an acquaintance from over 10 years ago, someone who they now know very little about. I “like” these posts too, congratulating them and wishing them the best, secretly hoping they don’t have 3057 likes and 465 comments to follow ruining my news feed for days. I am comfortable letting my likes and comments drown in the ocean of well wishers prompting a “Thanks everyone” from the poster than individual replies enquiring about every one. But I am uncomfortable having a personal conversation with most of them. My enquiry about personal details that they had shared for everyone to see, will most certainly earn me the tag of a “Facebook creep” . Time slowly fades memories too, making it harder for me to recognize people in photographs. I am left wondering as to who in that picture is my friend and why it is appearing on my wall. It is not that I pay close attention to my feed either. Many times, I just glaze over information with my very tiny attention span unaware of what I have just read. If that shrinking of attention span is because of Facebook or not, is another blog post.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Facebook. If anything, I enjoy my time on it. It has been tough to keep in touch with friends from college and it is getting progressively harder given the responsibilities and challenges that life keeps throwing our way (or I’m getting lazier). I was able to reconnect with some people who I hadn’t spoken to since my 8th birthday but that thrill of connection lasted perhaps for a week. Our worlds are now so different that it almost feels intrusive to look at their wedding and honeymoon pictures. We are technically “friends”, but are we really? Friendships in the past, evolved with time. The closest of them stayed while the weaker links faded away, leading to newer relationships that morphed with changes in personality and circumstance. Facebook makes sure no one ever goes away. Is that necessarily advantageous? Are we really “connected”?

This stalking experience that Facebook provides me everyday has its benefits too. I have seen pictures from every part of the globe, learnt so many things from people’s travels (unknown to them of course), seen beautiful pictures of weddings, peeked inside parties of big corporations, updated my travel list, gotten inspired to paint, cook (thanks to people’s diligent posting of meal pictures), study further, figure out the best restaurants in town, read some amazing articles, watch hilarious videos and read funny messages and tweets without a single conversation with anyone. It is a colorful, vibrant version of google reader for me, a one-stop shop for all information juicy, controversial, informative and educational. But of my 900 friends on Facebook (and counting), I doubt the number of people who will remember where I am now or what I do (without checking my profile page of course) would cross 20. The rest are people who could walk past me without realizing we were “friends” on Facebook. (On purpose or otherwise, I ‘m not too sure).

But then again if it wasn’t for my Facebook friends, my blog view stats wouldn’t be so nice, would they? 😀

A very happy Diwali indeed…

Pleasant surprises are always welcome. After spending most of the gloomy, wet thursday studying for the Kinetics mid-term and then finally writing it in the evening, I wanted a break from the monotonous and tedious routine of preparing for exams and studying my ass off. Someone up there did hear my wishes and voila! what followed were two successive days of amazing parties culminating in Diwali celebrations.

After the mid-term, our research group headed to Uncle Julio’s, a mexican grill located quite some distance away. We were celebrating a birthday and two successful PhD thesis defenses. The group was multicultural and multi-ethnic with Turkish, Greek, Korean, American, Indian(me) and Puerto-rican representation. It was so much fun! We(myself and one other member only) started off by hunting for the only vegetarian dishes in a menu full of beef,pork,frog legs and baby octopuses. Photographs were taken, dares were given, new drinks were tried, tubs of nachos were emptied and the conversation just freely flowed. There was exchange of cuisine details ( Paneer Butter Masala, Naans and Butter Chicken are total favourites of everyone around the globe, I discovered). We tested the spice-tolerance of everyone thanks to an awfully spicy pepper included generously in all our dishes. I ate a vegetable Fajita and maybe close to a kilo of nachos. I am never able to do justice to any of the restaurant serving portions here so invariably I packed up half my dinner (which will be my dinner today) and we continued the photo-sessions, the leg pulling, the hand-symbol games and the teasing till the food kinda settled down inside. We then headed to the Italian pastry shop to celebrate a birthday. The pastry shop was one I had seen only in movies. Dimly lit, it had a very pretty and crowded bar and little cute tables with small candles on them. I guess our group of ten was the only non-couple party out there and we headed out to the covered patio which had a fire-grate and logs of wood burning and settled down cosily. There was turkish tea, cinnamon coffee, white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake, peanut butter and chocolate cake and so many other varieties ordered by the others. I was asked questions about the caste system of our country, the religion and the festivals and other things which are second nature to us but they look at it with so much curiosity. It was amusing trying to explain the origins of Diwali to everyone. Then there was the whole topic about turkish coffee and the tea-leaves reading which those people are so good at apparently. I tasted it, it was horrid to say the least. No sugar, no milk and the coffee powder is not drained off from the liquid. My facial expressions on drinking that, got everyone rolling in their seats. It was a memorable evening, given many of these people are graduating to take up different professions in different parts of the globe. It was fun,food and frolic at its peak.

The next evening (the day was so sleepy thanks to the sudden chill in all of US with temperatures well in single digits -thankfully positive here) got even better. A couple of guys organized a potluck party on Diwali eve. A friend of mine and I made pulao to contribute to it. The others got curd rice, homemade snacks, gulab jamuns, sabji and the hosts had the drinks, nachos and chips. We had a ball! (Literally all of us kept taking turns bouncing on their gym ball). Jokes apart, it was amazing fun. We played a plethora of games, ranging from a warped version of cricket with a tennis raquet and ball which had rules like if you hit the wall directly, it is out and strict under-shoulder bowling to card games which were so much fun ( all were new to me but I am now in love with them) like Bluff and 5 Carder. We played Uno, Clue and the hosts had a dart board in their living room which we enjoyed playing and distracting the members of the opposite team. I am no good at it since my aim is horribly pathetic. I was happy to even touch the board with my dart! 😛 Food was in plenty, so were the desserts and so was the teasing,leg pulling and laughing. A very very memorable diwali party. For once, we all forgot everything about academics or exams and just had fun.

(Long post I know, but this is for me to read later -when I’m old and jobless perhaps! :P). Sometimes, no-plans become amazing plans. We all woke up late (the other roomies were in other parties themselves) and there was an impromptu enthusiasm to cook in all of us. We split up the dishes ( I made pulao – Ok, I know I’m becoming some expert in making it or something; Ramya and Pallavi made the Shira barfi and raita ; Richa made chole and Priyanka made kheer) We did a small Lakshmi Puja after my elaborate oil bath and then dug into the food! Awesome it was! A sweet and warm, homely Diwali!

It is freezing outside, close to 4 degrees and the windchill making it 0 and cloudy and windy. I have a midterm on tuesday (sigh!) and one more the week after. Somehow, I’m recharged and raring to go. Festivals do recharge you emotionally!
On that note ( to all those to stuck with me and actually read the entire thing and to everyone else as well)

HAPPY DIWALI! 😀

PS: Some pics are here, more will be added later!

Team efforts of our apartment
Team efforts of our apartment

Sometimes…

There are the good days and there are those you wish you never lived through. Sometimes there comes those days which leave you wanting some more and certain others when despite having everything you crave for something else. Today was the latter.

Things were normal. Submissions, a pop-quiz that went rather normally, assignment, fairing and then a college football game to which I had tickets. Sounds good na? Only thing, I didnt have company to go see the match. Surprising, that in a crowd of so many thousands you still never find that good friend you can drag along, bully, to drop every other commitment and accompany you to some place. Mostly, there is never time to think of such things, (even now the marquee in my head is beeping about the Thermodynamics assignment in queue), but those rare instances that you are forced to think of this, it gets sad. Today as I walked past the Bobby Dodd stadium and the carnival-like atmosphere surrounding it, I felt really alone. For the first time in my existence of twenty odd years, I dont have someone in person to run to, to walk to the store with, to take my mind off homework for a while or to giggle and laugh at silly nothings. Sometimes, I just wish I had someone here.

I’m waiting.

Its time to start my next assignment. All the best Yellow Jackets, hope I get to see the next match at least.

Goan Escapade Part -2

I spent the first day back meeting everyone. Friends I had not met over last semester, other juniors who made my life in the last semester in campus worth living, ate in the familiar Insti-cafeteria only to be greeted by those working there with warm smiles. Teachers who otherwise were never-communicative or considered very strict came up and spoke to me. I never realized that these people whom I never interacted with on a regular basis would notice that I wasn’t on campus anymore! It was a surprise! It was a different feeling to go back to my department and meet the teachers who helped me in my long struggle to get an admit. They were full of suggestions about what I should do in the future, what line of study I might take up and even offered me teaching positions back in campus after completing higher studies! Delightful indeed!

I had this huge stash of treats to give, a lot of things to tell everyone and also personally listen to everyone’s PS adventures. Everyone seemed a little different, slightly grown up having got a taste of things to come. Gamers had stopped gaming, people were studying with zeal and few others who were stuck to their books for the last three years were happily loafing around. My batchmates were almost fully jobless and we chatted up no-end. The DC was as resourceful as ever and my downloads went on non-stop.
But things were not the same as before.
It was weird not seeing the familiar faces peeping out of the rooms anymore. A lot of people, the majority infact were unknown and this felt a little odd. It felt like the campus is indeed throwing us out of its system and though the college times were great fun, time has come to move to the next journey of our lives. There was this undercurrent of sadness interspersed with the bouts of delight at the thought of starting afresh in a new country, new place and with new people.

The evening was spent in my favourite beach, Bogmalo. Though it might not have the sparkling white sands of Palolim or the exciting features of Calangute or Anjuna, there is something about this beach which draws me to it everytime. Maybe it is the beautiful rocks in the sea, or the yummy cheese-omlettes at John’s Seagull or the quiet crowd of this beach. But it definitely is my favourite. It is not too crowded, not too empty. Just perfect. I ate my cheese-omlette delightfully savoring every bite. Blissful.

I spent the next two days meeting up more of my friends, teachers and doing things I wanted to for the last time in campus. I met those I had spoken only on DC for two years now and had never gotten the chance to meet them in person.

I left the campus with a bag of mixed feelings. I had met everyone for the one last time before everyone sets off in different directions and was raring to go and face what lay ahead of me. It felt good to be back but it also felt good to leave. I can’t wait now for what lies ahead of me.
It recharged me completely. Adios BITS-Pilani,Goa Campus.

I’ll see you sometime again.

Recharging my emotions: Goan Escapade – Part 1

For nearly a month now, there was this desire to go back to the campus one last time. Though I had very happily left that place longing to get this independence and taste my freedom, something did nudge me to go visit my campus one last time. Meet all those people I won’t meet for a long time now and others whom I missed last semester. Meeting teachers was also on the agenda, to thank them for being with me through the onerous task of applying to foreign universities. But things seldom go as smoothly as planned. The tinge of drama only makes it a sweeter memory.

So, the tickets were booked, the reservations made, the parents approval sought (after much effort) , boss’s permission taken and I was all set to begin my journey. Late at night, when I was clarifying the details about the new rules regarding visitor’s entry or a PS2 student’s entry into the campus, one of my friends declared that an official permission was needed to enter the campus. The others had no idea. It was too late to get one now and my heart sank. I cancelled my tickets with tears in my eyes, not knowing why the cosmos was conspiring against me.

Totally put off by the nights events, I slept late next morning, skipped office, missed breakfast, slept some more and then was awakened rudely by a phone call late afternoon. Apparently, there wasn’t any trouble at the gates to get permission and also my mom had reluctantly agreed to let me go. Initially hesitant to get going, I realized perhaps the Gods had taken pity on me. I called up another friend who was leaving for Goa, packed my bags in 2 minutes and left. Bus-tickets were bought, reservations made and my friends were informed. One hour later, I was sitting in an air-conditioned bus to Goa!

It was a familiar journey and I was unable to sleep due to the excitement. As the familiar terrain of coconut trees interspersed with whisky shops and bars went past, it somehow felt like a homecoming. As the humid, moist air hit me with the stench of freshly caught fish at the Panjim bus-stand and we took the shuttle to vasco, the names, the places everything brought back a rush of memories. I was excited to go back to campus. My home away from home.

As Prachi’s familiar face greeted me at the gate, I felt ecstatic. I signed in as a visitor and basked in the hot sea-breeze as we realized on our walk back to the hostel, how long it had actually been since we had met. The familiar lawns with the irrigating, fertile (read smelly) recycled water sprinklers, the bright sunlight and the majestic B-dome makes it a sight worth capturing in your mind forever.I watched the trickle of students entering the B-dome, a few others arm-in-arm with their friends, others sitting under the fan in the mess sipping their cups of tea leisurely and the laidback,pollution-free,serene surroundings amd smiled to myself. I never thought I would miss this place so much.

But I sure as hell did.

(To be contd.)

Best times…

I had some of the best times in my school in Chennai.Had the most memorable moments and made some terrific friends. Marlin Jar managed to rewrite those fond memories with fresh words, sprinkle them with loads of love and has laced them with a gentle fondness looked upon only at things close to your heart.

Enjoy reading it!

http://spelligmitsakes.blogspot.com/2009/02/marlin-in-blunderland.html