I finally joined Facebook last week. It was when the fifth person from a different sphere of friends send me an invite that I realised it had hit that point where I was most likely missing out on something. So I signed up.
And Facebook is nice. I now have 26 friends and they can see what I’m doing (sort of); and I can see what they’re doing (sort of). And I can wonder how odd it is that my friends know so many people that I haven’t met; and wonder if they wonder who on earth are the people listed as my friends.
But I am beginning to get the same sort of feeling I started getting with LinkedIn about a month ago. At first, it’s kinda like collecting football stickers, except rather than having Gary Lineker staring out at you, it’s your old mate from university.
Like football stickers, there is lots of vaguely interesting information next to their sticker and you have a look at their CV and it’s novel. And then, after a while, you wonder what on the earth the actual point is. Someone on LinkedIn, for example, who you vaguely know and figure out where from once you’ve Googled him asks to be linked with you and so you agree because it would be an unnecessary snub to say no. And as soon as you do that, the whole point of useful exclusivity is killed. You hit 30 connections and think that’s a lot – and then you see one of your people has over 500 connections. What’s meaningful about that? Suddenly it becomes less about useful networking and more the fact that you induced someone to click a button. What is LinkedIn ever going to do for me?
And I am rapidly getting there with Facebook. Someone who I have never met in my life asked to be my friend. I left him in the friend request pile for two days while pondering what to do. In the end I found out there was a “limited profile” option and gave him that. But I feel a bit guilty about it. He’s not the only one on limited profile either. Do people know if they are limited-profile friends? Don’t you risk actually annoying your new friends? And what am I am actually doing with Facebook? Every now and again I update my status with daft comments like..
- sitting inside watching the rain and typing.
- unable to believe he put off buying a high-quality coffee-grinder for so long.
- trying to figure out how he got so much done today.
- back home at midnight, tired and a bit ill.
- going to write some interesting stuff on trains today.
And because I wrote whatever is in my head at that moment, it feels out-of-date and so I have to keep updating it. Why? Am I keeping in touch with people? Am I sharing interesting snippets that retains the bond of friendship across distances and time? Or am I just spreading tedious ditties about my life to people who really aren’t that interested? (I have noticed incidentally that other people have got stuck in a similar rut but over changing their profile photos.) I’m beginning to think that this Web2.0 stuff is terrific – but only if you’re a self-obsessed and self-conscious teenager. I’m just a bit too busy and too happy with myself not to be out of my mind with boredom over the magpie snippets of mine and others’ lives.
What’s worse is that I fear I might start mistaking reading a friend’s “wall” as being in touch with them. I’m bad enough as it is keeping in touch with people. I have always consistently forgotten to call people occasionally for my whole life. Facebook risks making that worse. I can imagine spending years never actually communicating directly with someone and happily maintaining the delusion that we are still close while in fact their marriage is on the rocks, or they have become a totally different person to the one I allow myself to pretend they are.
I think 26 friends is too many and was thinking of culling a few (fuck it – why not?). And then I saw a poll of other Facebook users. In fact I took a screengrab which I’ll stick below. The question asked how many “friends” people had on Facebook. There were 1,000 responses, at which point the poll was closed. Unbelievably, 19 percent had over 400. Four hundred! I don’t think I’ve even spoken to 400 people in my life – and I’m a bloody journalist. Then, 28 percent had 200-399 and another 28 percent 100-199. Only 11 percent it seems were as anti-sociable as me with 0-49 friends.
What does online friendship actually mean when there are over 300 people sending in christmas-cracker comments every day? What is everyone filling their heads with? I bet it’s all adding to the jittery zero-attention-span state I get into online sometimes that means I am over-stimulated while at the same time unable to do anything that takes longer than 30 seconds. Anyway, maybe I’m just being an old grouch but I have a strong suspicion that Facebook may go the way of these other websites I have signed up to at some point for some reason now lost in time, and die in slow obscurity. And, as ever, I will wish I spent all the time on it doing something that may have actually use or value in my life.
I just noticed that the poll on my blog is out-of-date. It’s still going on about the Sunday Times article that I “wrote” over a month ago. I am pleased to see that 54 percent of people thought my original con-man version was the best, with just 20 percent going for the Sunday Times article that was written for me. I wonder how many people actually read them or whether they felt obliged to be nice to me. Or if they didn’t really give it much thought. It was just another online poll, wasn’t it? Probably the 19th they’d filled in that day.
You have to feel sorry for historians of this era – how on earth are they ever going to filter all this crap into something useful?
Anyway, new poll:
Do Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and so on:
* Keep you in touch with old friends
* Help you make new friends
* Waste yours and everyone else’s time
* Destroy the few social skills you have
Vote on the right…