Wednesday, 2 February 2011

e-claustrophobia

Time stealer. Envy Maker.  Emboldener of unhealthy comparisons.  A claustrophobic agoraphobic’s living e-nightmare. Platform for pretention. A selection of the (censored) phrases I think befit Facebook. Like everybody else I know I joined it way back when, a time which has seemingly evaporated such is the way Facebook has merged into the make-up of our lives. Am I re-hashing an old, boring argument? Maybe. But then if that’s the case, why is just about everyone I know still using Facebook? And why, despite happily removing myself from its pages, do I still feel swathed in references to the social networking site? I have decided to explore the rationale behind my revulsion.

I am a fan of the English language, of good use of grammar, spelling and the like. Facebook references have leaked in like an insidious oceanic oil spill. I regularly hate hearing, “I’m Facebooking.”  Apparently, it has become a verb. References are made to walls and pokes. “He wrote on my wall last night and he poked me twice, he must fancy me.” I’m thinking: “He painted your garden wall? With paint? And poked you? What, with a stick?” In my day, dad would have grounded me for fraternising with a vandal and threatened him with a police truncheon.*


Facebook is now used as a benchmark for clarification of relationship statuses. Screw courts, churches and the spoken word. If it’s not on Facebook for the benefit of your 356 ‘friends’ to see, gossip, and proffer faux sympathy/happiness in response to, the new relationship/engagement/wedding/break-up never occurred. I’ve witnessed friends agonising over the true feelings of their intended beau because, “he hasn’t changed his Facebook status.” As long as he/she changes their underwear and shows clear signs of liking you, then what’s the problem? Why are public announcements  deemed the pinnacle of a relationship’s arrival?  The same need to visibly confirm life events apparently applies to a pictorial corroboration of nights out, gigs, museum trips, holidays, the fitting of your new bathroom and the cat’s third birthday party. Taking Facebook ready photos is the new real-life experience. This online personal photo catalogue feels like the e-equivalent of living in a South Wales Valley terraced street. You invite scrutiny and no longer have a truly private life. You also encourage unhealthy comparisons. Do you remember the girl you went to school with seventeen years ago, the one with brown hair, whose parents’ were doctors and listened to the Queen’s speech on the radio because they didn’t have a TV? You know the one, you got drunk with her once in April 1996? Yes? Well she’s living in Australia now, she’s thin, owns a VW Camper van and goes skiing every year. Her life is perfect, right? That’s the sort of thinking the Facebook photo poring black hole can lead to, inevitably encouraging negative comparisons between people you no longer encounter and your own life – not to mention hours of time sucked away. But the fact is, very few people capture their lonely, unhappy moments. There are no photos of tears, tantrums, hangovers, eye bags, wrinkles, unshaven legs, ripped tights, arguments, fights, bad hair days, fat days or people eating packets of biscuits/ham/haribo/crisps on the sofa. Facebook presents a sickly perfect version of peoples’ lives, which can be a bit of a lie.

The word ‘friend’ has been infected. When used in a Facebook context, I feel a need to package it in inverted commas. What does it mean? It doesn’t imply “somebody emotionally close” as a dictionary definition suggests. You don’t actually have to know a Facebook friend. Even if you have met, a Facebook friend does not need to acknowledge you when you pass in the street, and you do not need to like them. However, you will be obliged to accept their ‘request for friendship’. When in non-virtual life do you request somebody’s friendship? And when, in real life, would you accept the friendship of a person you do not know, like, or acknowledge? I’m thinking never. But even if all your Facebook friends are real friends, what happened to the sharing of experiences using words, photo albums and beer? It seems to me this is concrete friendship, as opposed to the inverted, phony Facebook version.

I’m not a social-networking-free zone. Critics of this anti-Facebook stance will question my use of Twitter. And perhaps that I write a public blog. I maintain that Twitter is very different. It shares snippets whereas Facebook divulges depth. As the front page declares, “Get access to the information that interests you most.” It’s about imparting stimulating stuff. You can choose the info you receive, and if it proves boring, delete the provider obligation free. I’ve found writers, designers, illustrators, artists, gig promoters, films and bands on Twitter. I’ve also found writing opportunities such as the Guardian Cardiff site and The Wales Blog Awards. Of course there is the potential to be pretentious on Twitter as much as Facebook, and name drop as far as 140 characters allows. But like I said, your followee stream can be easily edited. I’m guilty of posting mini-stories about daily mundane-ities such as events of my local steam room but I’m happy to be un-followed if that’s not to someone else’s liking. As for my blog, it’s a place to practice writing. This can be as personal as I choose, and I choose not very. It highlights my thoughts and stories, yes. But my photos and private life, no.

I’m glad to be Facebook-free. My real friends still keep in touch. My time is empancipated from photo poring black holes. I no longer have e-claustrophobia. And I do stuff in real-life without having to take Facebook-ready photos. I recommend you try it too.


*Any police people or friends of my dad who might be reading = this is a joke.

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