The era of fake acquaintance

Feb 24, 2018
5 min

I wrote

Something provocative happened with me yesterday. I was with :name-retracted: in CCD after you left. We were there for quite some time. Meanwhile, a group of people came in, including a friend from TLS. I went ahead and had a brief conversation with him. But when I noticed, there was one girl in the group whom I also knew! You know her; she is the one from the early times of :group-name-retracted: (I think you met her on :place-name-retracted:). There was a brief moment of eye contact, but it instigated no emotion. I could not even say "Hi" because of the bland reaction on our faces.

When we were leaving, we noticed that she was coming out of CCD too. From there to Veggies, :name-retracted: and I walked alongside her. I am not able to forget those 40 seconds; there was too much silence to remember.

Now here is the deal. Somewhere in the datacenters of Facebook Inc, there is a matrix which stores the connection between two nodes, and the edge value of her and me is True. There have been numerous CSS divs containing strings or bytecodes which either she or I have written, which got a click from the other, sometimes a further div of "comment" as well. Somehow, subconsciously my brain understood that this person and I had interacted a whole bunch and thus we are friends. But when the same mind physically spotted that same person for the first time in months, it was speechless.

For centuries, there have roughly and popularly been two types of edges between homo sapiens, either they are acquainted with each other, or they are not. For the past decade, a third type has emerged. You know someone on Facebook, you "talk" to them, but you don't talk with that passion or eagerness to them in real life with using flesh and bones (Remember :name-retracted:?). For me, it is terrifying. What if people eventually stop using their mouth for conversations because Whatsapp and Messenger lets them use that gif meme to convey. What if we discover some other app or platform to express ourselves in the best way which is different than meeting the person and using our mouth, eyes, face, hands or smile to express?

And the fact that the first world countries already have incorporated a bit of this culture, simply raises questions on parenting. What if we are not concerned about our children, and the first friend they make do not physically exist around them. I am definitely not saying one is better than others, there are so many pros of the Scientific Revolution, Internet being a tiny monster of it. I am just saying that, are people responsible? Is Facebook responsible enough to know that it has created an illusion over friendships and relationship and does it care about it? From the weekly product and feature launches, for the sole purpose of us interacting more on their platform, and increasing their value as advertisers and not looking up from our phones, I think it does not care at all. Or is it in control of anyone to care about it? Something like a trained Deep Learning model, over which we only have very few control.

From a curious homosapien, who used the internet to blab to you about internet. But yes, I know we have to have this conversation when we meet and this exchange of email shouldn't be the end, and that makes me feel better.

:name-retracted: responded

Hi! This predicament, as you are feeling, is understandable. The oddity of changing societal rules and relationships, brought about by social-media corporations, is at times overwhelming. But if you try to understand this phenomenon at an abstract level, then perhaps we can get a bigger picture.

What you have thought to be a "fake" acquaintance is not fake per se, but just another expression of the changes that are taking place in our society due to social media. It is at best, friendship in the normal sense of the word or at worst, a "virtual" acquaintance.

Humanity has come so far only because of the large-scale cooperations between diverse groups of people.This cooperation could be achieved, thanks to fictional stories like religions, society, and other collectivities which made it easier for people to trust each other. But as we all know, socio-political evolutions necessitated new stories to bind people together, and in the process, we developed theories like democracy, communism, nation-states to fit the narrative of the time better. So the critical thing to note here is that as the narrative has changed so have the rules governing the society.

It is in this context that I want to place your qualms about the internet. The internet is undoubtedly forcing us to adopt a new narrative of our time and respecting the course of history over several millennia; we must be ready to accept this reality and better adapt to the changing times by altering the "rules" of the society.

Coming to the specific case of "acquaintance on the facebook but not in real life," I do not find anything odd here. In fact, I find it empowering that acquaintances could be made even without knowing each other in real life. It is for the first time human-history that you can cooperate and collaborate with others, on a large and expansive scale, even without knowing them in real life. You don't need to have commonalities like religion, nationalities, ideologies and any other collectivities to come together and cooperate with each other. Cooperation is not predicated on external factors which are not in your control but internal factors that you can control. A person from Pakistan can send me a friend request on facebook, and if I want, I can become his friend and vice-versa. The acquaintance or the friendship, in this case, was established just because two persons wanted to become friends. How improbable this sounds without internet, in the complex realities of our time?

Coming to your regret about not talking to them with the same passion in real life, I think here the critical factor being emphasized by you is the emotional content of these acquaintances. That the emotionality of it all is diminishing is what you want to say. But the emotion is just an after-effect. It is not the cause. You become friend with someone because you find something good in them for you and hence better cooperation. That in the end, you develop emotional attachments is just a side-effect in my view. Sometimes these emotions may create a feedback loop and ensure even better cooperation, like two lovers getting married. But unmindful emotions may lead to undesired consequences too, like hyper-nationalists going berserk in their common love for the country. I think, as long as the cause of cooperation is understood well, side-effects like emotions can be controlled or channeled in a better way.

Techno-humanism aims to enhance human's life using technology and binds humanity in a novel way that breaks the shackles of boundaries between nations, religious differences, and any other differences. In this respect at least, social media like facebook, twitter have done well, irrespective of whether it was their motive or not. Traditional relationships which we are most familiar with are undergoing a paradigm shift, and it's again just a reflection of the changing times.

--It is getting long. :P I hope my ramblings did not bore you. Hope to have a wide discussion on it over a cup of tea sometime. :D