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Facebook is a social networking website, for the five people left on earth who haven’t at the very least heard of it, which re-connects, or hopefully maintains an existing connection, between friends (more on that later). The main functions of the site are the newsfeed, in which you can read something one of/many of your friends might have posted as their “status”, or even, more and frustratingly more common, conversations which someone you know may be a part of, but which are in most cases completely irrelevant to your good self. You also are updated on timely information such as Fred likes Chips and Ulrika joined People Who Need People are the Luckiest People in the World (examples only…I think). People can also post links to anything of their choosing - videos, blogs, personal photos and news stories being the most common. Sometimes people will make mildly amusing or witty commentary and there will be a wee chat, which can be fun. Other times posts will sink into the abyss like a stone and we won’t talk about that ever again, lesson learned!
"Me. Myself, I"
There is also a profile page, which is as far as I can tell is completely the same for everyone in layout, unlike Myspace you cannot make a pretty picture behind you vital stats. At first it can feel a bit aseptic if you are used to playing with colour and design. Your profile informs people of your posts and other activity, and people can write messages to you on your “wall” – aka profile page (there is also a private messaging facility, which in the current format consists of a teeny tiny envelope icon at the top of the page. Many people, including my Mother, never knew it existed and will instead write things not meant for public consumption on walls. I cannot count the number of times I have had to explain to Mummy that yes everyone can see the Wall. There are some amusingly embarrassing moments of others’ torments documented here, for instance http://failbook.failblog.org/tag/awkward-moments/. Because Facebook is, let’s be honest, not about intimate, direct expression, it is a field of glory for exhibitionists and peeping toms alike, but often one of gory despair for those less inclined to gather and gaggle.
I was slightly late to join the Facebook party. My only prior experience of online social “networking” was Myspace, which seems to have gone the way of the dinosaur. Myspace lacked the incestuously interactive properties of Facebook, the nosing about was more private, it was mostly about bands begging you to be their friend, listening to new songs which is still fun and totally worth venturing over for, with the occasional exchange with real life friends. Which was fine, in fact, it was arguably more direct and honest in many ways than the intricate social miasma that seems to pervade Facebook the longer you are on it (if you are bitter and twisted like me that is, if you are one of those annoying social butterfly types who Twitters their every breathless experience because you think people NEED TO KNOW, you will thrive like a hothouse flower).
I don’t (entirely) think Facebook is the devil. To start off with it can be really good fun. You think you don’t care what happened to your childhood best friend, or how many school heroes/enemies have gotten rich/fat/progressively happier/more miserable? You might be surprised. Because it’s a feast of faces- you might think you won’t be tempted to snoop, but sometimes people are hard to ignore. It can be a lot of fun to catch up with people who, let’s face it, you never would have spoken to again, if indeed the friendship just naturally got lost in the sands of time as they sometimes do. There is the argument of course that people drift apart for a reason, but Facebook is a place where the most tenuous of connections can, to some, become firmaments under the label “friend”. I know I should not treat the term literally, as “friend” in Facebook speak can mean anything from distant relation/person you met once at a party/former/current co-worker/anyone you have the details of and are willing to effectively stalk.
"You've Got to Have Friends?"
Facebook friends are often people who are your actual friends, at least to start out with. You might feel safe and smug, chatting away with your mates – Ah, those early halcyon days, treasure them while they last. What at first feels like a natural, albeit online and somewhat impersonal, party, can quickly descend into a pit of social degradation, rejection, emotional blackmail and general mortification. At first little things will niggle you – like why does your good friend feel the need to comment on other, distant acquaintances pages, but ignores your own witty reposts? This would never happen in the real world, in the real world these people do not exist. In Facebook-land, you will quickly realise that, don’t take it personally, you are on a level playing field with every other person, regardless of how slight the connection (in many instances).
Facebook is not a measure or expression of friendship in the most important ways – yes it can elicit sympathy and encouragement when necessary (largely when the Facebook needy types demand it). People whose mild eccentricities in real life are charming can quickly become irritating, infuriating in extreme cases, if you are not careful (i.e. block their newsfeeds and check in occasionally to make sure they are still alive!). Their marathon, several times a day updates about their food intake, weather forecast, general life grumblings which in most instances elicit emphatic encouragement, with excessive and frequent repetition become irksome.
Or maybe that’s just me. The frequent status updater is an admitted bugbear of mine: I did this and this and this today, aren’t I wonderful? being the most common (to which any good friend must at the very least click the "like" button, the lazy man's easy out). Or the perpetual hypochondriac/ill person. Not to mention the enigmatic poster, perhaps my favourite – “Life is so unfair sometimes…” (cue impassioned pleas for what has the person on the edge, when more often than not their cat piddled on the floor). I myself try not to frequent these groups although I am sure I have on occasion irritated others with my (never more than once a week, honest!) ramblings.
Call me a grumpy sourpuss, fair enough, but human empathy only runs so deep. If you complain more than once a day (ok week), I will quickly run out of ways to say anything other than “Shut up and suck it up already”. I cannot emphasise enough that many people who are perfectly adorable in real life are Facebook narcissists of the worst order. I honestly think internet addiction is as much to blame, if someone is not getting enough attention at home, feels undervalued at work, where’s the harm in a little subtly demanded ego stroking? It just gets tiresome to those not in the habit rather quickly.
Another unfortunate, but well documented occurrence is friend whoring. As in, adding people you really don’t know other than say, you met them once, their cousin knows your cousin, etc.. I don’t mind this terribly as in most instances it harms no one. However, a side effect of the friend whoring phenomenon, is when your own private circle of friends are leapt upon like a juicy buffet by someone in your acquaintance determined to up their numbers. Most are helpless to say no to a friend request from a friend of a friend as that would be rude. I find this frankly embarrassing, especially when people, who really should know better, feel the need to comment on my friends’ statuses and whatnot. Which isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I know, but I know plenty of other people who have been irked by similar behaviour enough to confront the person. It’s something only a bore like me would find quite so mortifying, but there it is. Social niceties are a thing of the past which you might as well accept Facebook will wipe out one by one.
What also surprised me particularly was the number of people who were schoolyard mortal enemies who are now bosom buddies. I generally try to ignore this behaviour but when I see people I respect falling into it I really do have to bite my tongue. Recently I made a gently teasing remark to a friend whom I have been close with for over 20 years, to which she took no offense. Someone we went to school with nigh on twenty years ago who was if anything a nemesis of my friend’s took it upon themselves to intervene on her behalf and call me rude. I do sometimes think that I am just not cut out for this party. I sincerely do not see the point in re-writing history. Ignore all this stupidity and rise above it, is the sensible reply.
Um yeah, so it might be patently obvious I am a little burnt out on Facebook. And I honest to goodness spend very little time there these days (always the best solution). It is quite good for Scrabble and other time killer games which all seem to be pretty much interchangeable (I’ve tried out being a pirate, a mobster, vampire and a sorority girl, all of which had their moments but in the end are a bit repetitive. They also all seem to require adding mass numbers of complete strangers to your friends, which again is a privacy issue. To be fair I haven't had much trouble with this, no one has spammed me, although I do tend to delete people after the gaming bond is established. I also have a separate list of "Gaming" friends who do not have access to my profile (I think!).
Most of the games I have tried are intuitively easy to grasp, essential for a gaming dunce like me and no doubt part of the mass appeal (although I have no desire to tend a virtual farm). While I do enjoy Scrabble it must be noted the chat facility does invite a fair few perverts, so I do tend to stick to same sex Scrabble if it can be helped!
While I’m on the subject of games, I may as well address one of the main bugbears people seem to have – getting incessant updates on people’s gaming habits. This is admittedly hugely annoying, but also easily rectifiable. Either the person playing the game (preferable but often they are ignorant , especially in early game playing days), or you yourself can choose to block the application by clicking on the (invisible until you click on it) icon to the far right of whatever update it is and choose to block all updates from the game. Easy peasy. Or you could just join one of the myriad groups of people who made a group to dislike the pesky gamers- being grumpy about something seems nearly as popular as being a fan of something on Facebook. This, while momentarily encouraging, is being a bit rubbished by Facebook itself suggesting numerous things for you to like/not like on the newsfeed page. Independent thought is no longer necessary in the la la land of pokes.
On the home page there are often a lot of annoying ads – to be fair, on the far right side and thus far no popups –recently though, you get numerous, seemingly endless (and yes I have futilely attempted to make Facebook run out of things to suggest to me!), suggestions of things you may/should like. Normally it is something several of your friends have chosen to like, but at some point the whole thing does seem unbearably pointless (yes I like this band and that food but it’s not an organic thing now is it because it was suggested to me), and just another outlet of Facebook’s endless data tracking, which by the way, as well as providing you with a free networking service, they are helping themselves to seemingly willy nilly.
Many of the quizzes and other seemingly innocent applications request access to you and everyone you know's vital stats, which is inarguably intrusive - again, easily avoided. Once you've seen one Twilight/What colour is your aura quiz, you've seen them all. Most seem to be written by grammatical illiterates as well so are best avoided anyway!
Recently they changed every user’s fall back status to let essentially anyone be privy to their details – without telling them! Oh Facebook, you pesky stalker you. This can be rectified, but it took an independent chainmail outlining the details how to do it yourself. Facebook itself seems content being the quiet, looming, Big Brother presence in the room - selling all of your information and counting its profits. It is something many people are aware of but relatively few seem bothered by. The two people I know who are not on Facebook for this reason are IT professionals however, which I do find amusing. For awhile the ads were doing a creepy thing where they zeroed in on my age and assumed I must be wrinkly and/or fat and offered up a plethora of solutions with the mere click of a button. The boffins at Facebook hadn’t put together that reminding a woman of her age directly is never going to be an incentive to make her shop - insult me and then ask for my money? More fool you, creepy ad men.
"This is The End, My Friend"
What more is there to cover? Social pariah-ism, check, blocking out people to stop them annoying you so, check – although this can backfire – I once bumped into a friend (an honest, real life one) who I hadn’t seen in a while – when I asked how things were the actual reply was ”Oh well, you know, Facebook about covers it.” I know, we’ll forgive them this once – I was completely in the dark though, the assumption being that a real friend reads their friends’ every movement. I became more than a little paranoid and smiled blankly. If this was some bizarre modern social test of friendship I do wonder what the world is coming to. I do confess to checking people’s updates slightly more often now though!
At some point you do question (well I do anyway) why bother. I have several friends who are keen to jump ship. Like me, they are fed up of certain aspects. And it’s not just a female thing either – my other half wanders on once in a while and boggles at much of the behaviour. My own, female experience of it is, it must be noted entirely different to the average male response - many men seem to enjoy putting up embarassing ancient photos of one another and reverting to teenage style insults. Or talking about football. Or posting funny videos. I have yet to see a man display any of the behaviours I have mentioned previously, which is arguably a much healthier take on it. Women, not all, but some, seem to treat Facebook as a diary cum social preening network, whereas men have the arguably more healthy tack of not investing too much personal attention. They just don't seem bothered by social annoyances as much, which I think is the best way to treat it in retrospect!
It is tricky for me as I do like keeping in touch with long distance pals and many of my Facebook exchanges are positive ones (despite all my grumpy ramblings). I get to see my friends’ kids grow up, even if it is only online, it is great to chat to people (although always check first if there is no one you want to chat to). I have had several perplexing instances of people trying to chat to me who I barely know (and yes more fool me for adding them in the first place). My mature response is usually to go “offline” (one of the few useful applications is that you can be unavailable for chat, so effectively invisible). I have had countless random chats that branched off topic that were good fun, have been exposed to far more viral sensations than I would have otherwise, and generally am more in the loop with friends’ day to day existences than I ever would be without Facebook.
As essentially meaningless as Facebook can be, sadly it can also be a painful reminder of friends who are friends only in the tenuous land of Facebook. To remove a friend is considered the deepest cut, especially when many others in your circle are still friends. You don’t want to be the bad guy, so you just keep the façade up, although it can be rather impossible to ignore people who have drifted out of your life when they are interacting with everyone around you. I have only experienced the highs and lows of friendships on the site, I can only imagine the torture romantic entanglements might entail. I really don’t envy people growing up today, it is a whole other aspect to deal with. I am an adult but still get ribbed by my Mother. I can only imagine the intense humiliation teenagers must feel. I really don’t think it’s healthy for the two to mix in most cases, in fact much of what is inclusive on Facebook is downright unnatural in the real world.
Familial and marital relations have traditionally been largely separate from friendships. When you swirl them all together it can get messy, and the fact that people behave differently in all of their various incarnations can quickly get muddled and misunderstood. I really don’t want to know in many instances, sometimes I think I am alone though. I also don’t get why people I think I know behave in such odd ways to try and fit in with people who they don’t interact with in real life. I get that there will always be people who thrive on the more superficial aspects of networking, I myself do like to natter about silly stuff, sometimes it just seems the silly stuff is all there is.
Well that’s all a bit of a ramble. At any rate, there you have it, my psychobabble take on the la la land of Facebook. Don’t worry, if you are not remotely introverted or sensitive, it will all be a breeze. And honestly it can be, my advice is, after learning the hard way I suppose, not to take any of it to heart, and keep a healthy distance (i.e. have a life). There are numerous fun things to do on the site besides observe human relations, like erm…join groups that define some seemingly nuanced aspect of your personality that also contain 100,000 members. And play Scrabble. Or poke people. Watch out for the weirdos though!
Brilliant. I've never quite seen the point of Facebook and thankfully, at my age, I don't feel under the remotest pressure to join. But I do feel for youngsters who might not feel comfortable with the mania and daren't admit it.