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Social media: Are we open for business?

Social media has opened us up to the world but are we truly ready for what follows?

Social media: Are we open for business?
Delhi weather has been particularly uncomfortable in the last fortnight. It is at times breezy but mostly humid with no respite by rain. Sleep doesn't come easy and on one of these fitful nights, my phone came alive. I am a light sleeper on most occasions but this was a strangely restless night. It may have been because I had learned a hard lesson in entrepreneurship just the day before. The trust factor in a business is like a Russian roulette. If you're lucky, you survive but more often than not, you will lose your head and all that's rightfully yours. These are tough yet essential lessons for me especially in this nascent part of my entrepreneurial journey. But we'll leave those gory details for another day.

Coming back to my phone buzzing on this uncomfortable night. It was a random Facebook connection, an acquaintance from a previous media house, texting me on Facebook Messenger at an ungodly hour. It wasn't an emergency or a cry for help. It was just a 'Hi'. He hadn't been a direct colleague and definitely not a friend. He wasn't in a different time zone either. This was someone, who has spoken to me in-person for all of 10 minutes in his life, texting me at 2 am to say 'Hi'.
Smartphones and social media have done as much to bring people closer as they have to open our lives up to all and sundry. If Blackberry phones and BBMs created niche instant chatting options between select participants, Whatsapp completely disrupted the market allowing everyone to ping everyone. Consequently, my printer guy Whatsapps me his promotional messages while the colony's Residents' Welfare Association informs me of planned water outages. But so does a blood collection agent from the neighbourhood pathologist where I happened to get some tests done six months ago!
While Whatsapp ensured that there was some connection between people who communicate (you need to have the telephone numbers), Facebook Messenger has disrupted the way we communicate even further. Messenger has opened up our lives, and now anyone can virtually touch and connect, whether we want it or not. In today's day and age, messenger apps work as part-instant messaging and part-flirting app. A number of people think it's kosher to use social media platforms to approach people for romantic and/or sexual liaisons. (This happens a lot! Just check the 'message requests' section of your messenger.) Not surprising then that people in committed relationships in the real world are carrying on with 'virtual' flirtations on the side.
Social media has widened its ambit to accommodate business interests of companies, making it one of the most attractive platforms for digital marketing and brand promotions. But this amalgamation of business services and recreational interests on the same platform has completely diluted the line between personal and professional. Let me explain.
In order to get the best out of your brand, you may use social media for networking and building connections (as I do). Many of these connections turn out to be trolls, stalkers, cyber bullies, irritants, or simply idiots forcing me to eventually ghost or block them on social media. Social media platforms may have certain kinds of privacy settings but at the end of the day it boils down to human behaviour and social etiquettes.
Needless to say that as in real life, we Indians lack social media proprieties too. A friend once sent a Whatsapp text to his Korean business associate at 7 pm, only to be chided the next morning by another colleague. "She isn't your friend, dude. Even if it's a work message, you can't text her after work hours and that too on Whatsapp!" he scolded. In Sweden, for example, it is rude to telephone at odd hours. In France, work emails and texts from bosses can be ignored post-6 pm. You have to be buddies to connect with people after work hours. None of these rules apply on actual hookup apps like Tinder, which are unapologetic about their aim.
This form of social manners is possible in the developed world that has fixed work hours in most sectors and is striving towards shorter workdays. India's millennials are working at least 52 hours in a week compared to 45 hours in the US and 41 hours in the UK. There is also little demarcation between our professional and personal lives. We never stop to think if it's all right to call someone late at night or as it happens nowadays, annoyingly ping on a messaging platform for any reason just because someone appears logged in. Manners go a long way in the real as well as the virtual world and I wish people would remember that.
(The author is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

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