A BOON OR A BANE?

Presentation by:

TINA OLYAI
Director, Little Angels High School, Gwalior

Some 200 years ago a Messenger of God appeared in Iran who was called the Bab. The Bab foretold His followers that a new era is striving to appear – an era of light.

He said that even a small child of that age will surpass the knowledge of the wisest scholars of the old age and everything they would want to know will be at their fingertips!

When we watch a teenager sitting with a desktop or laptop and opening countless ‘windows’ of information-sharing with a stroke of his or her fingers, we marvel how true the Bab was! Today a child sitting in New Delhi can instantly connect and know everything about Washington. Time has gone when one had to pass by horrible jungles and wade through fierce rivers to reach another corner of the world in an exhaustible journey of several months.

Now .... literally ... with a wink of an eye, we can have a virtual meeting with several like-minded people, share their photos and videos, chat with them, feel their emotions and convey our feelings, have weather forecasts, know what food items are savoured in that corner, show them our favourite things, and be part of a fast growing social community of friends.

The most popular networking site

Facebook is among the most popular and a totally free social networking site where people can connect to each other, convey emotions, make friendship, share interests and create a network. In other words, it is a commune of ‘online friends’ where they can have interactive sessions and face-to-face conversation.

On Facebook, users can create profiles with photos, lists of personal interests, contact information and other personal information. Communicating with friends and other users can be done through private or public messages or a Users can also create and join interest chat feature. groups and "like pages" some of which are maintained by organizations as a means of advertising.

In addition, Facebook has a number of other features including the Wall, a space on every user's profile page that allows friends to post messages for the user to see; Pokes, which allows users to send a virtual "poke" to each other (a notification then tells a user that they have been poked); Photos, where users can upload albums and photos; and Status, which allows users to inform their friends of their whereabouts and actions. Depending on privacy settings, anyone who can see a user's profile can also view that user's Wall. In July 2007, Facebook began allowing users to post attachments to the Wall. Previously, the Wall was limited to textual contents only.

An imitated name with an innovative idea ..
Originally, the name FACEBOOK was popularly used for an introductory book disseminated to new college students in the U.S. so that they know each other. The idea was picked up by Mark Zuckerberg who, along with his three colleagues, started the Facebook, Inc. in February 2004. The website's membership was initially limited to Harvard students, but was expanded to other colleges in the course of time and now any child above 13 can be its member.

Mark Zuckerberg

The popularity of Facebook can be measured by the fact that it currently has over 500 million active users.

There is much controversy about the Facebook. This presentation intends to investigate if FACEBOOK is a bane or boon. Everything can be put to good use as well as bad use. Even a clock that is wrong, tells right time at least once in 24 hours. The purpose of this presentation is to weigh the pros and cons of using Facebook especially by children and youths.

Facebook has a positive aspect. It can be used by clients or users to unite with networks in any place - office, school, university, organizations, etc. -- to hook up and act together with other community. Citizens or people can also append associates and send them messages, and update their personal profile to notify friends about themselves. Such information, if used properly, can be useful at times and may save a lot of time and energy than using other methods of communication.

In fact, Facebook has created a new generation, often referred to as Generation F. This generation is living in a ‘virtual’ world and does not need to gather at a place and feel personal presence of friends or talk to them in the real way. They believe that online networking allows ideas to be considered among peers with greater speed in contrast to traditional methods of personal meetings.

While this approach for making new acquaintances and maintaining existing contacts is really convenient, we must know that human relationship thrives on “real” rapports and not just on “virtual” meetings. Man is not a machine but a pulsating heart that needs real and genuine relationships. Too much of everything is bad. Recently, we read about the two daughters of Obama, the President of America. It was said that both the sisters rarely have any face-to-face dialogue. Even if they are sitting in the same room, they convey their thoughts to each other through their laptop.

Once Mahatma Gandhi had told that “too much use of machine, makes a man machine, too”. The story of Obama’s daughters and the reality of the new Facebook Generation testify to this Gandhian truth.

The sad point associated with this Generation F is that they are living in a trance of error ... exactly like those people who are sunk in the intoxication of a fatal drug and take the virtual things as real. They walk and talk and think they are acting normal but they are in a trance ... others can see their tottering walk, their broken voice, their world set in the valley of forgetfulness.

One can feel the extreme of this trance, the horror of this addiction, by himself or herself. Ask yourself some questions:
Do you jump on your computer to log on to Facebook or similar sites as soon as you have come from your school? When your friend is near you, you talk nothing or very little with him or her and as soon as the Facebook is on, you feel like talking with him/her and sharing everything? Do you often dream yourself chatting and sitting in a cafe or near your laptop, instead of dreaming other things like the sky and the mountains, natural scenario, etc? Do you prefer writing small notes on your computer/laptop to using pen and paper? Do you prefer chatting and using sites like Facebook to personally going and seeing your friend living in the same town or calling him on phone? Do you like spending most of your time near your computer or in a cafe than with your parents, brothers and sisters? Do you prefer watching TV or using computer than reading an interesting book?

If the answer of ALL or MOST of these questions is in YES, you are in a serious problem. You have net addiction and this addiction, if not checked earlier, will lead you to a selfdestructive world, away from reality, responsibility and even morality.

There are several ‘declared’ advantages of Facebook as follows but most of these advantages are pseudo advantages which have their own pitfalls.

A unique social software
Facebook is a unique social software. One can connect to other people, groups or individuals of similar interests in easy way. Thus it helps in expanding contacts and human relationships. A basic psychological need of humans is to seek recognization and appreciation. Teenagers and youths are especially more fervent to vent their feelings and seek like-minded friends. That is why Facebook (and other social networking sites like ORKUT and MYSPACE) is very popular among the new generation.

Many students use Facebook to learn new things, discuss their school or college projects, share useful ideas with each other, develop sound friendship and similar activities.

Selective use

Facebook gives its users the freedom to choose what one desires to share and what one does not want other people to know about. Thus, one has full control over his or her privacy level. It depends on the user how to manage or control the nature and amount of information to be shared with others and restrict certain portions of information to particular associates or friends. In this way, it is truly ‘user-friendly’.

The Facebook freedom also applies with Groups that can be created by users. These can include anything from grade school connections to hobbies and interests. Groups can be public and available to everyone or private, meaning only those invited can join and view discussions. Similarly, the Events feature allows friends to organize parties, concerts, and other get-togethers in the real world. Users can also create FAN CLUBS of their choice.

A complete and composite place for interaction

Facebook is a ‘one-stop place’ for all the individual or group-based needs of people or communities. The services include blogging, media, calendaring, communicating, sharing ideas or information, etc. In these ways, Facebook can provide “Cooperative Extension” abilities or capabilities to work together and construct networks in a single place without difficulty. This facility is not available in traditional methods. For example, Facebook can be used to seek opinions of peers, coworkers or friends/relatives on a particular issue without wasting time in personally contacting each and one.

A tool for connecting with a global family
Facebook provides us a platform to develop contacts with a global family, to understand each other, and construct sound relationships. The Vedic thought of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” (The Earth is but one family) can be realized through tools like FACEBOOK.

Sharing made easy
A popular feature on Facebook is the ability to share photographs uploaded from a phone, camera, or hard drive. As with other private information, users have the option to allow only friends to see their pictures or anyone. There is an unlimited amount of storage available, which is a major advantage of Facebook's photograph sharing capabilities.

Users of Facebook can also share news stories, video, and other files with friends.

It has awesome games
Facebook also provides children and youths an opportunity to play online games. Some games like Farmville, Zoo, Petville and Aquarium are especially very popular.

HIDDEN DANGERS OF FACEBOOK

When we compare the said advantages of the FACEBOOK with only few of the following disadvantages, it becomes evident that FACEBOOK loses its face.

Wrapped in controversies

The popularity of Facebook has been associated with controversies, too. Its impacts were considered to be so serious that some countries including Pakistan, China and Iran even banned it. Facebook was prohibited even in some offices and workplaces to prevent people from wasting time.

Possible misuse of other people’s information or picture
It is not necessary that a person has himself or herself created a profile on Facebook. Some other person can post vital information about you, and even upload your picture, without your knowledge. Here’s what a school student has to say in this regard: “I would never join Facebook. I keep in contact with my "friends" in other ways. I feel Facebook is another vehicle for people to post pictures and say negative or untrue things about other people. Many people use it for good, but many do not. It is scary to me that someone could upload a picture they have of me, put it on their Facebook and spread a lie within minutes to multiple people all at once. I'd say be careful to anyone using this crazy fad.”

A source of envy and strife
It is the usual nature of humans to develop personalized feelings for people we are in contact. There is a ‘sense of belonging’ in emotional relationships, including friends. All cannot be treated in the same way. It is possible that some postings on FACEBOOK may offend or hurt our sincere friends.

The ‘openness’ of Facebook can, at a juncture, create envy and strife and break many hearts. The point that must always be borne is that human relationship is often, if not always, emotional, and cannot be ‘generalized’ on a social networking site.

How much privacy we really have?
It sounds good to say that Facebook gives its users total control over his or her privacy but the truth is different. Most of its users are children and junior youths who are not ‘experts’ and may not know about ‘privacy settings’. Even those who are old-aged may not know that third parties can access information about them.

For example, when you are playing a game or a quiz, you may authorize an application to be downloaded to your profile that gives information to third parties about you.

Your information may be sold to third parties
The new concepts of Facebook like OPEN GRAPH clearly indicate that Facebook is interested in getting as much information from you as possible. It actually is a way to share the information in your profile with all kinds of third parties, such as advertisers, so they can have a better idea of your interests and what you are discussing. The more info you share, the more money is coming to Facebook from advertisers.

Frauds and scams

As on Facebook all are connected through a network, each one’s security actually depends on the security of the other. For example, your friend’s profile may be hacked in case his or her password is stolen, and a spam or malware can be sent in his or her name. Your ‘friend’ may also request you money and believing that it is really your ‘friend’ you may act upon that request only to deprive yourself of a huge amount.

Are they all real?
Facebook and other similar networking sites thrive on a massive networking of people. For example, you may be networked with 400500 people or ‘friends’ and relying on their profile to be real. You don’t know each of them personally. Their photos and profiles may all be incredible. And yet you are letting them know what you are doing now, where you are, your friends and relatives and all such things.

Sometimes you don’t notice but your personal information reached undesirable people. Isn’t it dangerous? Remember, according to a study conducted in 2008, about 40 percent of all Facebook profiles are fake.

Not in keeping with Indian culture

Facebook is a western concept and may be good in their atmosphere. However, Indian – or broadly speaking entire ASIAN – atmosphere is not suitable for such ‘open-ness’. It is not necessary that modern social networking sites which fair well in West are also good for the East. It is only few years ago that many children of Japan committed collective suicide after setting a date and time on the net. Vulgarity, uploading of obscene pictures of friends and peers (especially girls) are other threatening dangers posing from time to time in Indian and Chinese schools.

Our culture has been a sane culture where it is believed that true liberty comes in the frame of true discipline of mind. We should not forget that the most free creatures on this earth are animals ... they have no moral question, no family ties, no obligations of relationships, no dignity or character. Are we going to be free like animals?

Quick tools for spreading rumours
Networking is good as it enables speedy communication. In that way a powerful thought, immediately required opinions and sharing of views on important issues can be easily obtained through networking media but the same networking media can be used for negative propaganda. Any person can start abusing someone else, defaming a prestigious institution, and harming a well-reputed company. Once a rumour is agog, it spreads fast according to the proverb that “ill news runs apace”. No doubt, Facebook and other similar websites have destroyed many relationships and defamed many great institutions.

So ... what’s FACEBOOK: A BOON OR BANE?
Every progress becomes a boon or a bane depending on how we use it. Facebook is not an exception.
When the Bab had foretold that a new era is about to appear when knowledge will be at the fingertips of children, He was surely referring to the unique potential this century of light will keep hidden. It is upon us how to use this potential.

Moderation is the law of God
(Do not screw the strings of your harp so tightly that they break, nor let them be so loose that no music is possible) -- This is the essence of the teaching of Lord Buddha known as the Middle Way.

Krishna teaches the same to His disciple: “O Arjuna! be moderate in eating, in sleeping, in every effort.”

And Mohammad said: "O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, but Commit no excess: for Allah loves not those given to excess."

Jesus Christ exhorts: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”

And finally, Baha’u’llah advises us in the following words: "If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation."

Every user, especially children, should be aware that FACEBOOK or any social networking site is not a charity. Even if they are FREE, They are earning money in billions and their main interest is in generating larger and larger revenues. We should not be foolishly trapped by their attractive packages. A writer has said: “If a sword is golden and glowing, I will not stab it into my bosom”. We cannot afford to be selfdestructive for little gains.

There is no harm using Facebook sometimes in a week or 10-15 minutes a day to catch up our friends and contacts but it should not become an addiction. It cannot be considered a wise passion to waste hours and hours sitting before a mute computer and forget the real sweetness of life that is all around us. It is nothing more than foolishness to create ‘virtual’ relations at the cost of sacrificing true relations of life. Is it not madness to see fake flowers on the wallpaper when a real garden of sparkling roses is just in front of us?

Get out of Trance …
Lets awake from our trance and open eyes to life. “Life is real .. life is earnest”, as poet Longfellow said. God created a real world for us. He could make a ‘virtual’ world, He could make flowers of finest papers with artificial fragrance, He could fill fake emotions in a mother’s bosom, false sense of responsibility for his children in a father’s heart. But God made a real world for us .. so that we share real tears and true smiles. God created this century of light so that we use our time and resources to make a better world, to use the knowledge at our fingertips for a brighter tomorrow.

YOUTH CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

….. and they will surely pass beyond this phase of Generation F to Generation G (i.e. Generation Godly) to fulfill the prophecy of the Bab which is so beautifully worded by a poet, John Addington Symonds:

ce e: a loftier ra ll b rise se things sha The known shall ath r the world h Than eve in their souls dom flame of free W ith in their eyes. dge ht of knowle And lig d, land with lan n, on with natio Nati mrades free; s co d shall live a b Unarme ain shall thro br ery heart and In ev y. one fraternit The pulse of

Man And shall lo ve m ferv Who e nt as t an with c ha Go d he a nt th he yo rt as ’s f a ung eir h ce w -eye pure eav ith u e d New ndis nly psa throng lms cord And arts sh befo a nt all b mig s on re loom A nd htie g. r mu eve whe sic t of loftie ry lif h n al e l the shall b rill the r mould , skie ea eart s, s h is para ong, dise .

Will not that be the real FACEBOOK of humanity?

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