Nothing like the personal touch

I RECENTLY disconnected myself from Facebook. But this is not going to stop the social networking website from registering its 200 millionth user anytime soon.

It was in August last year that Facebook signed up its 100 millionth member. In less than eight months, this number has doubled.

Not bad for a five-year-old start-up born in a dormitory at Harvard whose co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is only 24 years old, just two years older than my eldest son.

I have nothing against Facebook. It is a great social networking tool and you will be amazed at how many people actually share similar interests with you, and are willing to tell the whole world about it.

It’s a great place to locate long-lost friends. Recently, I reconnected with a Canadian friend whom I had met while backpacking through Europe in my wild and carefree days.

It was a timely meeting in cyberspace as his father was about to celebrate his 80th birthday.

I sent him, via an online transaction, a Selangor Pewter mug for the big day. It would have brought back many pleasant memories of his visit to Malaysia nearly 10 years ago.

Such is the beauty of the Internet and there is no doubt that the world has shrunk tremendously because of it.

A dear friend has just started mission work with the Darfur refugees in Chad and it is such a joy to get her regular email updates and even see her through the occasional Skype video conversations.

While we can, and should connect, with one another across huge distances, I have my reservations about connecting in this manner to those who are physically close to us.

A friend recently gave a talk about the value of face to face communication and he used figures from cyberspace to remind us that being part of a network of millions of people cannot compare to being up close and personal with one other person.

How true. For all the modern conveniences of communication that we crowd our lives with, we also know that it is so much more meaningful when someone takes the trouble to write us a hand-written note, give us an unexpected phone call, or drop by unannounced at our home.

Conversations, up close and personal, minus disruptions from the handphone, are increasingly rare these days. But they are priceless.

I took myself off Facebook because there was just too much information overload. The networking with friends overseas is fine but it seems rather ridiculous when we chat with a friend via the computer when he is just 200m away enjoying his teh tarik.

We must fight this trend that is transforming us from personal human beings to impersonal statistics.

And I intend to tell all my friends about it. Now if only all of them have email addresses.

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