I live in a countryside called Wada, where girls and boys generally don’t interact with each other. I personally never talked to a girl outside my relations and neighborhood till I moved to Mumbai for my higher studies.
Human beings learn things through imitation. We never saw our seniors in school talk to girls. Girls and boys traditionally used to sit separately in classrooms and no teacher tried to break that tradition. It was the first implicit message given to us that you are not supposed to mingle with girls. No one told us to not talk to the girls. None of us received flak for talking to a girl. But friendship between a girl and a boy was outside societal norms and we knew it.
But new technology has given a major blow to this status quo. The proliferation of mobile phones and adoption of Facebook in last couple of years is giving new dimension to the relationships between the opposite sexes.
Mobile phones allow teenagers to communicate without being surveilled. No one has to know who you are talking to if you can talk without being heard (most teenagers have their favourite places and times for this purpose). SMS (short message service) takes this convenience a step further. You can talk to your ‘friend’ even in the presence of your parents, without them getting to know about it. As a result the number of courtships, elopements and love marriages have risen sporadically in the last few years.
The ever decreasing cost of electronic gadgets and telephone services has made sure that every teenager has either an internet-enabled smartphone or a feature phone in her palm. And the first access point for these netizens is, but obvious Facebook. Facebook has literally challenged the norms in our society. Telling a girl how pretty she looks on her face will otherwise be a very creepy thing to do, but not so on Facebook. Girls routinely upload their pictures on the site and boys ‘like’ them and post flattery comments.
Our society has a diaspora of students who have gone to cities for higher studies. This diaspora is more liberal and modern in their approach. This has further liberated the public sphere on Facebook. Though WhatsApp has still not caught on here, Facebook Chat is the next best thing available to these teenagers. Again, there is no surveillance and it’s better than SMS. Facebook Chat also allows people to nurture some ‘special’ friendships.
New technology has liberated the society. The trend has not remained limited only to mobile phones and Facebook. It has permeated in physical world too (though the extent is still limited). Classroom interactions between boys and girls have increased. Parents are becoming comfortable with the idea of platonic relationships between their teenage daughters and sons. Love marriages are no more taboos. Though this is a result of fundamental change in the society, attributable to many other factors, technology can take major credit for this.