The Woes of Social Networking

The last two weeks of my life have been filled with an extremely exhausting influx of human interaction – a process that has led me to realise the degree of reliance I have upon my PC to keep me connected to what I see as the ‘real world’ and how utterly incapable I have become of real-life social networking.

For me, it all began with a simple email sent to me from a friend asking me to check out her “profile”. Intrigued, I followed the web link and before I knew it I had promptly signed up to what was about to become the biggest social phenomena known to man – it was a site called Facebook.

Like most people, I too started off with four or five friends, most of whom sadly seemed to be my own family members, but the list rapidly grew, and it grew, and grew, and grew. Today, my total ‘friend’s list’ has exceeded a hundred; something which is not uncommon to most Facebook users. My fascination with telling people about every little thing happening in my life grew, I started adding applications that would analyse my personality and reveal all, and there remain no stoned unturned, no question unasked, no fact kept secret. But, unknown to me, I had subconsciously slipped into a world of complete revelation and openness. There remained no mystery to me anymore, the world, it’s wife, and children knew who I was. I was being poked, super-poked, “x-d” and then even “desi-poked” by strange people I had met randomly, or worse, didn’t even know.

Social networking sites often have this effect on most people. Indeed, you might even be experiencing it right now; it becomes a drug, the need for constant attention, for love, respect and acknowledgment – a trait inherently familiar to human beings. It had indeed offered me, a person who already has such little time to share with others, the opportunity to be a social butterfly. But cracks quickly emerged when I realised that my Facebook life had not heightened my social profile, but instead, it had in real terms, reduced it. Friends who would once meet for lunch or coffee now thought ‘wall posts’ and ‘virtual hugs’ could equate to dinner on a Friday night; birthday presents and phone-calls would be received as ‘igifts’ and an ‘ilike’ song dedications; and the worst one I think had to be the number of users methodically stalking each others “profiles” and “friends lists” to add on people who they were introduced to once for five minutes ten years ago.

But this week I was obliged to attend a number of social events which, in effect, forced me to emerge from my web-cocoon once again, to interact with real people, to meet, sit, talk and exchange verbal communication – it was refreshing, but it has equally been one of the most tiring week’s of my life. Needless to say, in this day and age, we have become addicted to instant relationship management; we are so addicted to these virtual connections to maintain our relationships that we forget the purpose of building ties in the first place.

We have become a nation who expects instant acknowledgement and gratification; we make ties in a second and break them even more quickly, through an IM, SMS, ‘e-comment’, or even an email. We forget that although an x-me hug can be delightful, it cannot replace the reassurance of a real hug; that although a wall post can be enough to tell someone you remember them, it still can’t give the familiar emotion heard only through voice and tone; and that although friend’s lists can exceed a hundred, of those, only one or two are real friends. It just goes to show, social networking is all well and good, just so long as you don’t get lost in the luring white light of a rather distorted virtual world – and remember the chances of bumping into your so-called e-friends in this era, is considerably high.

Muslims Celebrating the Achievements of Muslims

Last week, I was invited to attend two Awards ceremonies that brought together talented British personalities (Muslim and non-Muslim alike) to celebrate the work of those who, through the written word, or creative industries had contributed to British society. The events were a hub for young Muslims to mingle, exchange experiences, and most of all, to be noticed – and to be honest, I do not think I have ever seen so many Muslims network their hearts out under one roof in my life. But although the purpose of both events may have been the same, I could not resist the temptation but to compare the two.

The Muslim News Awards held at Grosvenor House this Tuesday was a star-studded evening, but if it hadn’t been for my fellow blogger and friend Alam, I doubt I would have had the energy to sit through it, let alone be guided and introduced to a number of fascinating people (I am told this is usual in networking-savvy “Muslim” circles and a necessary part of the “getting noticed” process). The purpose of the night however confused me somewhat. The Awards ceremony applauded the work of established personalities (both Muslim and non-Muslim) – to mark excellence within the Muslim community. These people, in my opinion were already celebrities, and I wondered why we were using a “Muslim” event to recognise activities they were partaking in which actually contributed to British civil society, and not just Muslim communities.

The Muslim Writers Awards established by Innovative Arts however was held at the prestigious ICC in Birmingham and came together to celebrate the work of ordinary Muslims who had taken their first steps (and I must say, they are very big steps for the likes of me) in the media world; be that through blogging, short-story writing, or poems, the evening brought together a variety of people from all backgrounds who it seemed, have no other outlet which will recognise their achievements. It was refreshing to see so many young, unheard of faces and voices have the chance to be seen and heard, to be valued, and most of all, to be rewarded for a talent that for me at least cannot be equalled.

But the most stark realisation for me was why do we need “Muslim” events to celebrate talents that are much the same as non-Muslims? Why do Muslims feel an urge to establish their own awards and bodies to help aspiring young Muslims? I wondered whether there really aren’t enough avenues or opportunities for young Muslims to have their voices heard, or whether it is simply a confidence-building issue amongst those who see themselves as a minority group. The reality however, whichever way you choose to look at it, is that there is still a long way to go in what I’d like to term as “media acceptance” of Muslim (and minority ethnic) voices. As one writer quite eloquently put it, “unless I am writing about honour killings and hijabis, publishers just don’t want to know“. Let’s hope that initiatives like Innovate Partnership enable more, young and talented voices, from all ethnic backgrounds and religions to be heard. Bravo!