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Orkut: The Killer Wail

Jai Arjun Singh  |  New Delhi 

A perplexed whines about Orkut but also tries (very half-heartedly) to understand why it appeals to so many people?
 
A few weeks ago, shortly after I accepted an invitation to open an account on Orkut, the increasingly popular online forum run by Google, a female friend expressed annoyance about the many strange men who hit on her after seeing her profile (which, by and by, specified her status as "married").
 
There are random testosterone-charged alpha-males trawling this community, she tut-tutted; they put up photographs of their flexed biceps, seek out women of all hues and shapes and leave messages to the tune of "Hi! Wanna make fransip?" Or something equally ungrammatical but much more explicit.
 
A month on, with due respect to all ladies who dislike being harassed thus, I must play devil's advocate and proffer this observation: of all the people I've seen using the Orkut scrapbook to communicate, those desperate Romeos are easily among the most purposeful.
 
At least they know exactly what they want and are trying wholeheartedly to get it (and despite their inane methods, some of them might even succeed; there being nearly as many stupid girls in cyberspace as there are horny guys). I can't say the same for many other Orkut users.
 
A clarification: my problem isn't with Orkut itself. Like any online community, it has its undoubted uses "" principal among them allowing people to locate friends they've lost touch with, and to find new groups and communities with shared interests.
 
As a blogger, Anant Rangaswami, recently put it, we had Orkuts long before the Internet "" "like the adda in Kolkata, the kitty parties anywhere in India, the Lion's Club, the Rotary, chess and carom clubs, jazz societies, poetry readings".
 
What I'm peeved about are the Scrapbooks, which, for the uninitiated, are the virtual messageboards (available for each profile) where Orkutters scribble thingies at other Orkutters with astonishing frequency.
 
This forum (which can be viewed by anyone with an Orkut account) often becomes the repository of personal notes exchanged by friends, lovers and (in some cases) colleagues who are sitting just a couple of yards from each other in that long-forgotten parallel universe we once knew as "the real world".
 
Opting for scrapbook communication over personal, one-on-one contact (such as email) is, of course, an addiction of sorts, but it's also symptomatic of a larger malaise of the Internet age: our increasing preference for the most superficial forms of interaction.
 
When used without discernment, Orkut allows you to maintain the cosy delusion that you're connected to the whole world, that everyone is just a couple of clicks away, when in fact you're not meaningfully connected to anyone at all.
 
It's a wild jumble, a means of greedily accumulating as many scraps, "fans" and "testimonials" as you possibly can. And then you get off-line, go home and find you still don't know how to fill your lonesome evenings.
 
Even the benefits have their darker sides, as another friend points out. "Often," she says, "I come across someone online who was in my class in school, but who I never really spoke to or interacted with. Yet, because we have that shared past, and technology enables us to renew contact, there's this forced interaction where you're mechanically scrapping things like 'You're coming to Delhi?
 
Let's meet' to someone who never figured on your radar when you actually knew them in the physical world. This paves the way for a multitude of superficial 'relationships'."
 
Of course, everything above is one side of the argument, so I'll wait eagerly for one of my Orkut-loving colleagues to present a counterpoint. Meanwhile, for your amusement, see the box below for the transcript of a Gmail Chat I had with an enthusiastic young friend, which may provide yet another perspective.
 

"Orkut is like life: pointless"

Disgruntled Sceptic: Why do you love Orkut scrapping so much? Is it because you're young, foolish and impressionable?

Orkut Lover: Um. It's an amusing and pointless waste of time. It doesn't work the same way email does, because other people are seeing and responding to our messages to each other...it's more like a messageboard.

DS: So most of your friends know each other?

OL: Most of my friends on Orkut know at least some of my other friends on Orkut

DS: While scrapping, do you ever slap yourself on the head and think "Look what I'm doing! I am SO jobless!!"

OL: Of course. That's why it's fun...we're all completely aware of how pointless it all is. It's a bit like life in general.

DS: You realise that while you're pretending to be so clever, you're really just addicted to the thing?

OL: Um. No, not really. Orkut is like reading a Mills and Boon after a day of studying :P

DS: I'll use that quote. "This precocious teenager likens scrapbooking to reading an M&B after college. However, she refuses to admit being an addict, preferring to hide behind a veneer of delusional pretentious intellectualism."

OL: I may never speak to you again!

DS: Sure, why speak when you can, duh, ORKUT?

 

First Published: Sat, November 04 2006. 00:00 IST
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