Thursday, 9 February 2017

On and Off Facebook

After a layoff of around six months, I got back on Facebook. I think it was a mistake. Within hours of my initial return post, I was back on the page, checking and rechecking who had liked it, who hadn't, who had noticed my absence, who had commented and so on. I mean, I can talk all I want about the interesting stuff friends and colleagues are doing, and all the jokes and memes and political commentary, but ultimately, its all about getting likes and comments on your posts.
Which, when you think of it, is actually kind of sad.
There's a videogame trope called gameplay and story segregation. There's the gameplay - the tactics of combat or platforming, the sequences of keystrokes and button presses that take you from one level to another, and there's the story, the overall narrative. The technical term for this is "ludonarrative dissonance" - meaning that while the story tells one tale, the way you play the game tells another.
The most obvious example would be a lawful good paladin in a roleplaying game who loots everything that isn't nailed down - because, well, loot means better equipment, more money, easier boss fights and so on. So, in essence, while you may be playing an ethical character, the game rewards you for unethical behaviour.
In Facebook, of course, you set the narrative. The role you play is your online self - something which hews - at certain levels - to yourself. The building blocks of your online personality - your political views, your sports and hobbies, the books you read and review on Goodreads, the movie clips and music you post, your attempts at wit, all the rest. There are the vacation snaps, the showcasing of family, photos of gatherings and reunions in boozy pubs and college campuses - thats the story.
The gameplay is the likes you gather, the number of comments on each photo and post, and its not unlikely that at some point, Facebook - or Instagram or Sanpchat - will introduce metrics that measure your social media presence - "You are a 'four star' personality. You have an average of 24 likes and 15 comments on every link you share. You have an average of 67 likes for every photo album. Your most popular memory featured your spouse and children urinating in tandem at the Mannekin Pis on 24th July 2016. Your most popular post tagged Bill Clinton and Ivanka Trump" and so on. And so, in through the Black Mirror we go.  
Being away from Facebook took me away from it all for a while. It wasn't easy. The first few days, almost by reflex, every time I opened my browser, my fingers would work thusly. +D, "fa", and autocomplete would fill in "" and . But then, since my account was deactivated, I would be asked to login, and I would sigh, and then pull back.
But as withdrawals go, it was pretty mild. Maybe it was because my post would be ignored, more often than not. If I was lucky, I'd get a couple of likes and the occasional comment. (That, of course, is a very good reality check for narcissism).
But here's the thing. My life didn't change for the better. It wasn't as if I'd decoupled from the net completely. So I might have missed grieving posts about the passing of Carrie Fisher or Edward Albee or George Michael, or the shocked ones about Trump's election. I must have missed furious debates on demonetisation, and whether or not it was a disastrous bungle that destroyed the economy. And as ever, the arguments about gender and caste, about Jaya and Jallikattu, about storms and steel bridges. I missed the discussions about that Australian Open match, or the Mistry Masala at Tata Sons
All in all, not much, because it's not the events you miss.
There's this piece of faux-profundity that goes "Wherever you go, there you are." But like most trite shite, it's true. Not in the sense of "ooh. Enjoy every moment mindfulness yada yada bullshit", but because there's no escaping from yourself. And staying away from Facebook isn't a journey into the uncharted. It's pretty much the same as staying of Facebook.
Games succeed because of replayability. Replayability is a function of gameplay, however good the story is (except maybe Planescape:Torment).  So, story be damned. I'm back for the gameplay.

PS: A cry for help. Please like this.

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