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    Volume 8 Issue 56 | February 6, 2009 |

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Virtually Imprisoned

Aasha Mehreen Amin

If you tell a thirteen-year old that the Internet is not the only way to have a life she will either roll her eyes in derision or look at you with that 'You are even more clueless than I thought' look and you know you have lost the battle. The truth maybe hard to accept but there is no denying that the Internet is becoming the new best friend of the better off young urbanite. Being net savvy is also a measure of how 'cool' and young (or let's say, youthful) you are.

The first determinant of coolness is whether you are on Facebook, the days of MSN and Yahoo chatting being almost mediaeval. I'm not sure how the thing works as I have an inexplicable distrust of mass followings of any kind and thus have refrained from joining, but I believe it gives people the opportunity to stay in touch with one's friends, even the ones you have almost forgotten or would prefer to forget. Many people I know (in the real world) have said that they have found long-lost friends or old flames from kindergarten or college and the thrill of it all, one has to admit, is quite tempting. But this wonderful machine of virtual friendship also has the hazard of being faced with the obligation to be friends with strangers or semi-strangers who will 'tag' you or invite you to be their 'friend' which maybe an addition to your life you would rather do without.

There is also the urge to advertise oneself on Facebook by posting pictures of yourself, your grandma, your dog etc for all and sundry to see. Some people like to share photographs of every tiny event of their lives. Others just want to show how popular they are as they will be at every hip party in town. Still others want to show how many screws have gone loose by posting the most bizarre photographs of themselves as they can think of.

All this is fine and dandy, if privacy is not an issue and you don't mind a few hundred people knowing where you went last Thursday, who you were with, who you are interested in at the moment… Then there is also the possibility that someone naughty may get access to your account, take your pictures and use them in the most unsavoury way. I have heard of Facebook pictures being used in court for character assassination or to make fake pictures of women in compromising situations. That to me, is enough reason to be wary.

But tell this to a 'Facebook' member and you will have your head bitten off or be subject to a lecture on how it has changed their lives and helped to stay in touch with so many people, even those on the other side of the planet. In all fairness one has to agree that the thing does have its appeal especially in this hectic age when making a telephone call or even writing an email is a luxury.

The Internet seems to be the young person's personal music system. Downloading songs from the latest bands has become more common than going to the local CD store. This means that your teenager will be hooked on to music 24-7. Which may either drive you to psychosis with the constant noise, or make you a convert, whereby you may find yourself in the office singing tunes by bands called 'Death Cab for Cutie'.

The Internet is a kind of pleasurable prison, once you go in you get sucked right in and it is very very difficult to come out of. Take the innumerable emails you have to answer to, the exhausting psychology tests people send you that you must send to at least fifteen people or else your wish may not come true or worse, you will get BAD LUCK. Or take the 1 million dollar lottery you have apparently won for doing absolutely nothing, because you are lucky and people have nothing better to do but randomly give you that money for just being you. Yeah right. The last time I was delusional enough to send in the details they wanted so I could claim my millions, I got a series of new emails saying that I would have to send the information to yet another ten different emails. It takes a while before you realise that this is just a gimmick to get you to give information about yourself so that companies can bombard you with advertisements, special offers on products etc. I mean do you know anyone who has won a million dollars just for having an email account?

Then there are views posted on networks you have no clue how you became a member of, on every gossip conceivable under the sun from whether Joy Wajed's educational background is good enough to whether aliens are controlling the world.

It's all a little overwhelming, really. But what can one do? It is too late to go back now, the apple has been eaten and the tree of knowledge discovered. We have to check our mail. We have to Google words like 'serendipitous'. Whether we are begrudging followers or ardent loyalists, the internet is the Matrix and we are its eternal slaves.

.Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009