Keeping in touch with friends sure has changed over the years. In school, writing letters with pen was the norm. Then typing them out on WordStar became the trend. Emails followed soon after and now we have the Facebook. Every literate person I know is there. These days besides, “Do you have an email?” you are also asked, “Are you on Facebook?”
So, to be trendy and to escape from people bugging me to join them, I found myself signed up in all these social networks – Facebook, Myspace, Hi5 and Kuzoo. In the beginning I did not find much use. For me socializing means meeting face-to-face. Besides, on Facebook most of the people I have as "friends" are either people I see or meet in my daily life or people I don't have anything to say to or any reason to call up out of the blue. Neither did it make any sense in casually commenting on people or their profiles.
Then a miracle happened. I started getting “friend requests” from people who were really my friends back in Italy - my soul mates throughout my time there and thanks to my carelessness I had lost touch. I missed my friends. I was determined not to lose them again and so I started dropping them a line, they commented on new hairstyle, I told them I missed some real pasta. Many trivialities later we were back together – at least in the cyber space.
The habit has caught on and now being on the Facebook is being connected not only to friends but also to friends of friends - and friends of friends of friends. We learn to know each other better. Even people who are not so close. Understanding and appreciation grow and hopefully there will be more peace and friendship. Above all, my workaholic habit fits well with this virtual social networking where I just post about my whereabouts and what’s going through my mind. I post some picture I take in course of my job. Now my real friends and I don’t feel drifted apart.
Social media is here to stay and has become a part of our popular culture. It is a powerful means to reach out. Obama used it effectively in his bid for the White House. Multinationals like Apple have developed a social media policy to reach out to its clients. In Bangkok Post, the editor-in-chief told me, it is almost a requirement for people to have accounts and interact with the readers and fans.
So it is with a total disdain that I learn of employers trying to ban these sites and even don’t sanction Internet access at work place. The irony is that we are talking about making Bhutan a knowledge-based society or global IT hub. We are talking about e-governance and e-commerce. Agreed that they could be “misused”. But won’t a little awareness and some education be more practical than banning? Won’t it better that over time, after “misusing” for months, the employees themselves learn to use the facilities meaningfully? It may sound little condescending. But I am talking from my own experience. When I landed in Italy as a student, I was so mesmerized by the TV that I was hooked for entire weekends. But soon it dawned on me that I was only wasting my time. Now I would rather read a book or write a note on my blog than watch TV. Ban never worked on anything anywhere.
History sure repeats itself. When telephone was invented, companies in the US banned it from the work place because of fears of people doing what it was invented for - talking. And that was more than 130 years ago.