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Last year, I met with a friend in real life—in person. In virtual life, apart from the occasional WhatsApp message, I haven’t met him in years. He used to be on Facebook until one day—who knows which day—he disappeared. It has been so long that I cannot recall what his profile picture looked like.
Why he quit Facebook, I cannot tell you. I never asked. I can imagine, though, him getting annoyed at the endless stream of selfies, superfluous statuses, and cute cat videos (although, I may be wrong on this). He was always wary of external excesses. I do wonder if he has secretly been keeping tabs on social media developments. For instance, when he quit, Instagram was not yet in. But since he rarely snaps or chats, I guess he would care little.
Such an antisocial person, you might say. I consider him laudable, though.
Withdrawing from social media is not a cowardly option. It is, in fact, a courageous act. It takes consciousness to see through our virtual addictions. It takes conviction to tear away from the promise of affirmation, even if it is driven by the fear of rejection. By quitting Facebook, my friend has created a quieter space in which he can develop more stable identities, free from the fluctuations of virtual likes and comments.
But I hope—even though it’s years now—that this is a transitory phase. What my friend is doing is the virtual equivalent of not leaving one’s home. It is a comfort zone, a safe place for him to take stock of his own life. Yet this means not going out, not satisfying the human need for social interaction, not keeping in touch with friends, not learning from them. He might view social life as a distraction from himself when social life is a vital expression of our selves.
Maybe he does go out often, in reality. But the virtual world is reality.
It is a reality we have to live through now, whether we like it or not. If we shut others out online, can we really open them up offline? My friend doesn’t know what I’ve been up to. He doesn’t know I’ve been blogging, let alone what I’ve been blogging about. He doesn’t know I’ve written this short essay about him. If he doesn’t know all these things, how might he know this is a good conversation topic? How might he begin to understand me?
And, how might I begin to understand him?
Of course, I could tell him about my life. I could ask him about his life. He might share more in person than he ever could on social media. But perhaps I wouldn’t. Perhaps his other friends wouldn’t. We might want to, but obligations and passions always stand in the way of making time. We gradually adapt to the demands of society and the wishes of individuals. If he wants privacy, he may well get more of it than he asked for.
Social media has nestled itself in our imaginations of social life. We can quit platforms just as we can hide in our homes. But reality will evolve without us. Do we really want to be left in our own imaginations? Can we really find ourselves without paying attention to reality? If there is a prescription, this is it: Quit by all means. Just remember to return.
May we see you again, friend.
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