A ‘Group’ study

The latest issue of TIME is awash with worry and woe from top tech wizards over the ‘social media monster’ they had unleashed in all ‘good faith’. The belated crocodile tears are not just out of guilt but also owing to shameful helplessness in not being able to bottle the genie. Profits in pocket, pride is now bleeding.

My problem, however, arises from the compulsions of my profession, namely, journalism. I am supposed to hit the virtual ground firing on all cyber cylinders on issues like democracy, privacy, data control, regulation, human relationship, addiction and social responsibility, like ever other scribe, in print and primetime.

But alas, as a lay user I do not even know the very essentials, much less the delicate but devilish details, in order to put up a pretence. Most of what the learned lamenters say go above my head. And whatever enters the system eventually evaporate or exit via any of the many outlets that biology has provided.

But like with every simple and yes, vulnerable, user, the current flip side that was originally the best side, retains its charm hands down. Yes, we have been warned, but God bless, ignorance is bliss. To hell with privacy, when what I really want is for my folks, far and wide, to know what I am up to, this instant. So what if Zuch is also watching.

So let us slide from the sublime debates to the ridiculous itches. And from the profound punditry to the profane matters of fact. To me, of all the social media angels crowding the clouds, Whatsapp is the Queen bee. Gmail has gone totally official. Twitter is for politics. You Tube is not very interactive. Facebook is too vast and fast and ever expanding. But Whatsapp is best of all worlds bringing them all to our palms in ideal, easy ways.

From one-to-one communication to groups ranging from 2 to whatever multiple, Whatsapp offers a choice like nothing else. From economy, education, entertainment to even enlightenment, everything is there for the asking. But it is the human touch it has engendered, not the high tech it has engineered, that has endeared it to all.

It has ushered in a new world order populated by emojis, compulsive forwarders, prolific photo uploaders, english grammar busters, early risers and night owls with their ‘gm’ or ‘gn’ wishes and a whole range of characters, both human and lingo. In this realm of make believe ‘reality’, distances and differing time zones are no deterrent.

My own experience is as good as most others’. I am a member of many groups, political, cultural, official and professional. Family groups are usually a virtual continuity of existing physical contacts enabled by endless social occasions. For most, long lost school friends are the real take away, to use a fancy jargon.

But for me, my school, Jawahar Vidyalaya, which I disown owning, was just a few blocks from home for decades and I had the vantage and advantage of being a default counter of inquiry for anyone wanting to touch base. So even without social media, a bulk of my school friendships flourished. Of course, social media did bring in the odd ones in.

But the real treasure that Whatsapp dug up for me two years back was the Loyola guys of 1984 commerce batch. We were about 130 plus divided into two sections. The group was started for section B, but beer, pardon, peer pressure soon brought in the mates from the first too. As the group expanded on cloud, many get-togethers followed on terra firma.

Friendships that had ceased since college, got renewed after thirty odd years, a fairly long period that just melted at first sight. Many had been in touch and for them some like me were the rare, and I hope, pleasant surprises. The presence and the resultant photos of several with family for my daughter’s wedding within two months of forming the group still evokes awe in me on the glorious uncertainties of life, made certain by tech.

Of course, what I write is from my blinkered perspective. I studied in a co-ed school and joined a boys-only college, which itself was a cultural shock, if you get the drift. In school while I was in the thick of all things, incidentally studies too, in college I was in the periphery, owing to my size and studious image. Yes, I was obsessed with CA, ICWA and sundry As in free hours, but the serious, studious aura was an aberration albeit self-inflicted.

There were these fun blokes roaming the corridors in gay abandon and infesting the shady woodstock with both their banal and boisterous banter. Whiffs of their off-college exploints that always swept royally through the expansive windows and doors made me ogle in jaw-dropping jealousy. Indeed, how they were living it up! Aah, but how were they to know I would have happily traded places with any of them …

Well, after so long at last, this was a chance for me, nay, everyone, to explode such myths and express what was unsaid in those paltry three years. And to my mortification, I found that many of the hefty, tall guys who dwarfed and scared me had actually stopped growing and I had in three decades caught up, both vertically and horizontally, giving them the ‘short’ shrift, so to say. As it happens in every class room, there were clusters, but now there are hardly any walls or veils. Whatever is there, vanishes at a hit of the ‘go’ button.

Batchmates and benchmates, whatever their current stature or station in life, degree and pedigree, are as at ease in first person and even with the familiar expletives, as before. After all FB meant something else in those long lost days and remained in continuous use, so I learnt. It was and is exhilarating to learn of each one’s path of life to the present, their families, their turmoils, travails and triumphs.

This indeed is the story of all reunion groups. So, junk that TIME copy and its fear mongering. Nostalgia is here and now. Reach out to your teen past right away. That’s where your original life and joy are still waiting for you. Do realise that you have never really grown up, the veneer of grey hair notwithstanding and whatever your pretensions of maturity. Your friends will show up the mirror.

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Jawahar T R