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Social Disease

Nicola Mostyn on the evil genius that is Facebook and is it still relevant?

Published on March 6th 2008.

Social Disease

What are you doing right now? Are you playing Scrabulous? Sending Good Karma? How many hotness points do you have? What’s your score on the movie trivia challenge? Who’s your 80s hunk? What serial killer are you? Which Spice girl? How many friends do you have? Would you like to be my friend?

In real life, people have a fairly fixed idea of what a ‘friend’ is, lest they find themselves drinking real ale with a plane enthusiast and looking to kill themselves with a beermat.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are not on Facebook. But, then, if you aren’t on Facebook, who are you, really? I mean, how are we meant to know what you did last night? Where can we see pictures of your wedding? How are we supposed to find out what’s on your bookshelf, or what groups you’ve joined, or how you’re feeling today? Unless, um..I guess..we could actually talk to you. But who’s got time to talk when there are all these zombie invitations to respond to?

It wasn’t always like this. Six months ago I thought the social networking phenomenon had passed me by – and some people think it’s already moved on again. Every time I clicked through to a myspace page it gave me a headache. Like the inside of a teenager’s bedroom it was always too dark, too confusing and too messy. That’s it, I decided. I am officially old. Technology has overtaken me. I didn’t actually mind.

Then the first Facebook friend invite landed in my inbox. Then the next. Then the next. Hmm, I thought. I wonder what this malarkey is all about? Might be worth a quick look…And, BANG, they had me. I uploaded my profile pic, invited my friends and hooked myself up to the evil genius that is Facebook. My working life has become a lot less productive ever since. On the up side, I do know what that guy I fancied in 4th juniors had for lunch.

Facebook, for those who have been living in a cave for the last six months, is a social networking site which allows you to share updates, photos, games and, indeed, your every waking thought with anyone with whom you have become ‘friends.’

In real life, people have a fairly fixed idea of what a ‘friend’ is, lest they find themselves drinking real ale with a plane enthusiast and looking to kill themselves with a beermat. On Facebook, you’ll find those rules are rather more relaxed. Can one really define as a friend someone who you lost touch with twenty years ago and never liked that much anyway? Oh, why the hell not. It’s easier than saying no to their friend request and you’re never going to have to actually meet them, anyway. Thus Facebook friendship groups take on a wonky, all-encompassing shape and, via the minute by minute status updates and newsfeeds, you are able to keep abreast of the life-changes of some girl you met through a friend of a friend one drunken night at Kro Bar. It’s really very odd.

And also, addictive. So far I have resisted adding a lot of novelties Facebook throws my way, not because I’m not tempted but because, as a freelancer, I’d very quickly find myself penniless but with a very good idea what my sexual personality is, who I was in a past life and what kind of drunk I am. (Well, okay, I knew that last one anyway.)

But it’s easy to see how easily Facebook and its applications spreads. Want to create your own avatar? Cool. All you need to do is invite 20 other people to create their own avatar. It’s an intelligent viral marketing tool and an absolute boon for anyone stuck in an office looking for a distraction from that big pile of admin.

Even without the quizzes to distract me, I still dutifully log in everyday to read my messages. Once I’m there, it’s impossible not to get drawn in. Ah, so Julie Jones was out last night, I’ll observe, alerted that she’s uploaded the pics to prove it. Fancy that, it’s Leon Talbot’s birthday. Hmm so Mark Rogers sent Natalie Smith some plastic dog poo, did he? I’ll muse idly, never quite grasping the lunacy of pondering the sending of some virtual fake dog poo from someone I hardly know to someone I don’t know at all.

Technology thrives when it makes difficult things easier, and making connections with people, whilst incredibly rewarding, is always daunting, far more so than sending an email. Clearly the popularity of Facebook is not so much an addiction to sending people non-existent cocktails or timewasting at work as to a kind of instant intimacy. We all just want to get closer, don’t we? Only whilst remaining quite far apart, thanks very much.

Facebook is the also the latest in a long line of movements - celebrity magazines, reality TV, blogging – which seem to fuel the idea that if you aren’t living your life in the full view of lots of people, then it isn’t really worth the bother. Less, “I think, therefore I am” more “I’m seen, therefore I’m valid.”

I’m thinking of following a few of my (actual) friends’ leads and deleting my Facebook account, but I can’t quite bring myself to do it yet. Instead, I thought I’d share my ideas about Facebook with people I don’t know, over the internet. Well, no point keeping it to myself, is there?

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31 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

juliefMarch 6th 2008.

Well said Boris!

TommoMarch 6th 2008.

We're all nosy buggers

AlanMarch 6th 2008.

Anybody on Facebook is sad. Fullstop. It's an indirect, silly way of keeping up with the Jones. The writer is right to say that it's part of that 'if you aren’t living your life in the full view of lots of people, then it isn’t really worth the bother.'

Manchester MumMarch 6th 2008.

I personally love Facebook. It has resulted in regular contact with an old colleague now living in Shanghai, an old friend now living in Saskatchewan (or something like that!), Canada and me and my family hooking up with friends in France this summer all thanks to facebook. I've just seen first pictures of my friend's new baby boy and also my best friend's snow covered garden in Germany yesterday morning. And, best of all, me and an old colleague who lives down south are building a new business together with most of our communication done through facebook as she works out her notice period at work. What's not to like? Okay most of the useless applications but use it to your advantage and ignore the dross - and the God squad old school colleague who tries to stalk you through facebook to persuade you to love the Lord!

AnonymousMarch 6th 2008.

Im so glad that I'm not alone in thinking that facebook is an insignificant ego-dribbling tool of evil. I was slowly succumbing to the pressure to set up an account and start competing with the socialites.

cashsnatchukMarch 6th 2008.

Its seems that the vast majority of people using facebook and other such sites are actually teenagers,sadly they see this as a means of making "friends" and while to a certain extent this is true perhaps they should get out into the real world a bit more and actually meet up with people rather than giving someone a "poke" or chatting with a faceless person who in reality could actually be anybody.

LianeMarch 6th 2008.

Hello - thank you for your comments! Daniel - the research I did was for an article, which won't be published for another few months. But there are lots of other articles out there which are positive about Facebook. It's just that, sadly, it's easy for many to jump on the negative bandwagon and pedal the usual, boring, inaccurate perceptions.

DanielMarch 6th 2008.

I think Facebook is great. I have just this week been added by 3 family memebers I never even knew I had. You would not get that down the pub with your mates. I think if you are a someone who has travelled a lot, lived in more than one country and has family members all over the world then Facebook is great. If like a lot of people you live, work and socialise in the same 10 mile radius you have done for 10 years then there is no point joining Facebook. Its easy for you to keep in touch with your friends. For us insular, self important, pretentious wankers who thinks the world revolves around us and whose horizons stretch no farther than the screen flickering in front of their pasty faces its a little harder for us to keep in touch. Boris is right we survied perfectly well without it. I surposse we survived perfeclty well with out electricty as well and the wheel and not to mention that god awful invention the internet. Facebook is no fad, trust me. It will get bigger and it will change to more than just a site to keep in touch with your friends. Long live the wheel...........

DanileMarch 6th 2008.

Smiling girl you should only believe half of what you see and nothing of what you read. They will tell you anything to sell newspapers. Come on. As for Jo, you’re an idiot. You obviously don't use Facebook and never have. How can you knock something until you have tried it? What you seem to be saying is that anyone with a Facebook account is a geek and stays in all night chatting to random people they have met on the internet. That’s not the case at all. Believe me when I say this I am a well travelled, well rounded person who loves to read, go to the cinema, got out to eat and has a great social life. I have friends and family all over the world and it is a fantastic and personal way to keep in touch with everyone. People who knock Facebook seem to be the ones with a very small social circle. GET A LIFE............

DanielMarch 6th 2008.

Finally some like minded people. Why indeed can you not do both. I am telling the truth when I say that a Facebook employe doesn't have a gun to my head forcing me to use it. Liane you post is great thank you very much. I would love to know more about your research as well. Please can you let me know where I can access it OOOO in fact add me on Facebook pplllleeaassseeee I need friends I am a sad lonley person.

joMarch 6th 2008.

Facebook is the most pathetic thing i have ever seen. Why do people want everyone to know every single detail of their lives? I find it really strange that people would want to write about themselves and let the whole world see all their private photos? Personally, i wouldn't want people from my past "poking" me on facebook, as far as i am concerned people who are my friends are actually in my life and i speak to on a regular basis,not people who offer to throw things at me online! Sack facebook off and get a real life, go to the cinema, read a book or go for a meal, socialise in the real world, not some fantasy cyber world!!!!

DanileMarch 6th 2008.

I dont know about being obsessed its more about offering my opinion. Maybe it will make people think in a different way.

B ClassMarch 6th 2008.

So, Alan says "Anybody on Facebook is sad. Fullstop." Am I? I don't think I'm sad. In fact, I see myself as quite happy, with many things going on in my life. One of those things is Facebook. It's my life, and I'll choose what to do with it, right?

John WareMarch 6th 2008.

Facebook is useful as a tool to spread confusion and absurdity. How else am I going to send spam video clips of William Shatner doing a spoken word version of "Rocket Man" to a high school acquaintance I haven't spoke to in 12 years?

MelMMarch 6th 2008.

I'm with Danile & Liane. I have a life, friends, brilliant social circle and am always out & about doing things.....like taking my parents out for example, going to the cinema, meeting friends etc.(although I can't say I've built a shed yet!). I LOVE facebook and it's a fab way to stay in contact with people.....yet it doens't take my life over!!!!! I'm not a saddo that sits in waiting for someone to log on which is exactly what you facebook-haters are putting accross in a sense....!?!?!?

MartinMarch 6th 2008.

Well i think that your right Row.... and i'm goin on facebook now and changing my status to 'I think Row is spot on'!

roger ramjet he's our heroMarch 6th 2008.

i sacked it after my mates started ringing to check i was ok - indirectly - after i made a change to my profile - suggesting i remove the relationship bit - even my missus complained that it was removed from facebook - it's virtual, who gives a fk about whats on it or not, it's my not yours - she also complained about some of the people I was/am friends with. what the f is that all about. Anyhoo, I agree with some sentiments about travelling friends as mentioned however it's not the be all and end all.I've not been in for this long, maybe longer.RR

LianeMarch 6th 2008.

PS... My main point was intended to be that it's not a case of whether it's still 'relevant' or not. You don't have to make a choice. Why not just sign up and use it when you need it - instead of feeling like you must log on every day; OR not at all? It's one of the many cases where moderation is the key.

jomovMarch 6th 2008.

Gets quite boring after a while...and my oh my, if you are friends with someone who is addicted to Facebook..and I mean spends all their spare time on it, you have to spend hours ignoring all their invites..now THAT is annoying!!

smiling girlMarch 6th 2008.

All I can say is - beware all face-book users. It might seem friendly and totaly innocent but do you know that they guys who run this are in part funded by the CIA? (as exposed in one of Sunday broadsheets just a few weeks ago). In the age of identity theft I wouldn't willingly give my details to anyone, let alone the CIA..

B o BMarch 6th 2008.

It just isn't cool to be so visible.I gave it up three months ago and haven't missed it.A yahoo email account is sufficient for me, I'm in touch with those I want to be in touch with.

BorisMarch 6th 2008.

Facebook. A classic example of something that we all survived quite happily without for aeons, that now claims to be "essential". Bollox. get a life, read a book, take up a hobby, go watch a film, do sport, enrol in adult education, hang out with real people and trade witticisms, expand your mind, go to a museum, go to an art gallery, go for a walk, write a poem, paint a picture, build a shed, take your parents out for a meal, sing a song, help an old person, do some voluntary work. Anything but waste your life inflating your sense of self importance with cyber friends and people who don't care. Our society is spiralling towards a bunch of insular, self important, pretentious wankers who thinks the world revolves around them and whose horizons stretch no farther than the screen flickering in front of their pasty faces. God help us all

MartinMarch 6th 2008.

Nicola.... just cecked out your Facebook profile, why so glum!?!ha ha lets be light hearted about it all people. Boris its just something new that'll fade in time don't get worked up about it youll give yourself a heart attack!

LesleyMarch 6th 2008.

AFter reading this, i decided to check my facebook and update my friends to the fact that i am heading to Australia for 3 weeks tomorrow. Sorry to dispoint the facebook hater but, I'm a facebook user and have a life.

RowMarch 6th 2008.

The fact is we are all secretly obsessed with letting other people know what we think. Whether it is through Facebook or by responding to articles about it online.

LianeMarch 6th 2008.

I agree with Danile, Oh no jo, B class et al. The 'Facebook users have no life' thing is a myth.It's not as if people make a choice between Facebook and the pub.I've done quite a bit of professional research into social networking sites - particularly Facebook - and it's revealed that those most active online are usually also the most active in real life. To the haters / doom-predictors of Facebook... why does it have to be so black-and-white; all-or-nothing?It's possible to use it just like people use email, mobiles, news sites etc - as a useful contact and information tool. It doesn't have to take over your life. Those who claim to hate it seem more obsessed than those who use it, in my experience...

viksterMarch 6th 2008.

2 weekends ago, I met up with my old housemates from Uni - we hadnt seen or spoken to each other for ten years - not because we didnt like each other - but because we didnt have mobiles, or use the internet to keep in touch when we all left. If it hadnt have been for facebook we probably would not have got back in touch. Needless to say we had an amazing time, all thanks to facebook. it has its uses

ktfairyMarch 6th 2008.

I'm off tomorrow night to a reunion with some friends from uni which was organised on Facebook. So it does have it's uses, a lot of the applications are very annoying though.

Calm down!March 6th 2008.

it does have it's uses. I have friends travelling in Russia, Columbia and India and it is an easy way to keep in touch with them, watch their travels with the photo's they put up etc etc. I agree with the comments about the useless applications, the clever marketing etc. but it really is only as harmful and annoying as you let it become.

jerry the catMarch 6th 2008.

I love the internet for info and stuff but dont expect to find new friends as I am lucky enough to have real humans to speak to I do have an eighteen year old who plays on online games eg world of warcraft but even hes not on face book but is on myspace are they similar? do we care, if you read this then can I class you as my friend!

Oh no JoMarch 6th 2008.

It's obvious you are not a facebook user, if you were you would know you can use facebook without telling anybody everything about yourself. It's just a case of putting things on private status. Only allowing your friends to see your updates. Therefore on a night out it is easy to distribute your pictures. No body else needs to see them. Only if you choose them too. Facebook can be a good tool and doesn't need to be used an ego-dribbling tool.

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