Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A history of social networks...

Humans have always craved attention from other human beings (or their profiles these days). But to think that this is a new phenomenon would be making a big mistake. Social networks and networking are not a new thing at all...

When the phone was invented and launched in India (a difference of a few centuries till the time we did not have to shout), it was used for - you guessed, social networking - remember those wrong numbers were people chatted for hours? The same thing.


Twitter with 140 characters is difficult? Try the phone. Three minutes were the norm for a local call and everything that you wanted to say had to be completed by then. Timers (or beeps) allowed maamis to exchange s(t)weet 3 minute conversations. (And if you think 3 minute conversations is a joke, talk to anybody at a wedding. By the time they reach "today", it will be an hour.)

Once they got used to the phone, maamis called each up other and asked each other the recipe for Molakootal simultaneously sizing up the culinary knowledge of the maami and getting to know 'whats cooking' in the house. (For a long time, this was the only thing people exchanged on phones apart from festival dates). If this were on facebook, Janaki maami would have updated it with a recipe for today and then Chandrika maami would have helpfully suggested frying the jeera before burning it. And then of course her kids would have disliked "molakootal" while the Gujju kids would have died for it...Yes, yes, the maamas were there somewhere, social networking on buses and trains and on platforms while they waited...

But even before that, entire recipes were exchanged on the 15 paise postcard - which is perhaps singularly responsible for many people learning to read (imagine you could read private messages written on something that had no envelope duffer and hence causing atleast a 15 percent jump in Indias literacy levels). Nobody will admit that's how they learnt to read real fast, phonetics or no phonetics, but apart from giving bored sorters on mail trains something to do, this is what the postal network did for us. It made us more social. And then, somebody had to invent the envelope and make those status messages private...(And then literacy went down again, since there was no motivation to read addresses...)

And prior to that for local area gossip, there were temples. The best saris were worn to temples, as was the newest jewellery. Often it made it easy to communicate to god. "Oh god please give me the fancy jewellery that Saraswathy maami is wearing - it is right here in front of you". It was also the then modern equivalent of a watering hole where people gathered and exchanged juicy bits of information in the guise of spirituality. There was a Tuesday group or a Shani group for people who shared a common interest.And now theres Sai baba on Facebook. There were also schools, marriages and many a social function, but we leave them for now...

Prior to that, we social networked across walls and hedges, occasionally throwing something that really poked someone - todays pokes are harmless. Even prior to that, we strutted about in fancy headgear or clothes often borrowed from the latest hunting victim...And that's what we are doing these days. From showing off a trinket we found or a bone we found to updating our status on Facebook, we always were a social animal, now we are a social networking animal.

This was something that kept running in my brain for the last few days and this article had a sentence "Back even further, in the hunting and gathering days - the 60s - there were no computers of any kind. At all. The primary method of social networking was drawing pictures on cave walls."

And this piece begged to be written.

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