Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Facebook: A Grumpy Rant

Facebook. The most popular social networking site in the world, as Jeremy Clarkson might put it. But is that actually a good thing?

Let’s examine that word “popular” for a moment. It’s used to denote success; if it’s popular, lots of people like it, and if lots of people like it, it generates money. Vast quantities of it in Facebook’s case; according to Forbes, Mark Zuckerberg is worth $17.5 billion. Everyone with access to the internet uses Facebook, and every time someone joins it puts a bit more money into the shareholders’ pockets. And, Facebook is undeniably useful because of its popularity; because everyone is on it, it’s the easiest way to track down old friends, to organise events with current friends, and for those inclined to nose into whatever their facebook-friends are doing at all times. Popularity-it’s great.

Yet it isn’t really, is it. “Popular” does not mean “good”; look at Justin Bieber, Twilight, and the Transformers films for examples. Facebook is exactly like the “popular” kids in school, who, invariably, turn out to be vacuous assholes whose poisonous influence follows you for your whole life. Like their conversation, 95% of what is said on Facebook is utter shit; like them, the number of friends you have (on Facebook) is seen by many to be a defining characteristic about you*; like them, Facebook is empty and soulless. And really, really annoying.

Let’s deal with the “utter shit” part first. I have a few friends on Facebook who log on first thing every day and post “good morning”, and every night “good night” (often with worse spelling). Why they do this, I have no idea. Do people need to know their getting up and bedtimes? Would they, without Facebook, send everyone in their phonebook a text saying “Good morning” every morning? What possible purpose does this achieve? Even worse is when people post their shitty musical tastes on their Facebook walls, in an attempt, I think, to advertise the tracks to the outside world and to make songs known to their mates. Seriously, if this is the case (and it isn’t just “look at me! I’m musical and deep!”, which I’m not ruling out), who actually thinks people won’t have heard “I heard it through the Grapevine” or “Someone like You”? When someone puts a video on someone else’s wall, then fair enough; it could well be something they’d enjoy. But when they put it as their own status, well, how arrogant must you be to assume that every one of your Facebook friends shares your musical tastes, or will be better educated once they’ve checked out your choices? There are a million examples of this and other instances of vacuous crap, and a lot of them are detailed in much funnier ways than I can on other sites.

On the subject of posting onto friends’ walls, how many actual friends does the average person know well enough to do this? I’d imagine very few; most of the friends most people have on Facebook are barely deserving of the title “acquaintance”, let alone “friend”. Perversely, because Facebook has this system of “friends”, people see everything they put on Facebook as private, shared between a group of people who know them and who they are comfortable sharing with. Yet, much like the popular kids in school, it isn’t just their friends who hear about this, but everyone on their friends list; EVERYONE, including that girl you drunkenly added because her name was “Wiener”, or that creepy guy who added you for no reason you can think of. And, what might be even worse, Facebook knows what you’ve written, and stores every status, comment, photo. This is fine while you’re 20 and have no responsibility, not so fine when you’re running for Prime Minister and your opponents unearth “that” striptease routine you did for a laugh back at uni. “Popular” means “public”, no matter how much Facebook might like to pretend they have privacy settings; and the more “popular” Facebook gets, the more powerful it grows.

That Facebook has now implemented a system of close friends and acquaintances demonstrates this far better than I ever could; people are now so vociferous about not wanting to have the thoughts of complete strangers clogging up their newsfeeds that Facebook has stepped in to help. But not, you’ll notice, to make people get rid of “friends”; they want people to have as many “friends” as possible, to get more people to join, to play the stupid games, to click on the adverts, and get revenue. Facebook, as an entity, is soulless, just like those dead-behind-the-eyes popular people at school; it exists purely to be popular and thus to gain money. I don’t actually have a problem with this, as after all, that’s what businesses do, but I do hate the sheep-like state it forces on the users. Take trending articles, for example; ostensibly they are a way for everyone to be included in the loop, to be made aware of pressing issues, to be made a part of the culture of information and community provided by the site. Yet what they actually are is a way for everyone to get the same news, to read the same opinions, and then be satisfied. They prevent thought, they don’t encourage it; in allowing everyone to read the same thing, they reduce originality, diversity, and individuality. If you get some poster paints or all the colours imaginable and mix them you get a sort of dirty brown colour; that’s what Facebook is doing to us by making everything common to everyone, and it really, really couldn’t care less. Everyone at school wants to be like the popular kids but it’s lucky for the world that they aren’t.

 The thing I hate most about Facebook, though, is that I can’t escape it. It’s everywhere, on every website, in the news, in the media. It’s the dominant social networking site and as a social networking site it is the best. But it’s also a dependency I don’t want. Like the existence of “popular” kids, it’s something we all have to accept as an inevitability; just don’t expect me to like it.

*Granted, it can be; the creepy guy with the crazy eyes who has no friends, real or facebook-imaginary, tends to be that way for a reason.