Six Degrees Of Interconnection

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How do people manage to keep up with so many social networks? This is one question that many of us find ourselves grappling with, in the wake of the numerous invitations for various online social forums. There are just too many of them out there. A closer look at the different forums available to today's Net users indicates just how convoluted the situation really is.

Long gone are the days when people used to be addicted to only Orkut. There are numerous forums where like-minded people  can get together and communicate, put up pictures, comment on them, and do various other activities - such as play interactive games or participate in competitive quizzes, and so on - together.

Hi5, Bebo, MySpace, Tag, Zorbia are all part of the seemingly inexhaustible list of social networking services available online.

The question is, in this digital era where text messages, instant messengers, VoIP, etcetera are available, how is it that these online forums still take the cake? Users seem to be addicted to interaction via these forums despite being able to communicate through more direct means.

Looking into this argument, it seems that most tech savvy people don't use these forums as religiously as people with limited familiarity with technology. This phenomenon is not without its reasons, however.

"It is easy to stay in touch with people and get to know about their lives through a constant medium instead of having to sit and chat for hours," said Muneeza Rao, a lawyer by profession. When presented with the argument that e-mails serve the same purpose of limiting interactin, Rao said that e-mails tend to be more personal or professional whereas a common network strikes a balance between the two, keeping the interaction casual.

Teena Baloch, a middle school teacher a mother of two, has little time for a full fledged social life. "For years, my sister in law had been after me to e-mail her and ‘get online', but I could never bring myself to do it. Then about a year back, she signed me up on Facebook," said Baloch. Despite her lack of computer knowledge, she is now more than capable at ‘facebooking'.

For me, it is a separate world with no worries and I feel like another person meeting old and new friends, browsing through their current lives courtesy of their profile pages. It is a befitting way to unwind at the end of the day, said Baloch.

This digital link to each other's lives is increasingly making in-the-flesh interaction a rare thing. On average, every fifth message on these forums is along the lines of "busy with work/home/kids", sorry haven't been able to meet up, must make a plan soon, will call you soon, and various renditions on how people have not been able to meet in person. Due to easy internet access through laptops and the profusion of Wi-Fi hot spots at every nook and cranny, people are seen sitting alone at coffee houses engrossed in chat sessions online instead of in person.

One so often sees the other person online already...that it seems pointless to actually meet the individual in person, only to have the same conversation again. The charm of missing someone has been comporomised severely due to excessive use of social networks, said Tamkeen Masroor, a law graduate and journalist.

Despite this rapidly growing isolation, people are part of various internet based social activities. Girls in our society join as many networks as possible due to their restrictive backgrounds and very limited platform for interaction with people.  Me as a member of many online networks since "different friends were on different forums." However, I admit to being active on only the two most popular ones as it is a time consuming activity.

Peer pressure has also led to the violation of clauses incorporated by these online forums. Most websites require the user to be 18 years or older, but pre-teens and teens browsing the internet can easily enter a false age when signing up as there is no law that holds them accountable otherwise. Within young parents, this has resulted in a need to stay a step ahead of their children without crowding their space.

I never really understood why anyone would want to communicate so publicly online.  Said Rizwan Ahmed, aged 38 but when my 12 year old daughter joined Facebook, I felt compelled to join as well. Ahmed was always opposed to his children being online without adult supervision, but believed an online network to be a safe platform. I was quite mistaken about that! People will say anything on the internet.

Website usually supports a disclaimer notice which thoroughly covers freedom of expression. The internet is thus far the most democratic governance in the world. It is fully protected by cyber laws that afford people the right to discuss at length, topics of grave sensitivity and controversy. It is common practice for websites which fall foul of government censors to be re hosted on a server in a country with fewer restrictions.

This protection gives members of social networks the leverage to engage in defamatory and morally judgmental conversation. The lack of legal online public forums seems to be another reason for the hype in online socializing.

"Even if I use the option of reporting abuse in a certain piece of content, the most that comes off it is the reported matter is deleted," Ahmed lamented. These forums can also cause to a certain amount of distress for organizations. Members start a community in favour of a brand and the discussion boards contain defamatory statements which may cause financial losses to the subject matter under discussion. These discussions often cannot be monitored closely and flagged for the relevant parties.

In all its glory, the internet is fast progressing as a medium of human interaction and a means of expression. Today, online social networks serve as a tool for building relationships. It is a new era of civilization which has made the world smaller.

Masroor manages the SourceONE, marketing and content manager in a global marketing field. If you would like to know more about email marketing or if you are looking for service providers in this domain, please contact us at www.mahaan.net. I can give you a list and comparison of some good companies providing affordable online marketing solutions. 

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