Parenting Facebook with Facebooking parents

Give someone a fish, and they will eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. You don’t want to be bothered by anyone ever again? Teach them how to use Facebook.

When our mother wanted to join this popular social networking site, her innocent offspring never dreamed that

–they would have a third contender for Internet time on the laptop

–drama serials would no longer vie for space with football matches on the TV

–their mother would learn to employ the phrase “two minutes” in the same flexible manner that youngsters use.

It’s not that she didn’t use the Internet before. In fact, she was the first one to start using it in the days when its chief social service was email, becoming electronically connected before her children did. It’s just that learning the ropes of social networking is a totally different ball game from email, especially when you’re the type of person who never, ever clicks without knowing beforehand what it will do. (I think that is the factor that distinguishes youngsters’ learning curves from their parents’. The former learn how to get around websites on their own but the latter are reluctant to venture into the unknown. And before net-savvy parents blast me into oblivion, let me add that this is not a universal rule.) Due to this reason, I made a habit to take something to do as I took up my post as chief advisor alongside my mother as she made her debut on Facebook. I must say, her excitement level was much higher than that of her been-there-done-that kids:

Brother (in a matter-of-fact tone): “I thinned out my friends list recently, and I still have 400 Facebook contacts.”

Me (dully): “I have around 250.”

Mama (her face glowing with enthusiasm): “I have three!”

Every person who has travelled with their parents along their Facebook learning curves has had one feature in particular which turns out to be tricky. With my friend, it was the “notifications” feature, where you get alerts whenever someone interacts with you. Her mother, an official personal assistant who uses the Internet every day, was disturbed by this:

“But why do they tell me about it? I didn’t ask them to tell me.”

Ammi, it’s so you know what they’re doing.”

“But I don’t want to know what they’re doing!”

My “tricky” bit came along one day when I saw my mother get up from the laptop and head towards the phone, instinct told me to ask what she was doing; usually nothing short of an earthquake  could interrupt a session of her favourite online game. My gut feeling turned out to be right:

Mama: “I’m calling our Internet service provider.”

Me: “Why?”

Mama: “The Internet isn’t working.”

Me: “What in the Internet isn’t working?”

Mama: “FarmVille.”

Notice that I knew what question to ask and did not take her assessment of the status of the Internet to be final (that’s chief advisor experience talking). I stopped her from making the call by explaining how a faulty Internet connection was different from a website being down and how a website was hosted on different servers from the third-party applications featured on it. Chief advisor Iqra saves the day! Or, well, one call centre employee’s day, anyway.

A usual day goes like this:

Me: “When the load shedding is over and the electricity comes back at 6pm, I’ll go write that on Facebook.”

Mama: “Sure you will, but at 6:10pm. My game crops are going to wither otherwise.”

Me: “All right.”

Mama (later): “Hmm, Anam’s crops are all withered and she’s been neglecting her other games, too. She usually keeps up with her games. I wonder what has happened. I’ll have to ask when I meet her tomorrow.” (Later, reading aloud): “Support us in the fight against…but why are they sending me this? How did this get into my inbox?”

Me (coming over): “See, over there, it says ‘sent to all members of…’. You’re a member of this group.”

Mama: “I never signed up for this group!”

Me (clicking over to the group): “See here? ‘Remove as member’. Why would it say that if you hadn’t already joined?”

Mama: “But I didn’t join this!” (Pointing at an affiliated group): “I meant to join that one!”

Me: “…”

I may have lost online time but I got a friendly Internet presence who gets genuinely excited over virtual roses sent to her by her daughter—a fair exchange any day. I like seeing her around. And the best thing is that she no longer wonders why on earth we spend so much time on Facebook because she clocks in regular hours herself!

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Life Management

Dear Human,

This is to inform you that life as you know it has been binned. There were a lot of complaints regarding life as it had been, so it was decided that a new system be adopted, which will hopefully be pleasing to everyone. As of now, life is an RPG. There is no need to worry; this letter outlines everything you need to know.

 

First things first. You will not age! That does away with the whole search for everlasting youth thing. No need to bother scientists with genetic research and the like. Convenient, huh? Instead, you will gain experience points as you defeat monsters on the field, which will allow you to move up from level to level and become stronger. This will allow you to be able to kill stronger beasties and become even stronger, until you hit the roof, level 99, at which nothing will pose a challenge to you anymore. At this level, you can either choose to revisit old areas and watch adversaries shrivel up at your mere presence, or you can head towards one of the crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super challenge dungeons to pit yourself against crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super enemies to obtain useless special items and abilities, useless because there is nothing besides wimpy regular monsters to use them against. This new life will be heaven for obsessive-compulsives.

 

Ah, money! No need to worry about that anymore. No more sitting 9 to 5 at a desk working your bum off. Just go out there and kill some fiends who will hopefully drop some coins on their way to the afterlife. You’ll make a nice pretty bundle for yourself after killing a million of them, which you’ll have to spend on better equipment so you can kill a million more. Speaking of work, the word “boss” has a completely different meaning in this new world. It no longer means the red-faced guy who calls for you as you’re about to sit down to a cup of tea or the person who gives you days off from work as if they came from his personal bank account. It now means a usually large monstrosity of variable shape and appearance whose purpose of existence is to sit around filing its nails (or whatever equivalent it has) until you come along, whereupon it makes a dramatic entry and proceeds to unleash a barrage of sequenced attacks on you until you bite the dust or compel it to do the same. A good boss is that which knocks you down in two seconds flat whereas a poor boss is that which can be hack-slashed to oblivion without having to work out any strategy. Remember the system of exams you had in that old life? Well, here you have bosses. The only difference being that bosses can bite (or flash lightning or shake up an earthquake, as the case may be).

 

You will also be relieved of listening to Aunt Nono’s daily report on how her blood pressure is doing. You can only talk to certain people and that too when you approach them; they don’t initiate conversation. They will rattle off a few lines and will only change what they say after you pass a major milestone in your life. Talk about kicking MySpace, Facebook and the rest right in the teeth! And of course, that outdated device called the telephone, too.

 

No life is free from duty. Many responsibilities will fall on your shoulders. Not the old fetch-the-milk and take-out-the-garbage, however. All the residents of the communities you visit will entrust you with the solutions of their worries and mishaps. You will have to find lost pets, recover and deliver letters, parcels and keys, carry messages (we scrapped that annoyance called the Internet, remember), kill any beasties they want removed, and, in short, act as a messenger, exterminator, matchmaker and agony helpline all rolled into one. Lots of patience is required, as every single person will unload their sad life story to you. Saving the world from grave peril, tyrannical domination and global warming will all fall to your lot. Of course, not a single soul besides you will be capable, worthy or just plain unlucky to have the job handed to them.

 

What if the slings and arrows of fortune prove to be too much for you? Have no fear, just pocket some restorative items to use when you’re feeling run down. If you need more than a boost, just drag yourself to the nearest save crystal/ring/emblem/thingy—a whole new you! (Let the anti-wrinkle advertisements beat that!) We ditched illness; too much trouble. Afflictions with a cure just one potion-drink away is the way to go. Don’t worry about not being able to carry enough stuff; even if all you have is a utility belt, you can carry a caravan’s worth of things easily. Now that we touch upon the subject of clothing, it really must be mentioned that females aren’t allowed to wear more than 500cm2 of cloth. They can think of imaginative ways to make getups that give the appearance of being clothed, but on no account must they exceed the limit. It’s detrimental to the environment. We don’t want people getting bored, now, do we? Don’t worry, it’ll have absolutely no practical effect. You’ll be able to move around snow-capped peaks and bug-filled forests and go head-to-head with slime-spewing lizards and flame-breathing dragons just as easily as you could have done wearing the appropriate garb.

 

It is hoped that these guidelines will be useful. Wishing you a cyclic, explorative and successful life,

The Management

 

Dear Troubled,

It has come to our notice that you have not found the current mode of life suitable. To facilitate your desires, we have done away with the RPG system and have set up a new system in its place: the Platformer system. As before, we will discuss the implications of this change to make adjusting easier for you.

 

Life is now much more streamlined and linear. The walk of life is clearly set out before you in a continuous path with well-defined obstacles (canyons to jump across, levers to pull, high ground to jump up to, to name a few. Talk about problem-solving made simple!). You will no longer face the hassle of making choices. The challenges to be faced will be promptly sent your way for you to handle them one by one. No more strife for energy and wealth; both are laid out along your path for you to collect. You don’t have to juggle a caravan of items now, either. Just remember to keep an eye out for life tokens along the way; as failure to pass most obstacles results in instant death by falling on a wall of spikes, being crushed between two walls coming together, drowning in a swamp or other interesting methods. The use of a life token brings you right back on the field, though.  To break up the pattern there are mini-tasks where you assist the incapable inhabitants of the world with menial jobs. You can also get new abilities that will allow you to pass new obstacles and help more of the populace. Of course, you must vanquish evil in this world, too, by spending 95% of the time getting to the evil and 5% defeating it. Your life will not be devoid of purpose once you have done this, as the evil (or its twin brother) will crop up once more for you to handle.

 

Here’s to a repetitive, fulfilling and bouncy life,

The Management

 

Dear Discontent,

You have complained about the Platformer life, so we bring you a life without bosses, creepy-crawlies and limitless regeneration: The Sims! Here’s how this life is going to be like:

 

You get to choose what you’ll be like from a selection of custom-made options. You also get to choose who you’ll live with and what they’ll look like. Such flexibility and choice was unheard of in the past lives, including your original one. Your main aim is to make sure the meters meant to be high remain high and the meters meant to be low remain low, keeping your hunger, mood and energy etc in balance. You can also design where you’ll live however you want—once you get enough money for it, that is. To get money, you send yourself off to work and sit around waiting for yourself to come back so you can deal with the meters again. You have the choice between free will and no will. With free will, you will automatically deal with the meter that needs the most attention; with no will, when you are unattended to you will simply stand and scream at the heavens for days on end, urinating on the spot, having fits, until (due to lack of attention) you ultimately die, vanishing to leave a gravestone where you once were. No matter, you can always make a new you. Making friends is essential. Just invite people over, command yourself to give them compliment after compliment, and after awhile they’ll open up enough for you to do other actions. If a fire breaks out in your house, simply cancel the action of panicking and hollering that you are carrying out at the moment and direct yourself to get the fire extinguisher. When you put food in the microwave, it is compulsory for you to stand with your face in the microwave window. While dancing, simply follow repetitive, angular, jerky movements; your fellow dancers don’t know how to dance any better than you do. Best of all, time is in your hands. You can make it flow at a normal pace, or, if you’re engaged in an activity you know will take some hours, set it to fast forward so you can get to the next activity quicker. If life gets monotonous, just get an expansion pack to get more activities to do.

 

Quite simple and non-threatening. We hope this will satisfy you at last.

The Management

 

Dear Hopeless,

You fail to like anything we set up for you; obviously, you don’t have the neurons to appreciate complexity. Therefore, the best thing for you is to live as Pacman. Your whole life is on a single screen. Just eat all the food there is (the best, and possibly only, source of motivation there is) while avoiding the ghosts. If you can figure it out, eating the special food lets you eat the ghosts too. If you manage to complete one level, go to the next. Nothing new to do, just a new maze to negotiate; hopefully the novelty of this will not overwhelm you.

 

The sheer challenge of this will be enough to keep you occupied for eternity.

The Management


 

Originally published in SPIDER Magazine.