Friday, 27 February 2009

Facebook: Friend or Foe?

I heard an interesting conversation between a group of strange students on a bus last night. I was returning from a Metallica concert in the city centre when six students stumbled on board, slightly the worst for wear. There was one very opinionated and very loud young woman, four rather strange geeks and another weird woman.

I honestly had to stifle chuckles as these young people discussed everything from favourite pizza toppings to the arrogance of a bloke they had just met; well to be fair it was the opinionated woman who was discussing the bloke, the others were more interested in whether pepperoni was suitable for vegetarians. In fact, as the conversation continued, it turned out that the opinionated woman considered ALL men to be arrogant, apart from the four geeks who thought that pepperoni grew in a field; she presumably just considered them to be idiots.

I wondered whether I was that thick as a student.

Anyway, at the end, the quieter woman left the bus and said:

“Phone me tomorrow!”

One of the pizza loving geeks said “I haven’t got your phone number”.

Then the woman replied

“It’s OK! Talk to me on Facebook”.

“WHAT???” I screamed. “Why the bloody hell don’t you just arrange to meet over a coffee????? Have you never heard of social interaction????”

Actually, that’s a lie. I wanted to scream this question to them but, being a coward, I didn’t. Besides, I didn’t want to be subjected to a tirade of abuse from the opinionated woman for being arrogant.

I’ve asked myself: is the world going crazy? Since Facebook came online and became available to the masses, young people have changed. Nobody seems to talk to each other any more. Youngsters spend their entire days engrossed in Facebook. One young lad I know told me that if you are young and you don’t have a Facebook account then you are a nobody. “It is as essential as having a mobile phone” he said.

I do actually have a Facebook account myself. Before you stop reading and say “You bloody hypocrite!” let me elaborate and defend myself.

I have a Facebook account because Mrs PM enrolled and sent me an email requesting me to join as well. I had never heard of it so like a gullible mug I signed up and Mrs PM became my first friend. I forgot about it for a while and gradually young people at work started talking about it.

“I’ve got 32 friends” I heard one say.

“Well I’ve got 61 friends” challenged another.

“I’ve only got one friend” I said miserably.

Later that day, I arrived home and checked my email account and discovered two Facebook friend requests from the two guys at work who (presumably) had felt sorry for me. I was delighted so I accepted them. I took a step down that slippery slope towards obsession with Facebook. For a short while I started seeking out people, starting with those at work, and requesting their friendship. And as I acquired a couple more friends, people started requesting me to take movie quizzes, asking me to take pizza compatibility tests, challenging me to become a pirate or zombie. Others started throwing sheep at me and buying me cyber presents. I have been poked and super-poked. People have flirted with me; I’ve been asked to take personality tests and quizzed about how dreadful I am in bed.

I asked myself what was going on. I stopped actively using it.

Since then, friends have drifted in and now I have a pathetic 42 friends, all but one or two are youngsters. Furthermore, most if not all of my Facebook friends have many more; one guy has 563. I know this lad is popular but I wonder whether he can actually name all of them.

I have a bunch of close friends who are my age and not one of them has a Facebook account.

“Why bother?” asked one guy. “If you see your mates every day, is there any point talking to them on this stupid Facebook thing?”

I think he has a point.

However, I do see a benefit. My sister, who lives around seventy miles away, requested me as a friend so that I could see what is going on in her life and vice versa. She is a more active member than I am so she posts photos all the time. It does give me an interesting insight into her life. Friends who live far away can communicate quite easily and therefore it does in a way have a useful purpose.

Before I sign off, one thought does occur to me. As I have read blogs, I’ve noticed that bloggers out there also have Facebook accounts and also, use sites such as BlogCatalog to provide a form of social community for bloggers. On BlogCatalog (the only blogging network site I actively use) I have over 150 “friends”, none of whom I know but a lot of whom are kindred spirits. The reason I use this particular site is because it has allowed me to discover other bloggers from around the world and through this medium I have encountered several excellent posts on all manner of subjects. To me this is more rewarding than something like Facebook. It also enables me to promote my inane ramblings to the world at large as well as being informed whenever favourite bloggers post their latest stuff.

Bizarrely, I also have a MySpace account (as “Plastic Mancunian”) where my “friends” are my favourite rock bands, allowing me to see what they are up to and get information on new projects. This blog is also promoted there as well.

I will not completely ditch Facebook. I have been tempted but, as long as there are people out there who I don’t see regularly or who live far away, I will maintain my vague interest. Nevertheless I will remain reactive rather than proactive - unless of course I open another account as my online persona. I’ve tried to remain anonymous on the web (though there are people I know who read this blog regularly) but perhaps I could use Facebook for more nefarious and mischievous purposes. Instead of throwing a sheep at a guy who sits opposite me in the office, I could throw a whale at a blogger in Malaysia.

I think Facebook has opened a brand new door for me …


Anonymous said...

I did the same thing you did. Opened an account and promptly forgot about it. But somehow I started getting a lot more friends and using it more and now I consider it a nice addition to my online activities, which include my blog and a little Twitter. I'm afraid I'm addicted.

I do love throwing sheep at people. Why is that so fun? I mean. It's a sheep.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Kathy,

Yes - I've had several sheep thrown at me. Can you imagine what it would be like in real life? Imagine somebody walking into the office with a sheep ready to throw ...




Pia K said...

Definitely a foe! When I hear talks about Facebook I always say/think (depending on the situation), get a life. A real life as in IRL.

I think blogging (partial as I might be) is a good thing for keeping up with people, Flickr for photos and email for more personal writing just about covers it for me. For anyone reasonably sane and clever really.

FB seems utterly stupid to me - even though I suppose it might have some small, tiny benefits - and so does Twitter. When one thought things couldn't get worse...

I love sheep though! I've recently become fully aware of the fact that it might have something to do with me being one. At least as far as Chinese astrology is concerned. Thus I feel myself a kindred spirit with these quirky beings.

PS The road rage thing, it's universal! I totally relate and I don't even have a driver's license... DS

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pia,

I see where you are coming from. As I said, I just drift with it.

As far as Chinese Horoscopes are concerned, I'm a Tiger - but I'm not exactly like one in temperament or anything really. Magnificent creatures though.

I know other non-drivers who've been in my car with me who are infected by road rage. One lad actually screamed "Look at that bloody idiot!!" to a fool who rocketed through a red light to save perhaps 2 minutes. It could have been nasty ...

Thanks again for the comments




Anonymous said...

I use Facebook regularly. Daily is more like it. I also have a few blogs. I use both oddly. Here is my take on it.

Facebook lets the less technically inclined indulge themselves in the web without having too do much of anything. Facebook make it really each to connect with people.

Setting up a blog is more difficult for most people. It is also harder to keep in touch with people who are similarly technically challenged.

I am more technically inclined than 99.9% of the people I know. So that make me superior to them all. Just kidding. Okay, maybe not.

But if all my friends, past and present, only visited my blog I would not have any need for Facebook. That includes MySpace as well which I also have an account on. But FB is superior to MS for several reason. None which I care to write a monstrous post on.

But I also think that anyone that does have some kind of online system to communicate is pretty much an idiot.

So there you have it. Just my two cents.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Ed,

Great comment - thanks. I don't have a problem with Facebook (otherwise I wouldn't have an account on it) but I do see young technical geeky guys wetting themselves over it. As I said in the post, it is useful for those who live far away, or that you don't see regularly but I am one of those kind of people who likes to communicate face to face - hence my initial "rant" at the students. My MySpace account was just to plug the blog really but it has the added bonus of giving me a link to my favourite bands - tour dates, free downloads, news etc. plus I've also discovered a couple of new bands too.

As for blogging - I wanted to remain anonymous anyway but sadly that flew out of the window when one of my mates tracked it down.

Oh well!

Thanks for a great comment.



Manz said...

Great post!!

I think you may be the voice of more internet users than you think - certainly sounded alot like thoughts/actions of mine.

I've toned down my Facebook account - I'm totally boycotting "apps" - a number of reasons for that. But I still like to use it to as you described. Also on MySpace for the same reasons :)

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Manz,

We're not alone. Other more sensible users I've spoken to feel the same (if they can be bothered to use it at all).

BTW My friend count has gone up two since I posted




H2B said...

FB has progressed along well after 5 years - no more poking! Thank goodness! Now I gather all my news via FB as newspapers and magazines have caught on. I am addicted to candy crash and pet saga. And it have made many cyber friends through FarmVille and fronterville, which I stopped playing after a few months but the friendship remained.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi H2B,

I have to confess that I had almost forgotten about Facebook - until my holiday to Nice - when I somehow managed to persuade BOTH of my sons to be my Facebook Friends (one by plying him with alcohol, the other by making him feel guilty that his brother was my friend).

Mrs PM plays those games - I am almost deighted that Facebook is becoming less and less important in my life ...