I am a self-confessed Facebook addict. Every so often, I despair about the worryingly large amount of time I have spent on Facebook since 2007. Hours where I could have been writing my first novel, learning to play the saxophone, or learning the original German lyrics of ’99 Red Balloons’ (we all have our pipe dreams).
Interestingly, over the last couple of years, the popularity of Facebook has dwindled somewhat. Part of this is resultant of a trend amongst young graduates to deactivate their Facebook accounts in order to make their transition to a ‘serious person’ (in effect, a corporate slave who doesn’t have the free time to eat and sleep, let alone a free hour to stalk their friend’s cousin’s flatmate’s dog).
But the other reason for this is the rise of new social media such as Twitter and Instagram. The former allows the proletarian masses to ‘follow’ the musings of celebrities, receiving privileged insights into the great minds of our time: Stephen Fry, Barack Obama and Justin Bieber, to name just a few. Our innermost thoughts, thoughts that might once upon a time have flitted away into the dust of general apathy, are in this enlightened age recorded in the posterity of someone else’s newsfeed.
Instagram, meanwhile, has unleashed the creative genius in us all, parading our bohemian lifestyles in a grainy, sepia representation of the mind’s eye. The dishes that we slave over for a precious half an hour are eternalised for all to see, whilst the incongruous background of bathroom tiles that once ruined a particularly picturesque ‘selfy’ can be blurred out and forgotten.
But in this rapidly changing climate, I felt the need to muse about the key aspects of Facebook, the ones that made Facebook great and Mark Zuckerberg filthy rich.
Facebook provides an instant gratification during that time when you are bored in a revision lull, haven’t left the house in three days and nothing seems to be happening. Your Facebook newsfeed is proof that, yes, the world is still turning. And if you stick around, you can amuse yourself by Facebook chatting that person you once met on holiday (Portugal ’05, eh? Never let those memories go!), or, if you have been attempting something particularly difficult i.e. advanced astrophysics or world domination, then you can distract yourself with the equally unchallenging task of FarmVille, or The Sims. Arguably, the world of Facebook is escapist enough, as a distorted representation of reality, but Sims might also tickle your fancy.
The Facebook Relationship
‘It’s not official until it’s Facebook Official’, or so I’m told. In the past, this has been used for justification for cheating, or handled as a source of awkward torture if one party is more ambivalent than the other. To be completely honest, I worry that publicising one’s relationship on Facebook is often done for somewhat unromantic reasons, representing a large glaring ‘BACK OFF’ to anyone ready to sink their claws into your sweetheart. Or, indeed, as a much-needed clarification during that tentative moment of the relationship where you are unsure just how ‘serious’ you are about each other. Regardless, many couples like to do this, and initially it was one of the elements of Facebook that made it so popular.
Then there is the part where you break up. In the words of Neil Sedaka, ‘breaking up is hard to do’, but nothing prepares you for that heart-wrenching moment when the sacred bond of Facebook is broken. I once heard of a particularly good-looking girl who, after her breakup, received no less than a hundred ‘likes’ from potential suitors on her changed relationship status. I fear, however, that this moment is not quite so triumphant for most of us, and having a constant reminder on your timeline will be a painful kick in the proverbial balls.
The other thing that absolutely baffles me is the ‘It’s Complicated’ status. Why is it complicated? Of course, unless it’s a libertine, polyamorous relationship, or deluded love affair with one’s Fiat Punto then I really have no interest in hearing about it. But surely this relationship status option merely complicates things further? Ultimately, I’m really not sure what Zuckerberg was angling for with this one.
The ‘FOMO’- ‘Fear Of Missing Out’
Need a healthy dose of insecurity? Facebook is your go to place. This is especially effective when you have planned to have a night in to yourself. Logging into Facebook will list the fun you are not having, locating it at the great club you are not at, with the people that…wait a second, you can’t stand them. But this makes no difference; you have already caught the deadly ‘FOMO’. Wordsworth once spoke of the ‘bliss of solitude’, the spiritual introspection that leads to true self-discovery. In our time, it takes an overpriced yoga retreat where smartphones are banned, just to achieve a semblance of this.
As part of the Facebook-addicted generation, we cannot rest because someone, somewhere, is doing something substantially more awesome than us. The reality of this, for the most part, is that said Facebook user is sitting bored in a corner of this substantially-more-awesome event, haplessly trying to prevent their autocorrect from changing ‘Fashion Show’ to ‘Fish Shop’. Like with the Facebook relationship, it seems to be a case of validity: if a tree fell in a forest, and no one heard it, then did it make a sound? If I spent four hours in Gatecrasher with a bunch of other people, and it wasn’t checked in on Facebook, did it actually happen? Increasingly, there has been a shift from ‘living in the moment’ (‘YOLO’, anyone?) to basking in the glorious story that your Facebook page depicts.
Over the years, I have received friend requests from new acquaintances on Facebook. ‘Fabulous’, we might have once thought, ‘this is the start of a beautiful friendship!’. Not quite. The reasons that people might add you on Facebook are multifold, and they are no always pleasant. Sometimes they are out of an innocent curiosity. Sometimes they are because you share a name with a Z list celebrity. There are the requests from that person you have never met- sometimes from countries you have never visited- the instance of which correlates with the amount of flesh you bare in your profile photo. There’s the classic request from your boyfriend’s ex-beau, something which is done specifically so that they can see the other half of those that schmaltzy wall post discourse and, at times, even berate you. There’s the seemingly harmless add from Joe ‘Raver’ Bloggs, who will go on to torment you with a barrage of invites to club events that you will never attend (although a tiny part of you always wishes you did- refer back to ‘FOMO’).
The irony, of course, is that, had Zuckerberg grown up in the Facebook age, I suspect he might have felt rather ambivalent about it. As with every successful enterprise (Jamie Laing’s ‘Candy Kittens’ aside, perhaps), Facebook was launched from a combination of a hard work ethic and original thought. Zuckerberg is admirable because he turned away from the ways that his classmates currently wasted their time, and strove to give them something new. Consequently fucking over the rest of us, some might argue. But hey. Facebook has its perks. Keeping up with your friends has never been easier. Hosting an event is much more reassuring when 46 of your friends claim to be ‘attending’. And the birthday reminder element…well that’s just genius. But in a society where Facebook is cited in a third of divorce cases, perhaps we all need a wake-up call every now and again, to propel us back into the real world.