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BW Businessworld

Getting Spooked By Social

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Not everyone is comfortable with social media. Despite friends and family haranguing them to “just try it”, many choose to just opt out. Why, when it’s obvious that the social Web is an undeniable aspect of life?

For one, there’s the perception that all this social stuff takes too much tech-savviness  and expensive gadgetry. True, but there’s always the plain old Web. But why take the trouble to get into multiple networks when there’s plenty enough to do in the first place? To admire someone else’s holiday photos?

Opt-outers miss out on the buzz, news, and a lot of content. Add to that the other powerful reason for staying away — the sheer discomfort of everyone needlessly knowing everything about them. This is discounting the extent of data mining by the networks themselves. What makes it worse is the unspoken rule about always depicting yourself as someone with the ideal, fun-filled life. That’s how, according to some, Facebook just makes you more unhappy as you begin to feel a disparity and loneliness you didn’t know existed.

Frankly, no social network bothers me that much, but I can understand why people find social niches to hide in and be more comfortable. Snapchat is one alternative, popular with teens who want to be anywhere their parents, teachers, aunts and uncles are not. It destroys photos, video and text after they’re shared so there’s no question of anyone seeing it. Other variants such as Confide only lets you read text when you run your finger over it — one word at a time, leaving no footprints in the social sands.

And then there are apps that let you form mini networks of your own, interacting with just the love of your life, or a chosen few. Path is in that category. The crazy app Cloak promises to help you avoid people altogether. It shows you a map of people you know (from your Foursquare and Instagram accounts) and their location so that you can move elsewhere.
A peculiar anonymity has started to become the basis of networks and apps that snub the intense ever-present sharing of social networks today. Many have thrived under the shroud of anonymity, like Secret. This twist of an app lets people talk to each other anonymously, though they know each other. It’s a place where industry rumours and workplace stories are discussed. Then there’s Anonyfish, which lets people message each other without revealing identities; on Whisper, you can post your darkest, most outlandish confessions. Some are dull, and some funny. “I work at Subway. Last night, in my sleep, I asked my boyfriend what bread he wanted”, is a mild example.

It’s difficult to see why people need to share such things, really. In this case, Whisper allows ratings and responses — anonymously — which make you wonder just what is happening to human behaviour, and just how strange a species we are. “Sometimes I think of my cat when having sex” has been liked over 300 times and invited responses too unsavoury to print. One of those times when you wonder whether we created a Frankenstein with our social Web and whether it’s better to, after all, opt out. 

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 30-06-2014)