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Thursday, April 24, 2008

orkut, anyone?

In the early days of the internet, I began to hear of like-minded people getting together to form networks of cyber-communities where they could share their thoughts, experiences, ideas and ideals. I had imagined that this was a major progressive step, which would greatly compensate for the kind of alienation and loneliness most people (especially quiet and shy and sensitive people) suffer from in contemporary life. Still, although some old boys suggested that I get into orkut (or Facebook, or something like that – such sites are now a dime a dozen) as far back as early 2006, I took the plunge only in February 2007. So it’s been a little more than a year now that I have had an orkut account.

As is my wont, when I do something, I do it as thoroughly and assiduously as I can. I wrote up a fairly detailed profile of myself, started my own community, logged on at least twice every day except when I was travelling or in hospital, visited several hundred communities, read up more than a thousand individual profiles, answered several thousand scraps, provided a link to my blog, started a few polls to find out what people were thinking… so now, when I sit back to retrospect, readers may be assured that I know what I am talking about, because I have done my homework.

On the plus-side, I have been able to get back in touch with a lot of folks, especially ex-students who are now scattered all over India and the world. Many of them sound glad about it, too. I have about 225 friends on orkut right now (the number keeps changing slightly every now and then, because some people drop off without notice, and some new people join up). Till date I think I have invited only three to become my friends here: all the rest requested to join. If I had not rejected numerous requests, that number would have been more than 500 by now. Of late I have become more finicky about adding to that list of friends, but more about that later. My community has grown to 150-plus members, and some people take part intelligently and frequently in the various debates on the forum – so that’s some cause for satisfaction too. Alas, this list of plus-es ends right here!

On the other hand, my grouches are far more numerous. Let me list them here for my own satisfaction:

1. As the demographics will show, the overwhelming majority of orkut members are very young: teenagers (including under-18s!) or people in their 20s. I would have had no problems with that – as a rule I have always enjoyed the company of the young – but for two factors: a near-total absence of grown-up people makes the discussions and interests very narrow and often juvenile, and alas, most young members seem to believe that orkut is meant only for sharing silly and vulgar jokes or scrapping your friends ‘hey … wassup?’ over and over again, and they all write wretchedly wrong and caricatured English (even those who I know are quite capable of doing better) under the illusion that that makes them ‘cool’, or that it is somehow necessary to stay on orkut!
2. Thousands of communities, so many of them dedicated to (or named after) great and clever men and women, or important issues – Sri Ramakrishna or Einstein or Harry Potter or nuclear physics or some favourite teacher or school – but they all peter out within a few weeks of launching, or degenerate into sharing advertisements about free wallpaper- and ringtone-downloads, or videos of some bimbo bathing! Apparently the typical orkuter holds one conviction very strongly: nothing must give his friends the idea that he is a knowledgeable person interested in sharing interesting and intelligent thoughts!
3. The typical orkuter also suffers from a massive inferiority complex, so she even saves all her scraps as a kind of trophy: see, she seems to be saying to the world, I have 17,563 scraps; am I not important? And if you look into the contents of all those scraps, …!
4. Nobody obeys basic rules, such as not posting obscene pictures, and despite all those warnings, the administrators do virtually nothing to discourage all the riffraff, fearing, I suppose, that the riffraff form such a huge majority of members that if they are all thrown out, the site won’t survive! Says something both about young mankind today as well as about Google’s pathetic desperation to make money at any cost, doesn’t it? Sergey Brin and Larry Page might make as many billions as they like, but I cannot respect them any longer. As I often tell my daughter, I won’t model in my underwear despite knowing that models are paid much more than teachers: that reflects a certain social sickness (like paying cricketers far more than soldiers, firemen, nurses, policemen and judges), with which I cannot compromise and still dare to call myself a gentleman.
5. Alas, so crude has orkut’s image become (and fear of addiction to it) that I can see even a lot of young people – nice, informed, clever people – are getting off, or refusing to join. The result is obvious: the density of vulgar and confused pinheads keeps increasing every day!
6. As I noted before, a lot of orkuters use the facility merely to send abusive scraps to folks like me. The only thing that achieves, of course, is that I get to know what sort of people they are, and instantly transfer them to my 'ignore user' list: you should see how big that list has become.
7. Most people who send me requests to join either cannot read, or don’t bother to: otherwise, given the contents of my profile, why should they send requests without the little self-introduction I have explicitly asked for? I have made a habit of rejecting such requests out of hand: on some days, I reject four or five at once.
8. From the profiles of hundreds of people, I have found a few common and highly distressing facts: lots of folks are absolutely clueless or incoherent about themselves! Either they write ‘I am cool, fun and sexy…’ (people call me rude and arrogant, yet I should die of shame to praise myself like that, and in slangy language too!), or rubbish like ‘it’s for you to find out’, or they simply copy and paste something that some poet wrote, imagining that that should serve as a self-description!... and all these are supposed to be educated people; they would get very angry if they were called ignorant and foolish!
9. I am still on orkut for two reasons only: to draw people’s attention to this blog, and for the sake of running my community, ‘The Good Life!’ (you will notice that I am not a member of any other community: I joined a few and quickly left out of disgust). Even the 150-odd membership strength of my community is highly misleading, because hardly a dozen participate regularly. If I am still on orkut despite all these grouches, it is because more than a hundred people have let me know that they visit my community (and/or read my blog) with keen interest even if they don’t – or cannot – write in, and a few good people have told me that if that many people are paying attention in a sustained manner even in this distracted and frenzied age, I should not suddenly go off the air.

But this much is for sure: the day I find there’s a better alternative to orkut, I am going to quit for good. Orkut’s been on the whole a big disappointment. Given the marvellous technology behind it, I guess it only bears out the Dalai Lama’s ironic observation about all of us living in an age when we have wonderful things to communicate with, and nothing to communicate!

13 comments:

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda,

I have exactly similar experience with Orkut. In fact, initially I wrote a huge profile of myself in order to attract attention of like minded individuals but soon I found out it is extremely difficult. I also joined host of communities but found out other than the quizzing community (and now of course Good Life)none of the communities are worth participating.

Therefore, for me orkut got restricted to being a site where I can keep in touch with people I already knew. I reduced my profile that is why because I saw no point.

These days, other than Good Life I don't visit any community on orkut.

I don't delete my account because through orkut I got back in touch with you and similarly with many friends.

Regards
Tanmoy

Manoshij Banerjee said...

Sir, you blend comedy and seriousness with startling effect, my views in this arena are perfectly according to you.

Even i had received a negative response, after sending you a 'friend-request', but let me tell you:i have never felt neglected, you have always been so very responsible in replying.

And lastly, i would wish that you find a better social networking community, but that is actually going to be very difficult,because, a bit of idiocy amalgamated with flamboyance is what today's world demands, or else you are lost!

SleepyPea said...

Suvro da, I'll keep my comment short for now. The Dalai Lama quote that you end off with is priceless. And one really can see it all around.
Hi-tech machines and chat rooms and facebook and orkut, and mobiles, and all. It's quite bizarre to see five young people walking into to a lovely sunlit restaurant to share some time and a meal together - and all of them will after seven minutes be chatting on their cell phones! It still disgusts me at a level. Holmes' response would be "Fools!" - while The Dalai Lama would gently interject with his grin lighting up his eyes, and utter a sharp "Foolish!"
As for your thought that you will leave as soon as there is a better alternative - I couldn't agree more.
'Language and Literature' was one fine community that was/is very interesting, and although I left the community (for absolutely personal reasons) folks there were always having sensible, sensitive, and articulate, and meaningful discussions.
As for the 'foolish' people on orkut - the members most likely make up a microcosm of the world, so that's that.
I've got an interesting theory regarding the age characteristics of participants in your community. But I think you already know the possible reasons, so I'll end my comment here, although one could muse for awhile but ultimately it comes back to waiting for a qualitatively better opening, me thinks.
Thank you, and Take care.

santanu Chatterjee said...

Dear Suvroda,
If you recollect, I was a rather latecomer in the Orkut world. I came in sometimes last July solely to get a feel of today's X-gen(or is it Y, or Z) and their thoughts and feelings. Being a member of innumerable mailing list I already had a feel of what so-called social networking was mostly about. That is why I restricted myself solely to business networkings.
The main driving force behind such sites like Orkut, is a sense of today's generation to be "in", "happening", "cool" and "belong". Since you are my English teacher, I would be greatful if you could explain to me what the previous set of words mean. My experience showed me hollow minds, surprisingly even in such serious (well that is what I thought) groups like politics in West Bengal. The conversation you find there is only about hurtling the worst of personal abuses at the political leaders. It has been ages since I logged in to Orkut anyway.
I also saw a sense of tremendous insecurity among the users. And that is what keeps Orkut going I suppose. The fact that you stated 18,346 scraps displays that. This is only the fact, the reason being insecurity.
Another issue is doubting others and a hope of achieving something by cheating and fooling everybody, that strikes me in Orkut. Cheating is sweet and achieving something through it is even sweeter. And that is why you see people, when they want to get introduced to someone of opposite sex; the first question they ask is "Is it your real name?" and not "Hi I am so and so".
But as far as Larry Page and Schmidt is concerned, I do not have any dearth of respect for them. They just decided to capitalise on certain social aspects and they achieved it, same as Bill Gates or any other tycoons of our time. Please remember Suvroda, it is not business, it is a rat eat rat dog eat dog oworld out there, and they also need to kill everybody before others kill them.

Ankush Aggarwal said...

An interesting post! I would agree with some of your points but not all. First of all, we can't criticize internet or orkut or Google brothers for having a pool of fools in the world. The type of interaction on orkut is just a reflection of the common talks between people (common people using internet) in their daily lives. So, orkut or for that matter any other site/online service, can't affect the kind of talks people are interested in, it just promotes the same.

As far as sharing ideas, thoughts and experiences is concerned, I personally feel, orkut is not designed for that exactly (blogging is!). Orkut claims to be a social networking site. And probably (and sadly) intellectual stuff is not a part of social meetings (including online meetings).

"Till date I think I have invited only three to become my friends here: all the rest requested to join. If I had not rejected numerous requests, that number would have been more than 500 by now" Sorry Sir, but I didn't get the plus-side in this statement .

One by one comments on your points:
1. Probably the reason behind the majority of youngsters on orkut is the recent rise in the use of internet, which elderly people are not used to. Yes, most common scrap on orkut would be "Hey, wassup" (sometimes abbreviated shorter to sup). I also don't understand the reason for the disillusionment that such language makes someone cool. In India, as such the average level of the written communication skills of a person are not good (probably due to the type of education system and social structure, even my father never understand the point behind reading non-academic books and thus never encourage me to.) and the communication through internet (which has to be in English) is making it even worse by frequent use of colloquial and abbreviated language. I personally don't like people writing abbreviations for every second word (ttyl - talk to you later!), but probably thats how languages evolve (congratulations became congrats and now congs, facsimile became fax).

2. Communities ain't just popular on Orkut. Again, they might be useful for meeting old friends. But, I have seen people having joined hundreds of communities but rarely visiting any of them. Most of them are used to demonstrate their personalities (I like sleeping in the classroom, So much pain behind these eyes!). The one like Good Life may an exception, but in general we can't expect.

3. Quite right. Again the same reason, people around us are too ostentatious and pretentious. I have seen people working hard to increase their scrap/friend/fan counts and people and putting their emotions on public display.

4. I feel that Google is trying hard to remove spams from orkut (it introduced many privacy options)

5. Again, probably orkut IS meant for such kind.

6&7. Can't say anything

8. I felt the same thing. But, you can see, when people visit your profile, the about me is not much of an interest to them. Personally, even I don't find anything appropriate and worth to write in about me of such a website.

9. Again, in my opinion, as a discussion forum blogging would be much better place, or some other service of worth may come up in the future.

Looking forward to some more discussion here.
Ankush

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I'll say just one thing for now, Ankush: you obviously did not read my point number four carefully enough, or just didn't get it. If I allow obscene jokes in my classes in order to become more 'popular', or don't dare to scold my pupils for bad behaviour for fear of many of them leaving, how can I still claim that I am not responsible for the standard of my classes going to the dogs?... that would be shameless escapism, and that is what I accuse orkut's administrators of.

Anonymous said...

Sir,

While it is sadly true that Orkut is a frivolous social web-community that is best suited for mindless bantering, I am afraid that you might not find anything better than this sort of stuff nowadays. Folks are too busy presently (at least, they try to make a sincere pretension of it) and they refrain from doing anything more serious than posting irritating mindless scraps like "Hi Dude, whazzzup?". Now, only a website that quizzes the IQ and general knowledge of people before admitting them in can be a worthy stuff to sign into, but going by the moronic level of common public nowadays, even that kind of a site shall have abysmally low number of members.


I have made a few interesting observations regarding Orkut-

1. A majority of the people use the words "I am a cool dude" in their self-description without realising how uninteresting and demeaning it sounds. Even more irritating is the fact that they consider something as stupid as 'sms-text' to be a style statement, and they must do it for the sake of keeping themselves 'in'. Tell them about it, and they either scoff at your social unawareness or write you off with the title of an 'antel'.

2. I am not sure why some girls write "I bite strangers" in order to keep the lecherous guys at bay. There are better and more tactful ways to ignore such sort of people, ladies: You certainly don't need to sound so pre-medeival in an attempt to shoo off "i wanna make frenship with you" types. Equally mystifying is the fact that I find many girls indiscriminately sending requests for friendship to unknown persons (without bothering to write a self-introduction, not to mention) all day long. Leave it, I never understand girls anyway.


3. Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai might turn green with envy to know that there are thousands of their look-alikes in India. The 'modern', young generation of India has still not come out of the pre-historic, rubbish idea that looks are absolutely critical to one's character, and the fact that they post the pictures of Shahrukh Khan and Preity Zinta in their profile is a sure measure of how inconfident they are- supposedly they post such pictures so that others might get impressed and interested!


However, inspite of all it's vices, I am thankful to Orkut- I was able to find many of my old school friends with it's aid. I am also grateful to Orkut that I could establish a connection with you, Sir, a teacher with whom I didn't have the privilege of interacting much in my school days.


Bye and Take care.

Joydeep

Ankan said...

Sir,

I guess I was one of the few who got you into this. I had warned you sufficiently early not to take things literally in orkut. It's pretty much analogous to the current image of the society- people besotted with increasing number of friends(read acquaintances or haven't met or don't even know, when I saw these options on orkut that was some laugh that I had) /scraps/membership in communities and the like. I don't blame them, considering that the majority of the people who do that are probably youngsters who look at this as another sort of "fun"(?!)
Personally I found orkut a good way of keeping in touch with basically all my classmates from school and now from college. There was one point of time, I won't lie, when it was an efficient way of killing time from checking out girls to making futile efforts to pour sense into India/ Pakistan, Arab/Israeli conflict based communities( and then giving up) to discussing movies of Ray and Kurosawa. Of late, I hardly get the time to visit orkut, sometimes I leave a message or two on "The good life", at others reminisce by looking at the albums of some of my friends.
I believe there's a lot of dirt in orkut and it has become quite useless to me now, but now and then some old friend says hi and I feel good about it.
Just as you said, that you are on orkut to promote the blog, I guess that's the price you pay for maintaining the hope that you can get a few actually good thinkers to engage in conversation in the community. If you don't aspire to publicize it anymore and are content to continue with the few odd members of "The good Life" who actually participate vehemently, I believe Google Groups would be a good option.
I remember there was a standard way of writing essays before I came to your class, whenever you were describing something you mentioned its advantages, disadvantages and ended with "It's up to us to choose the good from the bad and make good use of it". I guess the same holds for the internet, orkut and the like. Unfortunately most of us can't or don't want to make good use of it.
As for Larry Page and Sergey Brin, they have seen to it that you have hundreds of possible options to explore from gmail, gtalk, calendar, google earth to orkut. Social networking sites are for the society, and this is the choice of the society. Now if the society can't come up with better things than photos of people bathing in underwear and useless advertisements, then I guess they couldn't be bothered. As for me, I prefer to turn phlegmatic. By the way, blogger.com is also owned by Google and I guess you and me atleast, not to mention the several others who have replied before me and after the other posts make good use of it.

Dutta said...

Sir, you have taken a really good decision by allowing only friends to post comments on your scrapbook, and allowing people to become your friends only after they have read your profile, and have sent you a mail that they have read your profile and they are really interested in being your friend, regardless of whether they know you beforehand or not. In this way, you can really avoid a lot of nuisance. I have sent you a mail about this.

Sudipto Basu said...

While I agree with what you and others have already said on this issue, I will say a few things.


Orkut is not that bad a site if-- and here's the important thing-- one knows how to keep things under control. If one knows whom to allow in as friends, what to tolerate from co-members and just where to stop mindlessness. Like many other youngsters, I allowed a lot of people in as "friends" at one point of time-- and then I was disgusted to see that no one really cared about anything worthwhile. Then, in a fit of rage, I deleted a whole lot of these unnecessary chaps off my friend list. I myself, perhaps, did "waste" some time in talking with some close friends, and I even do so now; but then there's not much harm done there if I know that I've had enough for a day.


Another thing: there are a few sensible communities on orkut, "The Good Life!" being one of course. Maybe these are too far and few between but then so are the good things in the real world.


Speaking for myself, orkut has at least helped me in quite some ways.
1. It has helped me develop my writing skills. Thanks to discussions on your forum, and debate-cum-discussions on certain other book, music and movie forums.

2. Has got me in regular touch with some classmates I liked in school and then lost connection with.

3. Most importantly, has widened my horizons regarding books, movies, and especially music. All thanks to a few people who are very versatile in experimenting with these and are ever eager to give honest recommendations.


All said and done, I think it's best if one suits himself/herself well. Some do not like the public nature of the site-- which though may be varied to some extent-- is at the very least open to all "friends". That's one of the several reasons why a very close friend of mine left orkut a couple of weeks after joining it.

Regards.

Kalyanjit said...

Dear Sir,
I could not have agreed more with point 4. For me, orkut is an address book. One thing for sure, and I am sure many would concur, it brings a pleasant smile, when you meet a friend/batchmate after a long time.

goldensilence said...

I found this post really amusing and so very apt too. I gave up on Orkut communities long ago. I have felt that some folks use these as some sort of status symbol. It's often like an advertisement that says, "see I work in IBM" or something similar. once inside the community, all one comes across, are silly games and meaningless discussions.

Sumitha

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Two and a half years down the line, I have another grouch to add to the list: I said I am glad that so many people I used to know have gotten back in touch via the net; now I see that many of them have chosen to fall out of touch again. So the net changes nothing (except for making people more flighty and frivolous, perhaps, since they don't have to come up with face to face explanations): those who really care to stay in touch don't need it, because they will find some way, hi-tech or otherwise; others don't matter!