Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 64, Wednesday September 27, 2005





Online Chatting A New and "Improved" Social Landscape

As borders disappear and the world gets more tightly knit with the ubiquity of the telecommunication technologies, newer dimensions and hence, newer borders are created every day that were probably not imagined before.

As with most novel things, the novelty may begin to wear off after a while and we're left to deal with the implications of various magnitudes in the aftermath. I'd like to talk today about the phenomenon of online chatting and some of the different effects and implications that I've observed on the scene around me.

Online chatting has grown into such a pervasive part of our day-to-day lives that I don't think we appreciate how quickly it has sneaked in and pretended to be there forever. There used to be a time when the association one made with chatting would be with the gathering of people one knew (and trusted implicitly) to pass some time talking about whatever their lives revolved around in the spirit of entertainment and socialising during their off times.

Today, chatting has growing into another dimension, cyberspace and has brought with it many a complex side-effect that wouldn't normally have been seen in its "real-life" counterpart. There are Chatrooms, Messengers, Communities, Blogs, Forums, and Message Boards as only a few examples of the ways people establish informal communication with absolute strangers and connect on all sorts of levels.

Not only has there been an explosion as far as diversity and multiplicity of informal communication is concerned but it seems the industry has gone to great lengths to ensure that people are always connected. You have cellphones with GPRS/EDGE/EV-DO connectivity to connect to the Internet on the move, wireless hotspots for laptop carriers, cyber cafes, and handheld devices that only get slicker, faster, and even more connected with every passing moment so that, god forbid, you don't ever miss out on a message somebody might have for you.

This sense of urgency that's developed was definitely not there before. The question that begs to be answered is "What's so urgent that you have to be connected all the time?" You didn't feel like going cold turkey if you hadn't seen your real friends for ages but you felt strangely helpless and not-with-it if you'd been away from your e-mail, IM, and blogging. Bangladesh, although lagging behind the rest of the world in terms of connectivity to high speed internet and the latest in wireless gadgetry, still exhibits the same indications I've mentioned above with regards to online messaging and chatting. People chat at home, at work, and while on the rickshaw (via SMS) as though to do otherwise would leave them lagging behind somehow in getting the latest updates.

Online chatting has definitely caused a shift in the way we interact socially with people. Not only is there an increased ease with which we approach and connect with total strangers, but there is something about the mask of the keyboard and the screen that bring out hidden and never before seen personalities.

It is as though a great barrier has been lifted that had prevented people from trusting and interacting comfortably with those around them before. The expansion of chatrooms from the highly sophisticated and almost underworld realm of techies into the public realm is an attestation to that. These days, anybody with a machine and a browser can be up and running a chat client with little to know knowledge of the underlying mechanisms. So what does this mean for the general populus? This means that more and more people can connect with a greater number of people in a shorter amount of time with almost little or no effort.

A natural consequence of this is going to be tendency towards reduced social inhibitions and increased and diversified interaction. People write, draw, sing, take photographs, and even play games with each other, as a result of squeezing more juice out of this "chatting" phenomenon. Obviously, people did these things before but the audience to appreciate them or share them was significantly less in size and variety. Now, with access to the whole world, people have greater motivation for exhibiting as many facets of themselves as possible to this world. The industry, it seems, has made good use of the popularity of this to offer the various services such as web-site hosting, blogging, social networking communities, and dating/matchmaking services. The race to digital projection of the self has never been hotter.

I can't say whether the changes I described above are good or bad. I've seen evidence of both. For the sake of brevity, I've refrained from getting into the serious case studies of online behavior and phenomena such as teenagers online, online dating, online fraud, and identity theft. All I can say is that the social landscape is changing towards a very vibrant and dynamic scene. It would be interesting to see the evolution of societal forces and factors and human psychology in response to such radical shifts in technological innovation.

By Sarwar Bhuiyan

Reader's chit

Of time and Life

Time is a simple word though it remains truly the most mysterious and vicious phenomena to which every living and non-living organism is a victim. This antediluvian force of nature shows no mercy as it moves along every path, every corner sniffing over its wounded and marks victory over one after another.

Time mystifies us with the maze of moments and wraps us in the illusion that it would last forever. Indeed, some gets time and some even gets the time of their lives but as one stares at the clock they know for sure that time is creeping in onto her/his territory. And with the fractured youth and battered adolescent one finds her/himself feeble against the ultimate ambush of time as it calmly introduces the being to the prime truth of all.

Where does time go? Whoever beats this question secures immortality. If life is gift then surely time is a curse. And only those who witness the harmony between these two are the lucky ones. Tirelessly we chase the days as we make it to the journey of life as we know it. The fixture of sunrise and sunset detonates the moments and all familiarity seem like occasions held seconds ago.

There is no escape. The mystic hands of the clock never greets one at the same spot twice. But is it truly as brutal as one thinks of it? It is only the time that selflessly shares everything that steps up into the life that one leads. Like a quite friend it stands by all and witness everything that shapes and disfigure them. And indeed some do live a life of a lifetime and survive through all the blessings and blight that defines the human being.

Maybe it is a matter of choice. To be with the time or let the time be with you. It may seem engimatic but it is certainly wise to be on the driving seat of the journey from the seconds to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, days to week, week to month, months to year and years to decades. It is not possible for everybody to live to the fullest but it is possible to live rather than just staying alive. It is not possible to hold onto the youth but it is possible to enjoy life.

It is true that time will wait for none but regrets only engender when one waits for time. Bob Dylan, the legend, once wrote an epic song "Times they are a changin". Indeed. It has witnessed the dawn of verve, the evolution and all the evil and divine that human beings do. And still it keeps on going and dragging us along to the very last day. There is no escape and there will be no mercy. Then is it truly a friend or foe to us? The one who makes us wiser and shows charity towards us, all with the fruits of nature or the ruthless force that snatches away the essence of life from us and then abandon all to the mystic obscurity? Who knows, perhaps only time can tell!

By ObaidurRahman


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