At no time in the history of mankind have the words, Man is a social animal, been so true.

It’s one clear reason why the Web now is Web 2.0, a content-led interface that is driving the world and more importantly building, rekindling and empowering relationships across distances, literal and virtual. With a plethora of social networking sites that have cropped up on our screens there’s no way you cannot be connected. So one is Tagged, LinkedIn, Facebooked, Orkutted, Twittered and all this, if not in WAYN. If you are not on at least 4 or 5 out of these you are probably anti-social, asocial or just plain technology challenged.

Honestly I am not against this aggressive networking, this virtual, constant holding of hands across countries, with friends and family every minute of the day. It allows me to connect with a whole lot of people with just one ‘status’ message; it gets me answers from a vast network of professionals with just one well-directed question; why, it even lets me know what the rest of the people who matter to me are doing. I feel connected.

It’s just that the connections get a bit too much sometimes. And this is what hurts my conservative sensibilities.

Remember as children we each had our ‘best friend’? As we grew older, we got more discerning and discriminating. Not everybody was a friend. Grammar taught you that you could have only one ‘best’ friend. And as you went on into a cut-throat working environment you knew that there were no friends, there were either colleagues, and/or er, backstabbers! You left friends behind. And caught up with them over weekends.

Till now. Till social networking sites made everyone your friend.

So here’s, say Sameer. You and Sameer have worked in the same organization for a long period of three months. Your conversations with him were limited to a polite smile and an “Excuse me” when you needed passage. You acknowledged him as part of someone else’s team but it ended there. Then Sameer disappeared. You did not notice his absence till about two to three weeks later when someone mentioned something about a summer trainee.

Now suddenly you see a ‘dude’ pic of Sameer on your favourite networking site. Sameer has ‘added’ you as a friend. Wow. You feel honoured. Can you refuse? No. Some sites even ask you to say Yes or else “Sameer will think you have said NO”. Oh the shock and horror of it all. That the summer trainee Sameer will think you have said NO, he is not my friend. So you add him as a friend. And you are linked just because of those three momentous months that Friend Sameer spent on the fringes of your consciousness at work.
So summer trainee Sameer is now a friend.

Here’s another gentleman, let’s call him, Kunal. Apparently he has been a colleague a decade ago. So he needs to be added. I peer into his thumbnail picture. Nope. Nada. I don’t recall this person. Don’t recognize him at all. Then vainly I decide that not everybody ages as well as I do (ahem!) and I figure that that bald head with jowls could have been different looking in his salad days. I add him to my list.
Later during a moment of leisure I realize that I honestly don’t remember him. And in frenzied, nail-biting moments I try to figure out what will really happen if I do happen to meet him. I am sure one of those moments is lurking around the corner for me. One dreaded day, Friend Kunal will come up to me and say “I am your friend” at which point, what will I do???
For the first time in the history of mankind, it’s getting difficult to recognize friends.
So here’s my humble (and you may think anti-social) request.
Could I ask all my ‘friends’ on all the various networking sites that I am present on to please, please carry that 1 cm by 1 cm thumbnail photo to identify themselves when we actually do meet?
Now tell me, have you ever done that with a ‘friend’ before???