May be, 'stalking you' is equivalent to 'getting to know you.'
"Sarra, can you look up Miss Jenny on Facebook? She seems to have applied for the post of a Consultant."
I heard my Manager give a directive to his subordinate as I passed by his cubicle that morning to refill my coffee for the third time, hoping that Miss Jenny's Facebook would impress him so that the onus on me reduces. Finding my favorite spot at the door of a local train while returning from work, I noticed two women right across me giggling over someone's profile picture. I do not know what was so funny about it, but it struck me then, how people judge you at every point, from the way you present yourself on social media. Wasn't LinkedIn enough for my Manager to know about Jenny's skillset? But the question that bothered me more was, 'Is this judgment even justifiable?' A big fan of data that I am, my point was, in the online world, do people try to know the other person well enough before passing remarks? All these questions hold true offline too.
I remember how much I struggled writing a 160-character twitter bio, because there was so much to cover, and only half a minute to be spent by someone reading it. Well, a major portion of your "following" decisions depends solely on this section after a certain twitter handle or tweet has attracted you. If I were to have a chat with any of my tweeple considering Twitter never existed, (preferably, over Apple beer) I would never admire their sense of micro-blogging because they would never compress their thoughts into 140 characters each time they spoke. The plain reason I know a lot about them today, is because they choose to write influencing short tales.
A Facebook timeline acts as an open book inviting users to 'read' a person, almost screaming into your face, "Look at me!" The pages you like, the comments you post, the posts your like, the syntax you (mis)use, the pictures and posts you are tagged in, the posts your share, the notes you write – they all script a story of you, in traces and segments. After all, you are what you share.
But, do we even have enough stories online to know more about a person as against gatherings, meetings and rendezvouses? It turns out, albeit social media makes the world smaller, it is a big world in itself.
Social media is not just about Twitter, Facebook or Google+. All the boards of your Pinterest account reflect what you (wish to) execute, and your We Heart It entries open up the most vulnerable parts of you to the world, mostly comprising of strangers.
Your Quora answers find you friends with mutual interest in strangers across the globe who begin to know more about your wisdom than friends who have been with you since ages, but have called you "Miss or Mr. Know It All!" Sure, a lot can happen over coffee; but certainly not more than on ask.fm. While 'ask and answer' seems like an allowable concept for being both, an interviewer and interviewee, it has led to an interesting playground for teens and tweens. If you leading a life of fabricating beautiful notes, anyone across the world can tell where the chords of your heart exactly strike by merely soaking into bits of your ReverbNation, SoundCloud and 8tracks profiles. And that's exactly what people who live on music yearn for – international exposure, learning, collaboration and a sense of community even for niche genres.
'Seeing someone read a book you love is like seeing a book recommend a person' – what better than flipping through profiles who swear by the same books as you? I am in a relationship with the art of writing: time and again, I receive mails and messages from people who follow my textual posts, picture posts and artwork; something that binds all of them is a beautiful feeling of knowing me without having met me, because of my online writings.
Social media interactions sometimes act as a filter to choose people whom you would want to meet off the Internet, but with a judgment pre-obtained from all of their accounts linked one to another. Speaking of filters, 'reading' pictures belonging to a celebrity and hence their stories, only puts you in a place where you start knowing a famous personality, and at times, even outside their fame.
The question remains, would it be possible to meet the spectrum of people you wish to? I have met artists all over the World through my social media profiles, and even if I decide to drop by each country to have several kinds of coffee with them, they will never make up for all the art they have gifted me through Flickr, Behance and deviantART.
I met a designer on twitter; we did business together. And I only met him after seven months. A journalist from Delhi is my closest social media friend, but she has never been to my house. My art partner and I have collaborated on several projects, but we have never been for a private meal.
May be, social media platforms are templates organized to fill interests of our choice into them. But using social media as the only standard to judge someone is sheer incorrectness. What about people who do not create, maintain their profiles or are simply shy by nature? Well, it would take us more time to know them in person too. Thankfully, it is easy for introverts to be extroverted online. And then, there are times, you come to believe that you know someone, but you don't. And that's not social media's fault either. It does force upon a feeling of intimacy and closeness, which not always, exists in reality.
(Roma Kalani is a fellow at Teach For India)