Upon orders by the honourable and blawg overlord, Marcus van Geyzel, blawg editor Syazwina Saw shares with us her rambling thoughts from 2011* on social media, connectivity, and relationships.

I’m finding myself becoming increasingly estranged from the rest of my world — the one where things happen that require more than a smiley face and 140 characters. One where wedding invites come in the mail, and not through a little signal on the right corner of my computer screen. The one where I had to look into another person’s eyes and guess what they were feeling, rather than grope in the virtual darkness and ambiguity.

Remember that world? That world seems to have left me behind, tired of waiting for me to catch up, or to even find it relevant any more.

I’m not sure when it happened exactly. It may have been that time Aysel sent me the second invite to Facebook, telling me that, unlike Friendster (“You’re so Asian, Syaz! Friendster!”), I’d enjoy it. I learned that poking people online was much more fun, even as detached as I was from the entire experience.  At least when a person poked me virtually, they didn’t end up on the receiving end of my elbow. (It’s a reflex from 12 years of taekwondo and a small comfort.)

But then Facebook became a bit about stroking the ego, though. It still is. It’s all about making up conversations with friends, people you’ve spoken to only briefly or happen to have met from a friend of a friend of a… friend? It’s about creating links and associations where there weren’t any, or normally wouldn’t be. Oh, you’ve watched that movie? I love it! Owen Wilson is so good playing Owen Wilson. And you like Monet? But I like Monet! Oh wow!

And then you meet in person. And all that certainty, that huge blanket of a medium separating you from the rest of this person, that thing that allows you to focus only on this one detail you have in common and create imaginary friendships with — it gets taken away from you in a quick, painless grab. So you’re left there, standing alone, with this multifaceted, actual, living, breathing, staring person with you, and you’re trying hard to grab at strings in your head that had linked the two of you so. But those strings aren’t so much in your head as they are on your Facebook account. You learn to accept awkward pauses and skipping over pages and referencing online conversations past.

I have a best friend who I’ve only ever met several times. I can count our meet-ups on one hand. We got to know each other in person, and then we extended that friendship through MSN Messenger, and now here we are, three years of instant messaging, over 6,000 kilometres away, and two universities between us, and two lives, and countries, and continents, and she has a wedding in Istanbul in a few months that I cannot afford to attend. But we love each other and tell each other everything. We are each other’s anchor — perhaps each other’s only anchor — as we negotiate the rest of our worlds, virtual and real.

Now I’ve extended my rather limited social networking to Twitter. It all began after my final finals, really, when Tehran was going through that turmoil. I had the brilliant Alex Lobov as a connection online (again, a friend made through Facebook who’s guided me through this whole networking…thingymajig), and he was following all these people in Iran and the rest of the Middle East, and things were happening at a breakneck speed, and all this information was flying at me, and my brain felt like it was running on adrenaline. It got high on raw information, raw details, things happening live, and being relayed to me by people who were actually there. Like CNN, but free and with no annoying accents.

But I think it gave me an excuse to not face the real world, which was changing fast and threatened to do so without me. I wasn’t sure I liked it. I was leaving Melbourne for Malaysia, and my friends were all clucking about me, concerned, worried that they would miss me. They pleaded, perhaps in the same half-believing daze I was in, for me to stay.

Stay Shazster/I can keep you in my room, canim/I can’t believe you’re going. You’re going, Syaz/Please come back. It won’t be the same without you here/Lemme give you a hug/Please visit us. Please come back/You’ll miss us. OhmyGod Syaz you’re leaving Melbourne! When did this happen/Stay here, you know you want to – what could you possibly do there/I never thought you’d leave. It never crossed my mind.

The truth was, I’d fit in in Melbourne as an international student. That was my role, my niche. It took me a while to be well-adjusted, to understand the public transport system, to not be so shy around people, and my three years were up once I learned all that. I felt free in Melbourne, but that was because I was never expected to assimilate. I was different and strange. I was that girl from a little-known Asian country with the awesome food and the strangely familiar English accent. I was temporary. It was enough. Nothing more was expected of me.

And Malaysia, and family, and the rest of my life beckoned. So I trudged, hesitantly at first, but by the time I reached the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, I was trotting out the front doors and greeting the incredible wall of humidity with a huge embrace.

I’ve written about this before.

And then I was lost and the only thing that helped keep me relevant, which gave me a sense of place in the world, were Facebook and Twitter. Which was sad, because how they really posited me was as Not Being In Melbourne. But then I got a job and started my classes, and by the time summer holidays rolled around and the people I missed most in Melbourne came back to Malaysia, I realised that I’d left that world behind, that I no longer find it relevant. And that was fine. I think it’s what they call growing up, because maturity would be a bit of a stretch for me.

Twitter was getting interesting, too. In Malaysia, it consists of a rich network of people, all busy doing something and getting more people to join in through tweeting itself. Somewhere along the way, I got involved as well. The rambunctious LoyarBurok crew recruited me out of the blue, and I found myself amidst a group of very passionate lawyers and activists who, simply put, are just trying to make the country a better place to live in and with, though we don’t always agree on the means. It’s an interesting, fast-growing community which pulls you in and encourages you to join the flow of ideas.

But before that there was my brief time with Unscientific Malaysia. It was thanks to founding member Zurairi, who was convinced that I was what they maybe needed at the time. I had the chance to see it grow into an online presence in Malaysia, where online presence translates into serious urban cred. Or maybe it’s the same everywhere else, although I can’t imagine people being as hung up about being an online ‘name’ in Melbourne – who cares when you can be chilling under a tree, a coffee in one hand, a book in the other, and a whole lot of fun in between?

And now, I’m just here. Still wondering where my dreams went, and trying to figure out if they’ve gone too far, and wondering what it takes for me to get nearer to it — and if perhaps my virtual social life is preventing me from getting there, somehow.

*The original post can be found here.

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