My Life column The National

Conflict about Facebook

Does this essay which appeared in M magazine explain my conflict about Facebook?

Here in the M website and pasted below.

My life: Shoba Narayan on social networking

Shoba Narayan

Dec 7, 2011

As a memoir writer and columnist, I am comfortable with the first-person narrative. I write about the events and people in my life. I disclose what some would view as intimate details about my spouse, my marriage, my children, my pets and my parents. I am not a private person. Yet I find I have a deep disquiet about posting on Facebook. It doesn’t make sense; it seems illogical. How can someone who writes publicly about her life remain conflicted about revealing it to her 448 Facebook “friends”?

I think it is because Facebook mixes up the public and the private, confuses intent and trivialises the notion of friendship. True friendship is a beautiful, sacred thing. A friend “gets” you — not just your public persona, but also your inner inconsistencies, failings and flaws. Good friends call your bluff, goad you when needed and point out uncomfortable truths. They enjoy you warts and all. I have been blessed with such friends, but they are usually two, maybe three people – five at most.

Many of my 448 Facebook friends are not people I know. Some are acquaintances; others former colleagues whom I have lost touch with. Many are old school friends whom I haven’t seen or kept in touch with for 20 years. I have fond memories, but know next to nothing about their current lives. Still others are people I have never met, who feel connected to me through my writings or through common friends.

My early days on Facebook were heady. I shared articles that I enjoyed, posted questions (“Does Muji retail at airport duty-free shops?”) and talked about events in my life (“Daughter’s exams today” or “Going to the dentist for a root canal — wish me luck”). That type of thing.

The uncomfortable thing about Facebook is the element of voyeurism. Users can peep into lives they have no connection with. I have surfed Facebook and discovered photographs of wild parties at friends of friends’ homes; wedding pictures and even photographs of children in nightclothes snuggling in bed. Who would put all these photos up? I assumed it was a generational thing. Today’s teenagers, after all, are willing to live out their entire lives on Facebook, posting every music show, restaurant and party they attend. But I know individuals who are my age and do the same. They allow people to violate their privacy, which leads me to the question of intent. Are we posting updates to share our lives with close friends or are we candidates in a public forum? On Facebook, we do both. We share news and views with people who are dear to us while allowing strangers to have a peek into our lives at the same time.

Posting updates can be addictive. You reveal banal details about your life. Five “friends” comment on it and you feel validated, like a minor celebrity. Nothing is real unless it is on Facebook and five friends comment on it.

Some users disengage completely. They post nothing personal on Facebook and instead use it as a platform to market themselves. I’ve started doing that, too. I post my articles. Even that confuses intent. I don’t want to market my articles to friends. I want to do that with editors, colleagues and agents. LinkedIn is easier that way — it is clearly a networking and professional forum.

My solution has been to use Facebook in spurts. I like reconnecting with my old college mates. I hate that random users will see these connections. Some day, I will go through my friends list and cull my 448 friends into the five to 50 friends I really know. Until then, my Facebook conflict will remain unresolved.

Shoba Narayan is a journalist based in Bangalore, India. She is the author of Monsoon Diary: A Memoir with Recipes and is working on another memoir called Return to India.


  1. But why is it that FB is creating soo much buzzz ? thinking of how life was 5 years down the line, where there was no FB/Twitter, life was much blissful… For getting the limelight on FB, people pursue ‘FUN’ , but not happiness… wondering how the d word FUN is replacing the word HAPPINESS des days… Content again is a BIG ‘?’ – Its said your life should be an open book and you should consider everyone as you friends,but will this not prove vulnerable regards to the FB? Some exude their swanky gadgets, some flaunt their designer-wears, some show off their bungalows, some don’t , some give a close up smile, some give a frowning face —- Where are we heading to?


  2. Isn’t that a choice that we made when we accepted those random friends requests? You had a choice to ignore or deny. Social Proof is something that humans thrive on. The control however is in our hands but one is locked-in because of the self need to be recognized and remembered. However, we are almost aware that the information that you share is consumed by not just your friends but for a whole lot of other marketing/adverisment related purposed and we have signed up for it when we created our accounts. Why would FB burn billions of dollars maintaning infrastructure otherwise? My guess is that the answer lies in disciplining oneself (and it is different for everyone) on how much of personal information exploitation would you mind compared to the social benefits you get on the networking site? It is always a delicate choice…


  3. But Shobha, that’s the whole point of facebook – for the 5 (or 50) intimate friends, you don’t need an online networking site to be in touch. It’s for the 400 others who you’d like to keep in your peripheral vision. I am not in touch with many of my classmates in any other way, but when one of them has a baby (for instance), I like it that facebook lets me know!



    1. I find my public friends’ space and private friend space intersecting at times on Facebook. For instance, I might post something, and a close friend will bring it up when she calls, or else message me separately asking about it whereas public friends will comment on the FB site itself.

      That said, I am getting increasingly tired with how much time FB sucks out of my day, time that I could be spending doing things that are more meaningful. Sure, it is nice to stay in touch with friends but with the friends ballooning on FB, I have little time to sieve through to the friends who really matter, about whom you write in your article, Shoba. I might just do what you say and whittle down at some point, but then I won’t need FB anymore because I will have letters, a far more meaningful form of communication.

      A friend once told me, she stopped using FB when one of her friends stopped writing letters to her because there was no more news to share as she had shared much of it on FB already. I might follow her lead, and get out of FB entirely. But that day hasn’t come as yet perhaps because I have too many places I have called home in the past few decades and the traffic outside is too bad to make house calls on whim and ….and….


  4. Hi Shoba:

    Enjoyed your post and I’m very guilty of being a Facebook junkie. More than me, my husband is a huge user and he sees nothing wrong with being open on FB. What I have noticed is that those who are very private people and care a lot about what they say and do (in real life) tread carefully around FB. Many times I have noticed that they do this so they don’t invite trouble with friends/family. One person I know says she doesn’t want to be tagged on FB because she doesn’t want her extended family thinking she’s always partying:-))) Those who tend to be very blase, tend to be easy with posting details of their lives on FB. Nice post, Shoba, as always.


  5. Absolutely correct. You have put it well. Often my son insists on posting pix of the trip we had together and i put my foot down. Nothing doing, I would say, nothing personal on Facebook. He would relent but would post his own pix sans rest of the family. Personally I do not approve of it but would give in. It irks me all the same. I feel uncomfortable posting any information but at the same do not deny feeling urge to write something on FB. You have very well voiced our conflicts


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