Negotiating Identity in the internet: A Social world of Facebook
As we human beings are the only social beings, the way we live and behave in our society defines us and our identity. Social processes and traditional understandings have been defining our life from the very beginning. Society is an emblem of sharing and multiplicity among a group of people that could belong to a community of multi ethnicity and multi culture. But, with the advancement in science, technology and relevant communication behavior, we have come a long way, where we socialize with the entire world even through a confined room- thanks to the ever escalating obsession and use of social networking sites. Or we can say, more than an obsession, it has become a necessity, which unlike our traditional societies, has started to revamp the meaning of socialization and our social identity. Our real-world identities can be multifaceted and contextually fragmented – we behave one way at work, and another when drinking with friends. Yet social-networking websites collapse “relationship types and contexts into the ubiquitous ‘Friend'” (Boyd, 2007, p.134). Thus one’s online social network friends, regardless of context (e.g. work, family, and school) all receive, by default, the same information. This online flattening of offline relationships has progressed without adequate means to negotiate this experience. For example how to present one facet of personality, or persona, to one’s friends vs. one’s workplace colleagues.
The Facebook phenomenon in a developing country like Nepal is indeed an interesting subject to study and find out about the people who are knowingly or unknowingly negotiating with their identity through social networking sites like Facebook. Facebook has met with some controversy over the past few years. It has been blocked intermittently in several countries including Syria and Iran. It has also been banned at many places of work to increase productivity. Privacy has also been an issue, and it has been compromised several times. It is also facing several lawsuits from a number of Zuckerberg’s (the creator of Facebook) former classmates, who claim that Facebook had stolen their source code and other intellectual property. But this has not stopped people from using it. Even our political leaders have started to keep themselves up to date with people through Facebook and they are in the verge of transforming their identity as technologically and informatively advanced. The Facebook account of finance minister Dr. Baburam Bhattarai has been authenticated after the minister asked the person impersonating him to manage the account for him. But impersonating people on online services isn’t unique to Facebook- Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer, John Howard And Barack Obama have all had their identity used by others only to create their fake and unauthorized accounts but when we came to know about God’s Facebook page wandering round the internet, and when tried to look at his profile, it had all sorts of statuses like “God is high like a kite….” or “God is bored lol”. When you search for Facebook account of George Bush, the outgoing American president, around 500 account profiles scroll up on your screen. Now, it is almost impossible to go through all the accounts only to find out if there’s any authentic one. The other thing of significance is that Facebook is creating “an identity that can cross applications.” And even world brands use virtual worlds to prototype, advertise and sell goods. That significance is one of the reasons that technologists have been so enthusiastic about the young platform.
The use of Facebook among Kathmandu University students too is extremely high. There are many students who created identity through Facebook. Some of them are Aakar Undefined and Vapidity; Aakar Undefined earned his popularity in his real life through his virtual identity. There were many people inside university who knew him in the Facebook but not in real life, many students know who Aakar Undefined is but very few, only the closest know his full name and know him in person. On the other hand Vapidity has used an English word for his identity on virtual world which can be used by any other person but inside the university it seems that he has owned the word and vapidity is not merely a word but a person’s identity in the virtual world. Even university clubs are formed through Facebook having all the executive members of the club regular users of Facebook. The clubs like Club’07 are some instances of this fact. The clubs use feeds, walls and their own profile space so well that the members had to put less effort for the dissemination of information to organize any programs. The clubs even send invitation to the programs in Facebook to the friends in their circle. The feeds in the Facebook are actually replacing the real life notice boards and to know any activities of the club, students do not have to reach for notice boards but just log on to their Facebook account and the notice board comes to their screen. These clubs are also the examples of virtual clubs that exist in reality. The use of Facebook is not only fun, or passing time, sharing photographs but the use of notes in the Facebook are for sharing any literary hobby or posting any thoughts or even facts. That is not it; the further utilization is made through comments as people comment in one’s note and then replied again by some other people. It is like a discussion forum and the use of notes has made impact on real activities and relationships. Thus the virtual space is attracting many members because of these facilities and the foremost fact that people are interested in Facebook is because virtual self is only possible only when there are other virtual characters.
Today one cannot imagine being social without these social networking sites, especially in the time of global migration. These sites matter to us more than being social in real; like parties, get-togethers, and even reunions or any social event for it doesn’t guarantee bringing up all your friends as these sites do. And they even bring together friends from different poles of the world. That is why it is not surprising to see the young generation gluing to their PCs and Laptops in a small corner rather than going out for social events. Would it be surprising to predict that the new generation will stop coming out of their abodes and just remain attached to the computer for it would mean more to them than a social life?