Facebook

Written by Stuart Revnell No Gravatar

I watched ‘The Social Network’ on a flight to Udaipur yesterday.

For those of you who haven’t heard of or seen the film, it’s about the creation of Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg whilst he was at Harvard, and its rapid growth from a networking site for college students at Harvard to one of the most highly trafficked sites in the world today (possibly even the most – I don’t really keep up to date at the moment).

It’s the first interaction with Facebook I’ve had for a long time – in fact, since I de-activated by account over two months ago.

Yes, you read that correctly. ‘De-activated’.

I’d already switched off updates from certain people on my wall. I’d pruned my ‘friends’. I’d adjusted my preferences. I’d limited the list of people who were able to invite me to events.

But still the barrage kept coming. Event invitations from people I’d met once but found myself befriended by, ‘People you might know’, or facile quiz or game requests designed to mine more personal data from you – ‘Are you smarter than your friends?’ or ‘How many 80s band can you name?’ (‘Some’ and ‘A fair few’ are the answers to these by the way.).

There were two things which really made me finally flick the metaphorical off switch though.

The first was the constant flow of ‘updates’ from people. From close (-ish) friends through to erstwhile school acquaintances from 22 years ago, whenever I logged on, I would be met with a flow of status updates, comments, pictures, and quiz results which, barring a few, would at best be of little relevance to me.

The second, though, and the real clincher, was that I couldn’t stop myself idly logging on, despite the above. I spent the summer doing web projects at home, and Facebook would be permanently there on a tab in Firefox. Like a smoker who despises the habit, yet can’t stop reaching for a tab, it would become an automatic response to check what was happening. Hours were lost, and to what end? I hadn’t learnt anything of any use, I hadn’t had a meaningful interaction with anyone, and I could have spent the time doing something much more useful.

So in the end, I decided I was better off without it.

To some, it might seem like the most inopportune moment imaginable to de-activate Facebook – I can’t imagine a better platform for sharing content with, and remaining in contact with, a network of friends and acquaintances while we travel. I also think it’s an incredible enabler for all kinds of things – from facilitating contact between friends and families at one end through to social change, and possibly the reform of electoral systems at the other.

Whether Facebook remains as a separate branded service, or whether over time this platform, along with Skype et al, simply become a taken-for-granted utility in people’s lives, a bit like the telephone or electricity, is anyone’s guess. But I have no doubt that what it represents and enables is here to stay, in some form or another.

For the moment, though, Facebook is adding almost nothing to my life. The friends I want to keep in contact with regularly, I do in person or by phone. I don’t need to know what they’re up to in between these interactions – that’s why I have a beer with them. The others – well, we send a few emails now and again, and we catch up at shared get-togethers, or in some cases, not at all. That’s fine – if we wanted to enough, we would.

I did have to re-activate my account briefly. I was due to meet my friend in Goa, and the only way we were connected was on Facebook, so I had to log back in and re-activate the account to send him a message. Even in the few moments it took to do this, the barrage felt unstoppable again, and I felt like some kind of special forces troop, parachuted into a hostile and unpleasant area to carry out a mission, before being airlifted out with a sense of blessed relief.

I’m actually a very big fan of technology like this, and hand on heart, I think Facebook is one of the most exciting online services out there. I’m sure I’ll turn it on again at some point – if I find myself overcome by curiosity about who’s doing what, am looking for work, or am just plain lonely out here on the edge of cyberspace with my anachronistic ramblings.

For the moment though, I’m enjoying the sense of calm which comes from knowing that one more distraction has gone. I’ve got my time back – to read, to write my blog, to write lyrics, and to just be.

Not to mention brushing up on my knowledge of 80s music. Next time I log in, I’m going to waste you.

2 Responses to “Facebook”

  1. CormacNo Gravatar says:

    Nice summary mate, it’s utterly ridiculous that this ‘website’ is worth more than Boeing!

    Hope everything is going well on your travels.

    Speak soon and happy new year!

  2. TNo Gravatar says:

    Nice summary Stu… I am conscious of the stream of rubbish I get and close those people off pretty quickly but do enjoy keeping intouch with family and friends far and wide so am gonna stick with it for now. Hope your withdrawls weren’t too rough!

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