Human civilization till the advent of cyber technology had revolved around the idea of space in varied contexts. Space matters whether it’s physical, cultural, emotional, intellectual, digital…the list goes on. What I argue here is that since we live in the age of internet explosion, digital space is becoming an important issue. Moreover, digital space should be a right that anyone can exercise. That’s exactly what I’ve started to do now.
After returning from Pokhara city last week, west of Kathmandu, I had this terrible feeling of having too many Facebook friends. It never bothered me—I have been using the social site for a couple of years—and suddenly I had developed this phobia where I feel exposed to so-called Facebook friends with whom I had almost no interaction. They had become a regular online spectator, constantly scrutinizing my posts and photos, and even one school friend inquiring if I had a girlfriend or not. Social media, thus, has created a world of affirmation and confirmation where you must reveal everything. If you don’t, then, there’s some problem with you. Something grave has happened to you. Therefore, I decided I had to exercise my right to digital space—I started deleting my Facebook friends.
It was a few years ago when I had almost 5, 000 social friends on Facebook. No one knows why 5, 000 is the limit for friends on Facebook. Even 500 social friends trouble me. That’s the size of a village or a town. Just imagine if you had 500 friends in reality—would you be able to cope with them? Unfortunately, digital space is a foreign idea to South Asians at least. It is not in our culture to give ‘space’ to our family, friends and even neighbors. We openly proclaim that it is our civil right to exercise the power to not give ‘space’ to other people. This is evident in stories of women and even men complaining about ‘intrusion’ by others. What fascinates me is that cultural intrusion is not only acceptable but constantly imposed in South Asian culture. Now that physical intrusion has translated into digital intrusion. Let’s not forget it’s the same people, from the status quo culture, who do not believe in giving space to others are now stalking on you digitally. I also had to change my privacy settings because I have come to know that strangers, friends, colleagues and unknown people search me on social sites and Google. This is not a paranoia because I have enough evidence to prove that people intrude my digital space with their arrière-pensée online attitude.
First, let me give you an example of my experience with a previous employer. My colleague, who was a junior, had the audacity to search everything about me ‘online’ and then repeatedly annoy me with bizarre questions. I had to intervene by saying that he had no right to intrude my digital space. Second, my so-called friends have regularly bugged me about my relationship status. Just because I don’t post couple photos don’t mean my sexual orientation is obscure. I wonder how difficult is for Nepali women compared to me. Do we need to expose our real relationships in the digital space to receive the confirmation that we are sexually approved by others? This is baffling in the sense that we live in a society that is full of secret and unknown closets. Why don’t people reveal their closets on online media too? They won’t. People will hate me. So, the part where one tries to conceal their real relationships is judged to be ‘different’. I feel bad for LGBT, minority, Muslim, and other communities who face unusual and aggressive intrusion compared to me. Who regulates digital space? Third, digital space is occupied by so-called online police. They are everywhere. Yes, scrutinizing our posts, shares, likes and even inactivity. This attitude is now ingrained, sadly, in people who were friends in the past. You haven’t met them for long nor interact with each other so the digital connection becomes limited to ‘what you post, that’s what I see.’ My mere existence is confirmed by digital presence. Therefore, I am saying goodbye to a lot of Facebook friends. I just need digital space and it doesn’t mean I will never talk to them when I meet them in the physical world.
I am done being exposed digitally and intruded for no reason. Digital space is not a matter of choice but it’s a right that should be enshrined in the laws of a nation. Studies have confirmed that we can only have 150 friends but even that number is high especially for thinkers and writers who are treated as ‘different’ from others. Digital space is important for women and minority groups who face intrusion on a regular basis. Digital space is important for sanity. If we want to change the culture of intrusion, we must step up to regulate digital space. The question is who will do that. I suddenly feel Orwell’s spirit possessing me.