Why I’m opting out of the Facebook generation

Posted by Ian
 
One month ago Patrick, our Tech & Gadgets editor, made a confession: he had yet to sign up to Facebook, and, being MSN’s in-house gizmo expert, thought he better do something about it. So he registered, and within 24 hours admitted to having become hooked. "I have," he disclosed, "been browsing through other people’s friend lists in a vain attempt to find anyone I might possibly have ever met."
 
He’s not alone in undergoing a rapid conversion from Facebook apathy to addiction. Both my homepage colleagues, Dom and Laura, spoke loud and long of how they were going to have nothing to do with it and thought the entire thing pitifully absurd…until they signed up, of course, and in a flash became fully paid-up rabblerousers for the social networking revolution.
 
Nicole, our boss, was the same, freely admitting she once thought it sad and a bit pathetic, but who’s now happy to sing its praises and testify to its virtues.
 
It’s a trend which has taken root throughout MSN Towers, one that seems unstoppable in its popularity – and one which I’m reluctant to have anything to do with.
 
It’s not that I’m against the potency and potential of the internet as a means of communication, or friendship, or even gossip-mongering; it’s the means, rather than the end, which I object to.
 
In other words, the way Facebook depends upon you being happy to lay bare all aspects of your life in order to become one of the crowd. The way you have to actively search and round-up every "friend" you’ve ever known, no matter how tenuously, in order to prove that you’re popular. And the fact it is predicated on you wanting to boast and brag about your social circle in as public a way possible.
 
It’s the primeval law of the school playground translated online, and it’s profoundly unnerving.
 
There’s an unspoken assumption that if you haven’t got x number of "friends" to your name – at least a few dozen – you’re a failure. Tied to this is the implication that if you’ve got to a certain age in your life, you should have x amount to show for yourself, be it wacky companions, photos of trips around the world or breathtaking career accomplishments.
 
Hence what, on one level, is merely an old-fashioned bulletin board or mailing list, becomes an arena for online showboating and no place for the mundane. Heaven forbid you are boring and have barely as many friends as you have fingers, or have done the same job all your life, or have never been abroad.
 
The way Facebook has become so successful so quickly – it was only last autumn that membership was extended from only those with a university email address to anyone at all – is testament to the innate appeal of its mix of tittle-tattle, grandstanding and voyeurism.
 
And it is undeniably a hit. "Its simplicity is its strength," argues Dom. "It marries an extremely useable format with that basic human nature to want to stay in touch with everyone you know." Megan, our photo editor, had a more down-to-earth reason for joining: "I wanted to find out who was fat and who was pregnant from my school."
 
Yet there’s something about its promotion of noseyness as a leisure activity, its encouragement of social rivalry, and above all the way it encourages your past to return to haunt you, that leaves me cold. Indeed, Megan’s other half, Jon, explains his dislike for Facebook three ways: "I’ll call the people I want to get in touch with. I don’t care who’s fat and pregnant. Plus my wife spends all evening on it."
 
I know these arguments will, for most readers, count for little, and that I will pilloried variously as a Luddite, a loser or a loner. But for me, for the moment, Facebook remains a no-go area, an exercise in social engineering of which I don’t want any part, an excuse for the people you know now to find out about the people you knew then, and yet another cultural trend that fashion orders you to be part of.
 
Is anyone else with me?
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