Let’s Gtalk!

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth” – Oscar Wilde

DAWN Inpaper Magazine | 12th August, 2012

Originally published here.

Young people are finding it easier to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences in life online

“I am at this new café in #Karachi having the best chocolate mousse cake ever!” — says the latest tweet on my Twitter timeline as I begin to write this article.

The online world can be very superficial at times, giving people a chance to brag about their consumerism. Facebook updates of exotic travel photos and restaurant check-ins are enough to make anyone delirious with envy. No wonder that some research studies reveal how over-connectedness may actually increase feelings of loneliness and mood swings.

While I agree with this downside of online interactions, I’ve also observed a rather positive aspect of the cyberspace in the last couple of years as Pakistanis have become more active online. Through personal experiences and by talking to young, internet savvy people around me, I’ve realised that often active users of social networks and chat programs use these platforms to vent out and express their true feelings.

Here I am not referring to anonymous websites (where people post their dark secrets on message boards) or blogging, but to personal interactions with people you are acquainted with or may have met in real life — that random person in college who will always say hello or someone you met at a picnic and later added on Facebook. Face to face, the conversation will generally not move beyond subjects of mutual interest. But you often see a different side of these people online.

Though there is a lot of room for exaggeration and dishonesty online, young people do seem more comfortable sharing their thoughts over controversial subjects or issues in their own lives over the internet.

In this context, I’m reminded of what Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”. Today the internet seems to be that mask — you’re connected but there is still a safe distance. And this is not only the case with introverts or shy people. At times people are looking for internet catharsis or advice. There have been instances where I’ve played an agony aunt-type role with classmates or acquaintances choosing to share their personal issues on chat programs.

This might be because as a society we are still not open to counselling, social support groups or simply talking about subjects like divorce, child abuse, therapy, mental health, etc. on a personal level as opposed to general discussions or gossip. Log on to Twitter and you will see people sharing their personal stories. Tweet about emotions, relationships and life experiences, and voila, strangers will tell you how you’re not alone and start sharing their own hopes, dreams and miseries with you.

“Often social media has been my only respite and I love it for that!” reveals Huma Iqbal, a communications professional. “I vent out, get angry, use swear words and sometimes even thrash people online for being mean to me. These are things I might not do in real life when I’m angry and I get a mixed response. Some friends encourage me whereas others send me texts or emails to stop sharing so much online and to be cautious about online security.”

Due to security and privacy concerns, some people find creative ways to vent their feelings without giving away too much information. Taha Kehar, a 20-year-old law student, says: “Whenever I have taken the conscious decision to vent over Facebook/Twitter, it has either been through a cryptic status or a couplet that encompasses my distress. I think it takes a very perceptive individual to understand my exact emotions in such circumstances. So overall the response has been favourable.
More often than not, people do not leave bizarre comments. With time, they have learnt to give each other some personal space online.”

Tehreem Mehmood, who works for an ad agency in Karachi, says she likes becoming friends with people online though these friendships may not always last long. “But letting out everything in front of someone is such a relief,” she adds. “I have one internet friend, who I’ve met only once in real life but we help each other solve problems. Even when we fail to solve problems we can at least listen to each other. We realise that the most important aspect of this online friendship is confidentiality so we are good at guarding secrets and trust each other.”

At times the trust or friendship may be an illusion, or it may be a one-off experience where a person needs a non-judgmental, listening ear in a particular situation, but the internet certainly helps fill a void for many. If nothing else, it reassures you that you’re not alone in melancholy.

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