Twenty-somethings beware: your snoopy aunt who wanted to get you hitched to next-door-Bunty is now on Facebook, spying on your timeline. Just the Janam Patri won’t do anymore. Prospective in-laws and grooms want to check out your Facebook profile to know the ‘real you’, notes Saritha Rai on India Ink.

Rai looks at the restraint shown by some of India’s young social networking generation on Facebook. There are only ‘respectable’ photos ( just pictures with teddy bears, please no drinks), ‘no dirty status updates’ (WTF is totally unacceptable for future in-laws). Basically no evidence that will make traditional minded parents say hai hai.

All this matrimonial anxiety, Rai, implies, ought to come as a surprise.

You would expect Spoorthi Gadde, 25, of Bangalore, who has a master’s degree from a top-notch engineering school, to be out and about on social networks – more so since she is single, tech-savvy and employed by a leading outsourcing company,” she writes in the very opening line, setting up Gadde as the quintessential modern Indian woman: an engineer, well-educated, and working in a global firm. And yet Gadde worries about what future-in-laws will think of her Facebook profile.

“On the Web, you don’t know who is watching,” says the bespectacled, pleasant-mannered woman.

“When social networks intersect with India’s hoary arranged marriage system, what you get is a generation of jumpy social networkers,” writes Rai.

It is perhaps easy to look at this cautious Facebook behaviour (apparently even a status update about buying an expensive dress can be seen in a negative light) as something that merely stems from Indian hypocrisy. Rai’s piece makes the Facebook behaviour of Gadde and others seem as something uniquely Indian, symbolic of India’s younger generation whose FB lives reflect an inner dichotomy; modern versus the traditional, the party animal vs the gharelu bahu or ladla beta.

Twenty-somethings beware: your snoopy aunt who wanted to get you hitched to next-door-Bunty is now on Facebook, spying on your timeline. AFP

This may be so, but Rai also fails to acknowledge the larger context of how Facebook operates. Yes, FB is about sharing. But don’t forget, it’s also about approval.

Facebook is the big daddy of all approval-driven behaviour. Approval from our Facebook friends is the fundamental motivator of social media activity. We want all our ‘friends’ to F-like when we post a comment or a photo.

This Facebook approval comes only if we can successfully maintain a certain image of ourselves online. The need to prune one’s Facebook profile doesn’t just end with marriage. Post marriage, the question becomes sasu-ma kya comment karengi? I’ve known friends to delete all ‘bikini’ pictures from the honeymoon album just so that their in-laws can’t see it.

At the other extreme are people who want to show how ‘cool’ they are on Facebook. Some post party images every weekend, others flaunt their intellectual cred in their updates. The images they project onto their friends’ newsfeed may be different but they stem from the same desire. India’s hard-working techies might only post pictures of themselves on company visits, looking all prim and propah, but like America’s partying teens they want the same thing: approval.

As Jaron Lanier writes in his seminal work, You are not a Gadget, Facebook is about maintaining an image:

“The most effective young Facebook users, however… are the ones who create successful online fictions about themselves. They tend their doppelgangers fastidiously.”

Indians who hope for an arranged marriage are just making sure that their Facebook profiles match the images they want the ‘family elders’ to have of them.

I often wonder what kind of a Facebook fiction I’m creating. I don’t have party pictures. Most of my links are from work. By my friends’ standards, my Facebook universe is boring and not worth stalking.

Strange to think that this hum-drum timeline may appeal to prospective in-laws or bridegrooms. My real-life personality might not appeal to saasu-ma, but my FB profile might just make the match. Oh the irony.

Publish date: June 20, 2012 1:41 pm| Modified date: June 20, 2012 1:41 pm

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