There it is. Just look at it. Look at that lovely small ‘f’ swimming in that carefully designed sea of blue. That ‘f’ has come to represent a world of love, peace and harmony to some, while to others it represents a dystopian future governed by a robotic ruling class where money is obsolete and the only legal tender is sweat.
That’s right. I’m talking about Facebook. That social media network thing that has revolutionised the world of, well, networking.
When I was kid, networking meant taking a blank cassette to your mate’s house to get them to do a copy of Knight Lore for you.
(Knight Lore was a game for the Sinclair Spectrum 48k. The Sinclair Spectrum was an 8-bit home comp…oh never mind…)
‘Liking’ something meant writing a letter to Smash Hits hoping to get a signed photograph of Rick Astley.
Having ‘friends’ meant dashing home from school, wolfing down a plate of chips and beans and then racing to the next street to call on your friend Andrew, who owned a battery operated AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back. We would set it walking down the street and follow it holding guns which we made from taping two sticks together.
But that was long ago. Things changed. Sinclair was bought by Amstrad. Rick Astley opened a fish & chip shop in Porthcawl. And chips and beans were suddenly classed as ‘unhealthy’ due to the F-plan diet. Worst of all, pretending to have a gun became an arrestable offence. At this point, Facebook entered my life.
Around 2008 I was introduced to Facebook via a friend. I had used MySpace for a few weeks – again, on the recommendation of a friend. The friend in question was Pami Gill and our network was a large group of Kate Bush fans. I had been out of the Kate Bush fan ‘scene’ for several years but Pami persuaded me to enter the fray again (a very big mistake, but more about that in a future blog). A month or so after joining MySpace, Pami told me that everyone was migrating to Facebook as it was ‘better’. So I joined Facebook.
Initially, Facebook was fun. I would type a message and post it to my ‘wall’. Other people would ‘like’ my post and reply. Suddenly, that innocuous remark about me spying on the next door neighbour while she had a bath became interesting to everyone.
“This is fun,” I thought.
Days turned into months and months turned into years. My posts about spying on the neighbour while she was bathing were interspersed with posts about my neighbour spying on me while I was shaving. Occasionally I might post something a bit off the wall, such as “I’ve had a good day in work today” or “Do you think totalitarianism is an excuse for misogyny?” but mostly my posts consisted of harmless accounts of my voyeuristic activities.
My friends list grew. I tracked down a lot of old school friends (and some tracked me down) and added them. Some people I added randomly because I liked their profile picture, or they may have commented on a post of a friend. But then slowly, I became aware of some of the negative aspects of Facebook.
Pami, whom I lived with at the time, would become extremely upset if someone ‘unfriended’ her. This I found bewildering. Particularly as they were usually people she had never met or spoken to – she had met them on Facebook and all they had exchanged was a few posts on each other’s wall. To me, there was no real depth or substance to that sort of friendship. I wouldn’t even call it a friendship. And I think this is where Facebook plays its canny psychological game – it uses the word ‘friend’ in a new, looser and more freeform way. As a child, having a friend was significant. It meant someone that you would invite around to your house to play Top Trumps, or you would go around their house to try and program their Big Trak.
That’s what a *real* friend is to me. Facebook uses the word friend to describe anyone you happen to link up with, within its little virtual social networking world. Instead of ‘contacts’ or ‘links’ or ‘web pals’, the word ‘friend’ was deliberately used. The word ‘friend’ is more emotionally charged and has much more meaning to most people, than ‘contact’ (of which, to many people, is exactly what a lot of their Facebook friends are).
So that was one thing that irked me. The other thing was the use of Facebook to promote a cause or charity or even worse, to post graphic pictures of, for example, a starved and beaten dog with some banal caption such as “You wouldn’t want this would you?” and then become aggrieved when all 4,567 of their friends didn’t ‘like’ it. Not once, after viewing these sorts of pictures, has my conscience been raised. Not once, upon viewing some picture of a soldier, silhouetted against the sunset with the caption “They give their lives for us”, has it made me want to pack in my job and go and get photographed against a beautiful sunset. All these causes and supposedly ‘conscious raising’ issues are noble, I am sure. But the majority of us are perfectly aware of them and have made our decision long ago as to whether we want to set up a direct debit to plant a monthly tree or stop the cruel farming of ants in Swindon.
Unfortunately I am only too well aware of the pros of Facebook. Roughly half the sales of my books have come from Facebook. It is the perfect platform from which to promote a book, a record, a movie or any other artistic endeavour. So for now, I will stick with Facebook.
At least until my rival social networking site ‘Bookface’ is up and running…