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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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