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“I’m Feeling …” – Status Messages on Social Media

ShriramVenkatraman25 February 2015

Photo by Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

Photo by Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons)

 

“Smiling :)”

“Happy !!!!!!!”

“Feeling Sad…”

“Irritated!”

Do the above look like private messages that one sends? More often than not at Panchagrami, they end up as Status messages on Facebook or WhatsApp groups.

Though these messages might authentically represent a person’s state of mind at a given point of time, there is no denying that such status messages receive much more responses (As Likes or Comments on Facebook or as questions on WhatsApp) at a rate faster than other posts. These kinds of messages normally occur with higher frequency among the young people  (less than 30 years old) at Panchagrami.
Status messages such as these tend to have a sense of mystery attached to them and would never reveal the whereabouts of the person (home/office/college or at a shopping center – where does he/she post this message from?) or if this message is related to ones personal or professional life or just something they encountered.

For example: A message such as “Pissed Off!” normally tends to have responses that could be put into several categories,

it could be serious —– “Sorry for you…What happened?”
it could be sarcastic —– “Once again?” or “Me Too!”
it could be an advice —- “Take a walk bro…things would be alright”
or offering immediate support —- ” Call me at +9199******08″
or it could be a joke —- “Take a leak” or “Don’t do it on your chair”

and for no reason a message such as this can attract two dozen Likes on Facebook – now this cannot be categorized under anything.

A message such as “I am smiling” can have responses such as

“I know why”

“What’s brewing?”

“Its good to smile. Smile often”

“hmmmm… hmmmm…”

A look at these messages leads one to reason out the ready support system that a person might have, though one cannot deny that there is a
level of performance associated with this as well. However, letting your ready audience know of a state of mind that one is in has its own strong and weak points. While several point out that channeling your frustration with your boss at work onto WhatsApp/Facebook as a status message and attracting a few soothing responses might calm your nerves, several also believe that people tend to overuse this platform for venting out their day to day frustrations, a few even criticize the neediness of the people who post such messages.

However, interviewing college students at Panchagrami revealed that authenticity of such messages in itself needs to be questioned at times.
Observing that such messages now attract a lot more responses, a few use it to their strategic advantage in order to receive more Likes and comments on their profile.

Now…”I’m Amused!”

The secret world of the inbox

JolynnaSinanan24 April 2013

Photo courtesy of Harlan Harris, Creative Commons

This is my last week in my field site until 2014. I’ve been hussling to spend as much time with as many people as I can in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been invited to a wedding, a ceremony of Hindu prayers (a puja), a political rally, a cd launch by a local band and a high school reunion on a cruise. Ethnographically, all great stuff. Some days, I’ve just been leaving my apartment with my worldly possessions tied in a gingham tablecloth attached to a stick and wandering around to see where the day goes and who I’ll end up talking to (metaphorically. I’m actually in the car, driving around and checking in on different informants to see if it’s convenient to hang around.) Last Friday was particularly rainy for a dry season day in El Mirador so I decided to try some virtual fieldwork on Facebook, a habit I’ll have to get into from next week when I leave Trinidad. I had a look at the timelines of around 20 friends- informants I know quite well and people I’d asked to complete a questionnaire and I saw something that gave me that heart-in-your-stomach-oh-my-God-I’ve-been-in-the-field-for-six-months-and-I’ve-got-it-all-wrong feeling. There was very little activity on most of those timelines for the last month, a friend added here and there, an occasional meme or tagged photo, an occasional status, but for the majority of those pages, there was a sharp decline in activity than when I arrived six months ago.

Is this the start of the decline of Facebook in Trinidad? When I come back, will there be a new popular social networking site? It is those particular individuals? Is it just a quiet time of year? I caught up with a few of those people this week and asked them what their most common used feature of Facebook was this last month. Almost unanimously, it was the private message inbox and it was used almost every day.

What it means to be visible in Trinidad is a key theme in understanding Trinidadian personhood. Trinidadians have a language for visibility, bacchanal: drama, scandal, commotion, gossip, fas: to point something out and make a big deal of it and maco: to get into other people’s business (usually unwanted attention). Cultural idioms of visibility are embedded in Carnival through the use of the stage, spectacle, performance as a transformation of the self. The nature of performance, staging and being seen are all things that Trinidadians understand well.

The other side of controlling what is seen and how is controlling what is concealed and how. Razvan Nicolescu’s assertion in his project blog post from earlier this month, that “new technology grants people freedom to work towards what they actually want to be” is certainly resonant in Trinidad. People go through extraordinary efforts to amplify aspects of themselves they want to be seen and at the same time concealing others. And here, perhaps like in Italy, “the individual and the society press people into particular kinds of persons.” The ‘Trinidadian’ element is the constant negotiation of revealing and concealing, some of these informants were quite pleased that their timeline looked inactive and perhaps boring, as there was a lot of activity going on in Goffman’s backstage of the inbox (even some bacchanal) and nobody knew it was there.

It is starting to look like my virtual fieldwork is going to take the form of sitting on my couch, in front of my tv, ice cream on the table and hanging around the Facebook inbox. Leaving the Caribbean for now suddenly doesn’t seem so disheartening.