Getting it’. More and more people are starting to feel a little icky when they find out what motivates Facebook’s existence, and while this excerpt from ‘Getting it’ doesn’t reflect exactly how I feel about social networking (it’s fiction after all) there are some observations that you might agree with, or that might get you thinking. Question everything! A few of the people who have read my book have told me that they really identified with this chapter, so I’d be interested to hear what you think, you can share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Before you read this please bear in mind that because it is fiction it should be taken with a pinch of salt, this is not specifically about Facebook, but about social networking as a whole. The examples of evil are FICTICIOUS and are not intended to reflect the real world too closely, although if we stop questioning everything maybe this could become reality in the near future...
If I’m honest with myself (and you) I’m still a little steaming about what happened last week at that gig. I’m trying my best to calm the irritation Beth has introduced into my life. She has tried to ‘friend me’ online and I’m protesting in the most modern way possible: I’m ignoring her invitation. I hate being hassled over the Internet - my sister hounds the living crap out of me online but she’s an exception; she’s always an exception to any rule of irritation.
How have these online abominations known as social networking websites become the primary way we communicate? How did they manage to creep up on us so fast? With pandemic disease mankind can take precautions, but social networking is so virulent nobody has any choice but to submit to it. You can’t inoculate or evacuate to protect yourself from Social Networking.
I resisted getting involved in this brave new world for as long as I could, but eventually I found myself missing out on a lot of social events. Because I wasn’t signed up to the right website I wasn’t getting any invitations to the pub, parties or to any other social occasional. At first it appeared my friends were organising a second life online, then it just sort of crept up behind them and became their real life. Instead of using websites to talk about social events the sites themselves became the social event; a social event that is twenty four hours long, seven days a week for the entire year and probably the rest of your life (or at least until the next big thing comes long). Knowing the habits of my friends I wouldn’t want to be stuck with them at a party that never ends, but it would appear my friends desire that very thing. It’s less all tomorrow parties and more the never ending story.
Social networking is a party you can never leave - I had friend (called Mark) who deleted his profile only to watch it become immortally sentient without him. He could no longer log in and update his profile but the world could see it, and what the world saw was Mark’s profile continuing the automatic interactions with other profiles that he set in motion when he signed up. It was like Mark’s online profile page had become self aware, like it had become a beast in its own right. This online version of Mark - and I hesitate to call it ‘Mark II’ without making it sound like a male grooming product - couldn’t create any new information to share with the world, but the huge body of data that Mark had previously fed it was more than enough for the beast to thrive on. Social networking is a hungry and greedy beast gorging itself on the huge slabs of highly personal information we willingly feed it.
Social sites have forged us into an image that is their ideal, not our own. We’re being led like innocent willing lambs to the commercial all consuming financial slaughter. The money grabbing capitalists behind social networking must be laughing until they loose bowel control (down the trouser leg of their designer suits) when they consider the fact they’ve created a foolproof way of relieving users of as much cash as humanly possible. Actually foolproof is the wrong word to use; social sites rely on the foolish to survive. They need fools to spend hours slavishly entering their likes and dislikes otherwise they wouldn’t be able to sell their private and most personal data to the highest bidder. Without this unpaid data input they wouldn’t be able to target users with adverts optimised to a terrifying degree to have the deepest possible impact on the psyche, and the greatest possible draining effect on our wallets. If the greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist, then the greatest trick social networking websites ever played was convincing the world they’re free to use. The owners (or rather equity partners and faceless investment groups) behind these social networking sites are a cancerous growth on humanity, feeding off the hopes, dreams and misery of their users.
A good friend of mine was going through a hell of a time last year watching her mother die from cancer, sadly just a year after her father passed away. She was an only child and the burden weighed so heavily on her she lost weight and for a while became quite withdrawn from our circle of friends. Naturally this painful and lonely suffering was reflected (and to some extent detailed) in the posts she made to her profile page. Immediately she was fed adverts for pharmaceutical companies. These evil morally bankrupt cankers on the soul of humanity even sent her an email offering a discount voucher for a local funeral service. If during a time of such distress you noticed an undertaker loitering outside your house like a drooling vulture you would quite rightly make your feelings clearly known. The adverts on profile pages are just as parasitic and cold hearted. So does my (now bereaved) friend still have a profile on the site that wronged her so painfully and with such financially motivated maliciousness? Does she still log in ten times a day and nourish the machine with her joys and distresses? You bet she does.
My Kid Sister met her husband online so she’s kinda bias, but as I said, she’s always the exception to the rule. I can’t help but find it a bit terrifying she sees all of these mass media conglomerate owned websites as benevolent cupid types bringing lovers together. God it makes my blood run cold with dread. However much you’ve read someone’s profile I bet your first impressions are still based on the photo they’ve chosen to post of themselves. She married just a year ago; she’d only met the guy a few times before she popped the question but was convinced he was ‘the one’. She’s a wonderfully warm hearted girl, and usually she’s also wonderfully cynical but she’s sure her computer match will last. She told me complex algorithms and countless variables have scientifically ruled out the possibility of a failed relationship. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants, but what if it’s all the failed relationships we have that make the ones that work so wonderful. Oh man, now I’m getting really depressed.
I’ve got friends who use dating sites as a means to shag as many women as possible, and no matter what the complex algorithms may think they’re not looking for love. I haven’t spent a great deal of effort pointing this to my little sister - it would be mean to shoot down her romantic notions of computer designed love with contrary reports. To me she’s still that funny looking little kid who cried her little heart out when I accidently pulled over the Christmas tree one year, and more than anything else in the world I want her to be happy. Heaven only knows I don’t want her to go through what I have over these past couple of years…
Heroin and Cocaine are blamed by society for being the root of many evils, but it’s a sad truth that the damage legal addictions can cause is far more widespread and touches (and destroys) more lives than any illegal drug. Social Networking is a dangerous addiction, and it destroys more relationships than narcotics ever could. If you’re unfortunate enough to split up with a partner then your profile will broadcast the fact to your friends within seconds. Your profile page is like a big mouthed kid with zero compassion or tact. Social Networking is an abusive lover who we return to despite years of hurt, in the vain hope that something will change for the better. Saddest of all is the hope it will start to respect us.
So as I say, I had strong reservations about signing up, but in the end if I hadn’t have got a profile I fear I would have become invisible to my friends in the real world. My friends are desperately important to me; if I can’t keep clear channels of communication open with them then I can’t help them.
Another reason I signed up was because the world around me flipped upside down – until this year when my friends met online we would discuss our day to day lives, but now our day to day lives are online we’re left with few offline topics. I’ve been to the pub to meet friends a bunch of times and we’ve all realised we have nothing to talk about; we already know what each other have been up to every moment since we last met thanks to social networking. I signed up because I had a genuine fear that if I didn’t know who had poked who, and who had detagged whom then I’d find myself with nothing to contribute to conversations. It was starting to feel like all my friends had been invited to a party I had been excluded from, and just to spite me the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was how great the party had been.
I didn’t forgo all moral outrage when I signed up; I used a nickname only my closest friends know me by. By using a false name I have become a non-entity, some falsified illogical data, a black hole of reason in the social networking metrics. Some of the personal details I submitted are true (age, hair colour) but if they try and monetise my presence on their website using the false hobbies and interests I’ve entered then they’ll have to find some pretty niche products. I’ve encouraged my friends to join me in this mild rebellion, but they’re too concerned they may lose the vouchers they’re sent in exchange for divulging their entire lives to these corporations. Oh how cheap they sell their souls, at least bluesman Robert Johnston got taught how to play his guitar ‘real good’ when he sold his soul, all my friends are getting in exchange is a medium size pizza for half price when buying a XXL pizza on weeknight evenings (excluding Mondays and Fridays).
There’s so much I want to do for my friends that the idea of missing out on any aspect of their lives terrifies me. How can I offer my love, help and advice if I don’t know what they’ve been up to? Mind you, it’s not like social networking allows me to dive deep into the well of my friend’s emotions. While updates of one hundred and forty characters or less may give the profiteers all the information they need it’s not enough for a true friend to gauge how someone is feeling. Imagine for a moment a law has been passed making it illegal to hold a conversation using any more than fifty syllables - we could still communicate the basics, but we’d all soon be either terminally bored or so desperate to properly express ourselves we would have a stroke and die. So why do we accept these shallow snippets as satisfactory in our online lives? I’m not reactionary enough to claim our love of the quick fix instant hit of social networking is a symptom of a far larger problem in society, I guess I’m just a bit saddened the long conversations I had deep into the night with some friends have been replaced by a single line of text on a website that says something like ‘going shopping LOL’. My god, if the simple act of going shopping is causing you to actually ‘laugh out loud’ then I suggest you try something like kicking a football about in the park; you’ll laugh so hard you’ll probably prolapse.
I would rather know every intimate detail of a small group of friends than know tiny bits of information about thousands of people I only half know. The only thing hundreds and thousands are good for is the top of iced buns, and at a push as a weapon of distraction should one come under attack in an ice cream parlour.
I have an idea how to fight back this rising tide of emotional brevity - I’ll start writing letters to my friends. I’ll write long meandering soul searching letters tackling tough issues and discussing feelings. At least I would write letters if I thought any of my friends would ever read them and reply. They’re probably too busy laughing out loud because they’re doing the ironing or something.
I’m painting a grim picture of my group of friends, and I don’t mean to; I love them dearly, but sometimes they infuriate me. A friend (well more of a friend of a friend) with three kids told me – and with a totally straight face – she has no use for her recycling bin because she hasn’t got anything to put in it. I couldn’t believe it, I took her to a darkened corner at the party we were attending and spent fifteen minutes explaining just how badly she was damaging the planet with her ignorance. I told her if she didn’t make the tiny amount of effort it takes to separate her rubbish then there might not be a world for her beloved children to live in. I explained in words of two syllables or less that her refusal to take glass to the bottle bank was making the world a worse place for both of us. Eventually she convinced me she understood and made a solemn promise to start using her recycling bin. I told her I’d nip to the loo and on my return tell her why the compost bin the council had just delivered to everyone in town is so exciting. For some reason when I came back she was nowhere to be found, I imagine she’d gone home to start sorting through her kitchen bin or something. She also stopped responding to my posts on her profile page, but with three kids she’s most likely too busy for social networking.
I don’t want you to get the impression I’ve become some sort of tree hugging hessian wearing hippy, but there are some truths about this planet everyone needs to know. Ignorance is mankind’s greatest enemy, and looking the other way is the fastest route to a fall.