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Monday, November 7, 2011

The Exhibitionist

Is everything I do now driven by an exhibitionist impulse? Have I become the woman who lives to tweet, whose life is measured in Facebook status messages?

The mask of the emoticon :p

The delivery boy from the Burmese takeaway stood at the door while the husband scrabbled about the drawers for change. I turned my many bags inside out too – the jhola from Manipur, the upcycled rubber tyre bag from Green the Gap, the chindi tukda sling bag from Khadi Bhandar, the camel hide satchel from Pushkar, the Adidas backpack… yes, I am obsessed with bags but that’s not what this post is about - and discovered a few weathered Rs 10 notes. Eventually, we managed to find enough money to keep the khauswe. And all the while I was thinking about how I was going to tweet about the experience, how I’d frame a 140-word haiku about the incredulous look on the delivery boy’s face as I looked under the flower pots for stray coins and the man of the house stole all the five rupee notes from the younger son’s piggy bank.

It strikes me that I’ve become a social networking whore, someone who lives to tweet, whose life is measured in facebook status messages, who clicks pictures only to share them with the all-consuming amorphous beast-with-the-many-brains out there. Could it be that everything I do now, every action is driven by this exhibitionist impulse, by the need to appear cool, intellectual, smart, sensitive, sexy to that shapeless, infinitely seductive phantom?

Increasingly, I also find it difficult to compartmentalise my online life and the one off it. Sometimes the two merge in such imperceptible ways I can’t later recall if I’ve developed an aversion to Person X because of something he muttered in my ear or because of the smart-alecky comment he made in an FB thread.

Then, there’s the burden of confronting daily the ridiculous ghosts of my past – the girl who sat next to me in class five, my first boss, my first unfortunate boyfriend, the funny colleague from my fifth job, long lost cousins and aunts. Before I plunged so energetically into social networking, all of them had become mere caricatures recalled by their eccentricities, worthies in flaking black and white pictures with ornate borders who were destined to people the grand ‘fictional’ narrative I would one day write. Now that they’ve all been re-infused with life, I’ll have to torture myself and think up new characters.

As my virtual life flowered, I set down some rules for myself: don’t friend current bosses, people you’ve never met in the real world, people you disliked as a child (only the last rule is still in place). Rather stupidly, I didn’t include ‘Don’t talk too much'. As a consequence, I now meet people ITRW (In The Real World, ya noob!) who react to me as I appear to them online. This is a bit unsettling because my online persona is a glib self-possessed bitch. She likes premium Scotch, she uses ‘fuck’ only when she wants to be particularly insulting, she talks a lot about her kids and gets her kicks out of being acerbic about whatever appears in the Indian print media. In person, I am not a confrontationist, like almost everyone else I use 'fuck' liberally in some company and not at all in others, and can only have a conversation that lasts longer than five minutes if the talk is about work.

So what AM I? the real I, not just the glib bitch persona or not just this mass of flesh with blood coursing through veins, electrical impulses crackling through brain, marrow in bone. The self beyond the one who’s someone’s daughter, wife, mother, social networking demon. Could all the 24,391 tweets I’ve thrown into the void in the last two years give someone an accurate picture of the me-ness of me? Do even I know what constitutes that wondrous me-ness of me? The more I think about it, the more I find myself sinking into mental contortions, my idea of myself fragmenting into a thousand little picture pixels.

On insomniac nights this insecurity about my ‘me-ness’ makes me wonder if any of the 1990 people who follow me would really care if I leapt into the Ganga without a life jacket and was washed away. Then I think about my ‘real’ friends -- the ones with whom I experienced that magical falling-into-friendship feeling in early youth, the ones I haven’t met offline for years, but with whom I now regularly ‘talk’. This continuing conversation makes us feel like we’re in touch, though each is conscious of the absence of the warmth of meeting face-to-face. Does this add to the friendship or detract from it I wonder as I move on to my next fear: Will I wake up one day and in a fit of temper brought on by an old friend’s comment on, say, an inane picture of the latest flop cake I baked, suddenly cut her off my friend list, block her on twitter and stupidly eject her from my life with the click of a key?

I am aware that these are the sorts of faltu questions that only neurotics ask. I ask them all the time as I ponder about the extent to which my online self seeps into my ‘real’ self. Are they the same thing? Will I ever understand how different or not they are? And will my life be much better if I just shut up, stopped talking so much in etherspace and forcing everyone to know where I stand on Sonia Gandhi, Lady Gaga, Narendra Modi?

Ah, I have become a social networking whore, someone who lives to tweet, whose life is measured out in facebook status messages and whose adventures are driven by an intrinsically unattractive need to look hip online.

The realisation briefly fills me with self-loathing. Then I quickly frame a status message about it that’s guaranteed to get plenty of likes. People have an insatiable appetite for self-revelatory stuff. Like this.

Picture credit: Mask that's part of the collection of the Museum of Folk and Tribal Art in Gurgaon. By Manjula Narayan


  1. :D i feel that at times too. i wonder if i am acquiring multiple personalities - each different & distinct from the other. :D
    I asked a friend (real life) who deleted his FB account - how do i keep in touch with your life. he said "call me" :D
    I have forgotten how to have conversations that are longer than 140 characters...

  2. I think all of us in this 'exhibitionist' day and age are forced to ask ourselves these questions. I have caught myself thinking about the 'sharability' of a particular moment more than living/breathing/enjoying that moment and later feeling rather stupid/guilty about it. No doubt these new media have their uses, but whether it's making us feel more connected to people as it is meant to, I'm not too sure...