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High Life Low Life

Within this year there have been over sixty bombings nationwide. As I drive through the capital city on my way to work, weaving through residential streets, I see thick, bomb-proof walls being erected, around simple houses.

I’m not a strict parent and my children used to run wild. But I am a protective parent and
now the dangers are real, so I urge them not to go out as much. Instead they spend their time at home interacting with their friends on Facebook and other social networking sites, while I read.

They are teenagers and they are quite strict about me, strangely enough, vociferously forbidding me from getting a Facebook account. I have to confess I’ve been puzzled by these boundaries imposed upon me, though I did
respect their wishes. Understanding that I’m a little technologically challenged, they warned me protectively, “Mama, you just won’t understand the privacy settings. And do you really want people to peer into your life?”

During the Long March I got a phone call from Sophie Ali, one of my dearest friends in New York. She was curious about developments here. Sherry Rehman had just resigned as Information Minister hours earlier and the media was buzzing with that news. “You have to join Facebook!”  She said that users shared opinions,
views and discussions. “How can you not be a part of this vital communication machine?”

The tipping point occurred when my nephew recently moved to Toronto with his new family. My siblings children have recently resettled in Dubai, Rome, UK: an indication of the brain drain despite the global recession. At family dinners, because I didn’t have Facebook, I wasn’t up to date with the way, shape and form of our beloved émigrés. So, I asked my children for permission to get my own account.

My children were disapproving; was it because they saw me infringing upon their privacy? They spend so much
time online that I wonder how friendship is defined in the modern world. Why not talk? Why not meet? Virtual space is a strange phenomenon; it has a high level of comfort defined by the fact that the other party cannot enter your physical space. There is safety and comfort in virtuality. There is no challenge.

I’ve had a Facebook account for two weeks and I’ve been on the brink of shutting it down several times. It is peculiar. Most of the people I have on Facebook are people who I don’t even have the addresses for on my gmail account, nor do I have their phone numbers. They are not a regular part of my life, so it’s like having a dinner party and not knowing who’s invited to wander through one’s home.

Instead of deactivating, I’ve hung in for the education: it’s been a voyeuristic journey. When I have the time, I have a quick peek. It reminds me of the diversity out there. Barricading oneself behind the high, protective fortress of emails; not entirely impenetrable, but with the tinge of “work” attached, the atmosphere of Facebook is different; it is open and borderless; uninhibited.

As far as social websites are concerned, the new success abroad is Twitter, a social networking,  micro-blogging, micro-texting service. These are SMS based posts of up to 140 characters in length. Updates are displayed on the users profile page and delivered to all the mobile phones of users who have signed up. Over the web it is free, but on mobile phones it will incur a phone service provider fee. Twitter has grown 900% in the past year and as of March it is rated as the third largest social network globally, (with Myspace second and Facebook as the largest). Its popularity hasn’t seeped into Pakistan yet, and when that does, one doesn’t know what that will mean and if the avalanche of SMS will have any impact on the local telecom sector. Twitter is described as the “SMS of internet”

There is little platform for expression in mainstream life. You don’t know if anyone is listening, but you still need to be heard. These forums give you a chance to make your point: even if your point is just made in 140  caracters by SMS.

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