Cynicism 101 – Does India need Facebook?

I know nothing about sex because I was always married. – Zsa Zsa Gabor

With due respect – and with a slight twist while keeping the flavour: 

We know everything about social networking because we were never social.

I’d like to dedicate my quote to all social networking initiatives, sites, professionals and users. (And by the way, I too have memberships of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn).

First, a bunch of disclaimers:
1. If it creates controversy, great. It is meant to. If it provokes your intelligence and emotions; and punctures your ego, my job is done. It is intended to.
2. I have no intention here to suggest ‘mine-is-better-than-yours’ OR that Indian culture is any better than others.
3. This is not a patriotic or a political rambling. So please read between the lines. (If you read only with your eyes, white space is all you’ll see).
4. This post is an ‘equal opportunity, equal responsibility’ piece. Me included.

My thesis is simple. India does NOT need Facebook.  Because, like most other eastern cultures, our karmic way ‘binds’ us together through family and social values. For some of us adventurers, our people’s expectation of social interactions has even bordered on the oppressive. To some cultures we seem ‘fatalistic’, ‘subservient’, ‘unimaginative’ and sometimes even ‘weak’. The problem is the point of reference. That’s all. Our fatalism has taught us not to push beyond a point for selfish gain. This has made our society relatively more sustainable. Our subservience gives us the opportunity to listen to others and not argue merely to prove a point. Unimaginative? Well, that depends on what you’re looking at. Generations of our craftsmen continue to thrall the world with the abandon with which they use colour, material and skills – innovating beyond compare. India’s vast and mature cultural heritage is a silent testimony that we are a ‘values-driven’ society. As for being weak, we believe there’s no need for a ‘show’ of strength. The power is within and stays within.

I can almost hear the din of some passion-driven NGOs as well as NRIs (Non Returning Indians). “What about the squalor, corruption, crime, violation of human rights, caste divisions, communalism and political apathy? This fancy tribute you’re paying to India when 70% of the population stays below the poverty line,” they say. “Go see the Oscar-ridden Slumdog Millionaire for the real India.” OK guys. But this is not about India, the political slum. It’s about social networking.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

My question is this … 

What could be more discomforting than needing networking to be a ‘tool’ for being social? Next we’ll be ‘Wall-to-wall’ing Mom to tell her we can’t do the dishes!

When one’s success is measured only by the ‘quantities’ of material possession,  and the society endorses this, the ‘quality’ part, marked by im-material assets – relationships, human values, charity – takes a back seat. Then it only a matter of time before it becomes self-fulfilling and perpetuating. Birds of a feather … remember the proverb? When a society has not only endorsed this value system but also enabled it, you need to start ‘networking’ again, even with your loved ones. In our mindless race for material oneupmanship we’ve only been able to push our natural gregariousness to the back of our lives. Every once in a while the ‘void’ surfaces. Yes, then we need ‘networking’. And often we take to it with a vengeance. Our competitive measurements again become ‘quantities’. The number (2,136 and growing) of faceless ‘friends’ connected through cyberia.

So here’s the moral to all this. There’s little value in prefixing the word ‘Social’ to media, networking, technologies, welfare or any other word if all we’re doing is creating technology-based spaces or empty political propaganda. Wordplay sounds nice, looks good in a presentation and creates great news hooks. ‘Social’ has to do with society – a particular society. And society is shaped by people that have passion, conviction and a sense of belonging. Technology is only the toolbox for social change. Technopreneurs must take it as their duty to identify the value – and ‘values’ that their ‘products’ will provide to those who will use them. Only then can they hope to positively transform and sustainably impact society as a whole. Facebook, sadly does not take any such responsibility. Nor, I’m afraid, do any of the other social networking platforms.


11 Replies to “Cynicism 101 – Does India need Facebook?”

  1. A bit dense, but what I get from this is: Why state the obvious?

    Interestingly, “social networking” as an expression has its origins in business and technology as practised in the US.
    Let me take you back: Software programmers are mathematics minded people who solve “problems” and hence called their products and services as “solutions”….what a god-awful word to call a useful thing!
    Similarly, “networking” comes from a mindset which believes in isolation and feels that you “network” for personal gain to achieve something. Since this usually revolves around business intentions (Read: money, job, deal), when you do it for something other than these, you call it “social” as in “not business” networking.
    It is amazing how “Friendster” has not gone where “Facebook” and Orkut have gone. Because, I suspect, for Americans, “Friends” is a serial, not something that you have. Now I am ROFL.
    Have I done enough counter-provoking?
    p.s. I am reminded of Peter Sellers in “The Party” in response to Zsa Zsa:
    Q: Who do you think you are?
    Arun D.K. Bakshi: In India, we don’t think who we are, because we know who we are!
    There ends my dose of politically incorrect globally atavistic, backwardlooking, inward-sounding proto-patriotically insular nationalistically civilisational bombast.


    1. That was ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ Madhavan!{giving due credit to Mary Poppins}

      This doesn’t quite measure up to your literary talent but I hope it conveys my emotion. And I have to admit, with uncharacteristic humility, that your comment quite overshadows, outprovokes and outperforms my post on the controversy scale.

      Thanks. I am so tempted to broadcast your comments!!!


  2. Here’s a counter opinion from Ekta Rohra Jafri, a Facebook (?) “friend” –

    Its all a matter of perception Sunil. Do you percieve facebook as taking away from the richness of life? Or a tool for enriching it?

    As life gets busier and busier, yes we indians need facebook too. Because most of us are losing touch with our Indian-ness in the rat race. Now we no longer have a choupal to gather under and gossip. We can’t, we’re so disconnected. Its another means to connect. Our own virtual chaupal. Where the world is our village and we can belong to many many villages at the same time. So think of the conversations that we would have missed, if there were no facebook or twitter.

    You are right, at the end of the day, the people who really matter to you are the ones you are friends with and in touch with in the real world. To me, facebook gives me an opportunity to enrich my life and my on ground relationships in many many ways.

    I reach out to existing friends and relatives on a daily basis, who I would not have reached out to otherwise. Take for instance a cousin of mine who I didn’t know beyond her name till she joined facebook. Now I know her daughter, her day to day fight for her identity and am more in touch with her than I ever was.

    So, no there is nothing discomforting about needing networking to be a ‘tool’ for being social!

    And next we may just be ‘Wall-to-wall’ing Mom totell her we can’tdo the dishes! We do it now on SMS and theres nothing wrong with that. So when walls become ubiquitous, why not?

    There will always be crazies out there who count their life in the number of facebook friends they have. Who knows, perhaps it does fulfil a need that is there and unfulfilled in that person. And to each, his own – right?


  3. Heard Farhan Akhtar say in his talk show – ‘people spray deo before going on to FB, as they would be interacting with colleagues across the isle’. 😉 Even I do it (not the deo bit, tough) 😀

    Then came your post. Which I agree with, but I am also happy to read your friend’s counterpoint.

    … and then the best (according to me) was this on the TIME site, Facebook Is for Old Foggies. It’s hilarious, yet thought provoking.

    I think it will bring a different light to this coversation.



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