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     Volume 4 Issue 64 | September 23, 2005 |

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Food For Thought

Complex Communications

Farah Ghuznavi

For the first year or so, the boys spent a lot of time creating fictitious identities as girls, and pretending to chat up other boys on the net (either for practice, or as a joke). The fact that their victims were fooled, probably speaks volumes about how little they knew about real girls…!

In an increasingly hectic era, where many professionals find it difficult to make the time to do more than manage the basic essentials of staying alive (eating, sleeping, shopping, cleaning)! any more demanding activities such as social interaction may suffer as a result. The effects of this have been most evident in the west, where a "short-cut" approach to life, love and romance has become quite common. While speed-dating is the most obvious manifestation of this (surely the idea that you can identify potential life-partner in three minutes is delusion of the most serious kind!), other such methods also point in the same direction (i.e., the desire for concrete results with less effort). Yes, this is the "instant gratification" generation speaking!

The Internet has played a particularly important role in many of these initiatives e.g., religion or nationality-based matchmaking sites. However, along with the more extreme possibilities it offers to members of the lunatic fringe, the Internet has also revolutionised romantic possibilities across the globe. A friend of mine, who studied at a co-educational institution in India, recalled with fondness the excitement that greeted the advent of Internet chat-rooms. For the first year or so, the boys spent a lot of time creating fictitious identities as girls, and pretending to chat up other boys on the net (either for practice, or as a joke). The fact that their victims were fooled, probably speaks volumes about how little they knew about real girls…!

Invariably, in some cases, things got complicated. For example, at one point there was a hoax programme that you could send to someone whom you were interested in, to find out whom they were really interested in. The program would appear as a message in your inbox, and ask you to provide the names of three potential partners, promising to help you select which of the three you would be most well-suited to.

The idea that you might believe that you could rely on a computer program to do this for you is worrying in itself, but apparently any number of people fell for it! This included my friend who sent off the names, and was horrified a few minutes later to receive in response, NOT the name of his dream girl, but a notice informing him that the information provided would now be sent to the person who had sent him the message in the first place (i.e., the person who was secretly interested in him, who turned out to be one of his friends!)

Being a person of unusual initiative (and truly horrified at the prospect of this girl finding out about all the other girls he was interested in!), he decided to take immediate action. He got into a car and drove 80 km to the college when his friend studied, managed to get hold of her, marched her to the Internet cafe where she opened her account, and made her delete the e-mail without reading it!! It was a valuable lesson.

Not that these kinds of activities are in any way new, in spirit at least. In the pre-Internet era, it was simply the methods available that were different - the (immobile) phone being pre-eminent in those days! The most common activity for bored teenagers (usually in the afternoon, when their parents were asleep…) was to ring up random numbers in the hope of chatting to someone of the opposite sex. The trick of course, was to find someone willing at the other end!

But in a surprising number of cases, these "phone friendships" blossomed, leading to conversational exchanges that lasted for at least some weeks, and often even longer. In a minority of cases, it could even lead to a "room-date". I should clarify that at one time, this simply meant meeting up with the person you are chatting to, but in recent years it appears to have taken on a rather more intimate meaning, and is open to interpretation! Indeed, the suggestion of a room-date had to be carefully timed, since a girl who was asked on one might feel that she was being rushed into something…!

A colleague of mine, who had the rather peculiar habit of listening into other people's conversations during the inevitable Dhaka cross-connections, once related to us how a telephone romance that she had been listening into suddenly hit troubled waters. Things had been proceeding very well, when the boy suggested a meeting. Clearly he had made his move too quickly, because the girl became quite offended saying, "I thought you were looking for friendship, but in fact you simply want a room-date" and slammed down the phone!

Of course, worse things than that could happen. As in the case of a school-friend of mine, who became the victim of a rather cruel hoax. Initially, when she delightedly informed us that she had a "phone friend", nobody took it too seriously. But after she started giving us blow-by-blow accounts of her conversations with this boy, a few of us started to get suspicious. For one thing, he seemed to know way more than any of the other boys about what girls were really like (and what they liked to hear). Not that strange, as it turned out, since "he" was in fact another female classmate of ours, who thought that this would be a funny trick to play! As you can imagine, it did all end in tears…

The ubiquitous mobile phones of today, have of course taken the possibilities for romantic horseplay considerably further. And the potential of these has been adapted to the most hostile of circumstances. In Yemen, known to be extremely conservative on the issue of adolescent intermingling between the sexes, some rich boys have come up with an innovative solution. They cruise around in their cars, and upon spotting a pretty girl, drive alongside, attempting to make eye contact and determine her willingness to "play the game".

If they find that there is any cause for hope, they somehow pull up alongside and throw one of their own mobile phones to the girl in question, so that they can then call her on that phone, without the girl's parents ever finding out! Cash-strapped Bangladeshi teenagers have developed a variation of this through their endlessly-fluid mobile-phone ownership systems, whereby the same phone may be found in use by multiple teenagers depending on the complex internal systems in operation i.e., who owns the phone, who owes whom a favour, who has the money to buy a top-up card etc (an unemployed anthropologist may find this an entertaining subject for research…)

Finally, for those who advocate the tried and true systems for finding love (ghatkali etc), be warned that sometimes even those might fail you. As an Indian professional working in Bangladesh recently discovered, when he returned home to meet a bevy of "suitable girls" identified by his parents. Unfortunately for him, the week he was due to start meeting his potential mates, the serial bomb blasts in Bangladesh dominated the headlines. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of names disappeared from his list before he could even meet them! Oh well, nobody ever said love came easy…

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