It all changed for me that day in April 2007 around the time when hints of the cold season down South starts to poke at us summer loving Africans. I was the last of my immediate group of friends at that time to join the social phenomenon known as facebook. I still remember how we sat in a friend’s room and, not for the first time, my friends spoke of adding this and that guy they met in Ireland a year back. Adding what where? Adding his profile to their profile and now they can look at a picture of his face (hence the name facebook) while reading through his vital statistics and messaging him and so on. And if you have friends who are friends with other friends of yours you realise that you guys actually have mutual friends and are interconnected in some weird way. This is sort of how it got explained to me to which I replied: so it’s email with pictures and some unnecessary add-ons? Well, then I’ll just stick to normal email. After a few such conversations they convinced me that I would really love facebook seeing that you can actually share your opinion on it and also make contact with foreigners – which I apparently find way more intriguing than everyone else who also finds foreigners intriguing because how can you not find foreigners intriguing?
Well, as they say, to use the disgusting cliché: the rest was history (for the record, I hate unnecessary clichés). I am now, more than three years on since that day, a recovering facebook addict.
Facebook was one of those things which drastically changed the way we work the world, the way we work our own worlds. It is now undeniably part of us in more than one way. We know the whereabouts of way more people than we actually know. We know what they’re thinking; we know what they’re drinking. Among me and friends we have this joke about how the ultimate thing to do through these social network systems is to see how trivial you can go with the detail you share. It was inspired by Wallaby flyhalf, Quade Cooper, who informed the public through his twtter account one day that he just had an awesome calzone pizza – don’t you judge him, all of us do it! Is facebook, and its younger brother twitter, a good or a bad thing? Well, is anything in itself a good or a bad thing? The question is rather whether us people, born inherently bad things ourselves, are able to manage this new dimension brought about in the world of relationships, in a positive manner?
The first major article on the facebook topic, which I can remember reading, appeared in my local paper and was written by one of South Africa’s promising young poets, Loftus Marais. The crux of his argument was that he believes some relationships are meant to deteriorate or drift wider apart while others remain close for a reason at any given season in one’s life. He saw this as the natural flow or life cycles, if you will, of interpersonal relationships. He therefore criticised the facebook concept for keeping people in touch and in the know regarding each other’s lives, when they were not necessarily supposed to be. I remember my sister wholeheartedly agreeing with him on this and stated that as the reason she would try to avoid facebook. She is also an active facebook member now. It seems like the writer stuck to his guns as I can’t seem to find him through a quick search. Unless he uses a pseudonym of course?
The next major article I read on this appeared more recently on Relevant Magazine’s website. In this one the writer discusses how facebook, for one, creates a new brand of narcissism: “It encourages not just self-absorption, but, more accurately, self-consumption. We become creators and consumers of our own brand.” Not only do we shape ourselves into the most perfect possible version we can create, but it also affects our actual relationships in many ways while we spend a lot of time on our cyber-relationships. He sums it up quite nicely: “Facebook is the perfect cocktail: a medium that focuses much of our attention on ourselves, while appearing to focus our attention on relationship with others. It is a mirror masquerading as a window.”
Or as British actress Romola Garai puts it, “It’s too simplistic to say that people start to believe what’s written about them. But what happens is that you become a certain way to please people, to be liked, to be what’s expected of you, to change yourself so that you become the best possible version of yourself for people who don’t know you. And I think that’s a terrible, pernicious thing”. She wasn’t talking about facebook but on her choice as a celebrity to rather guard her private life. Facebook turned us all into overnight celebrities (even if it’s only in our own eyes) which is why I find it applicable.
Then there is also twitter (I spend very little time on here compared to facebook and joined it for the sake of this blog only). Twitter was first explained to me, by the same friends who convinced me to join facebook, as “your facebook status (‘what is on your mind’) line on steroids”. Once again my first thoughts were: why would I want to join it then if it serves the same purpose as facebook status updates? Twitter is probably just as, or even more, addictive as facebook for many but definitely wouldn’t serve the narcissist as well as facebook does and is probably a more efficient communication tool when used correctly.
The other danger, which I tend to be the victim of quite often, was touched on in a recent article in my local newspaper once again. It was mobile text messages (sms-ing) which was discussed but the principle is exactly the same. Research suggests that late night electronic communication keeps younger people up too late and interferes with their sleeping patterns and therefore with their productivity and health in general.
Considering all this and all the other behavioural patterns resulting from the existence of facebook and twitter, my take on it is as follow: facebook, twitter, and various other social networking tools are now a reality which will stay part of our everyday communications; people are given access into each other’s lives like never before and people get to admire and display themselves like never before – stalking is now all of a sudden common practice and accepted. Face to face, personal relationships will be neglected because of this while other, potential face to face, relationships now exist which would never have existed before. Information spreads like never before – this has both positive and negative implications of course.
We could actually go into and name the possible consequences all day long for weeks on end but like with everything else which has its pros and cons I still believe it is a reality we need to face (what a convenient pun, totally unintended). Our prioritising and self-censorship skills needs to be sharper than ever seeing that there is an impossible-to-take-in-at-once-amount of info now being dropped on us more openly than is the case with a search engine for instance, and secondly we need to decide for ourselves how much we allow ourselves to know about others whom we don’t really know personally.
Will my facebook and twitter accounts remain open? Yes, it will. Will I continue scanning posts and links to stay up to date with what is happening around me and might be affecting me? Yes, I will. Should I be careful of losing myself in a bottomless pool of info, gossip, pictures, videos and opinions and neglecting more important people and responsibilities in the process? Yes, I should.