There are a helluva lot of people online writing about how much they hate Facebook. They hate it mainly because they feel it takes up too much of their time; because it can be a risk to personal privacy and because it can be a platform for halfwits of all varieties to publicly demonstrate their idiocy.
It can be all those things of course, but when I read these criticisms of Facebook, a part of my brain is bellowing: “LOOK AT ALL THOSE THINGS. THEY ARE UNDER YOUR CONTROL.” You don’t have to put your place of work, your home address, your birthday, your mobile number or your bank details on there. You can click a thingy that allows you to review any tagged photos of you before they appear. If you don’t want to have embarrassing photos of yourself in compromising positions appear online, either click the thingy that gets them taken down or don’t allow yourself to get in compromising positions in the first place (at least in public). If your friends are posting moronic things, either unfriend them or hide their posts (why are you friends with morons?). If you don’t want some friends to see things you post, then select the thingy that customises who sees what. Make yourself unsearchable so that employers can’t find you if you’re worried that your Facebook self renders you unemployable. Frankly, I have no sympathy.
And as for those who, like Janet Street Porter does here, claim that people have Facebook friends as a substitute for real life ones – believe it or not, humans have the phenomenal capacity to both type communications on a social networking platform AND speak real words to each other’s actual flesh faces. I know it seems difficult to believe, but it’s true. “These social networkers”, opines Ms. Street Porter knowledgeably, “may be technologically sophisticated, and yet what they actually communicate is anything but. They spend hours boasting about what they’ve eaten, what they’ve watched on telly and who they fancy. Why do they shirk from real-life encounters?”
I can’t even begin to unpick the layers of shoddy argument here. It’s just a little ball of stupid. Does she believe that people’s face to face interactions are made up entirely of discussions on Shopenhauer’s investigation of individual motivation or debates about whether Newton or Leibniz was responsible for inventing calculus? Clearly she’s never been on the Redruth bus. And as for her comment on ‘real life’ encounters. Well. I can’t make it work as a deductive syllogism:
- Some people who like social networking online might shirk from (sic) real life encounters.
- Kevin is a person who likes social networking online.
- Therefore Kevin shirks from real-life encounters.
And if there are people who are troubled by ‘real life’ encounters, but are comfortable with online ones, in what way is this a bad thing? Surely this gives people some pleasure and a sense of being linked to others that they would otherwise not have? And in what way is Facebook not ‘real life’? Is it because we can select the images and words we project into the world? Can’t we do that in fleshspace also if we have more than a handful of braincells?
I don’t understand why it’s an either/or situation. I have more friends than I can handle in ‘real life’ AND an active Facebook life. Facebook enhances my real life. When I left my job a year or so ago, it was through Facebook that I was able to keep up with the colleagues I loved, almost as if we hadn’t been so rudely separated at all. We could banter online the way we bantered on a daily basis at work and I didn’t feel as bereft as I might have done otherwise. It was through Facebook that we casually arranged days out together and this way we kept up the bonds that I would have been heartbroken to have lost.
But alongside that, I do have friends on Facebook that I have never met, and probably will never meet. These are people who I have encountered in discussion groups or through my blog, etc, and have clicked with because of our shared humour and love of language. Social networking is all about the written word, and I adore the written word. The opportunities for communications of subtlety and hilarity are endless, and participants have time to ponder their answers before they blurt. This often leads to threads of discussion or banter that quite simply delight me.
I didn’t mean this to turn into quite the rant it has, but I have one example I’d like to share, before I shut up, of how Facebook can enhance ‘real life’ friendships. There is one person with whom I’m friends on Facebook that I have known in ‘real life’ since I was about 13. He was one of those very shy people who hang around with a social group, but are too self-conscious to talk much to girls, so remain in the background while the girls are about. Because of this, although I knew him, I didn’t really know him in the way the anti-Facebook people mean when they eulogise ‘real life’ relationships. After knowing him this way for about 25 years, this man and I became Facebook friends and it was a revelation. Because his shyness was sidestepped by communicating only in written language, my friend was able to reveal his actual self. Through a stream of interesting and entertaining discussion I discovered that he is incredibly well-read; a lover of poetry, theatre and literature; knowledgeable on a lot of topics; a member of interesting local history societies and above all, tremendously warm, funny and good with words. We developed a friendship that never could have happened in the much vaunted ‘real life’.
Anyway, what prompted this post was a combination of reading some anti-Facebook stuff, and then logging into Facebook and finding this thread (I’ve edited it as a nod to personal privacy & coherence) that took place in response to my last blog post. It reminded me what I love about Facebook:
Hayley: Perfect words, Teen machine x
Tony: Your writing is special. Having two small children myself, I am developing into a full blown plasma globe of anxiety about whether I’m favouring one or the other, whether my actions have inadvertently retarded the development of either, and whether they’ll have to go through any sort of bullying shenanigans that I had to go through. I love them both (although I don’t feel the need to repeatedly state that like some sort of medal of honour on Facebook as per some people) and I want them both to be doctor astronaut train drivers.
Throbbingsof noontide: You can’t possibly do it right. Fact. So just do it with love. Shit. I am turning into a fridge magnet.
Troy: You should employ a person to follow you about with a type-writer and tap out your thoughts. Pay them with the glory of watching art being formed.
Tony: If Wayne Rooney has already had 3 books published by the age of 27, I think we should all accept we’re massive failures and should join some sort of religious cult with a sexy mass suicide orgy ritual thing.
Throbbingsofnoontide: I’m up for that, so long as there’s a tea urn.
Tony: There’ll be a plate of custard creams, bourbon creams, rich tea and dark chocolate digestives at the side. Everyone will also have temporary passes as it’ll be held in a regional business conference centre. Knowledge of Powerpoint 2007 preferred.
Throbbingsofnoontide: We’d have to be grouped according to age, though.
Troy: Start a cult, make your own rules.
Throbbingsofnoontide: Oh, I thought it was Tony’s cult.
Troy: Tony’s Cult. I like that. In my head, the working title was ‘We’re all shitter than Rooney, so let’s have sex, eat biscuits and die Cult.’ Tony’s Cult has more of a workaday ring to it.
Throbbingsofnoontide: It’s more appropriate to a cult that includes bourbons and Powerpoint.
Tony: I agree. The burning question though, is should we purchase brand-name biscuits or conserve the Cult’s budget and buy cheaper alternatives from Aldi / Lidl? I also propose that the final slide of the Powerpoint Presentation should be a Risk Assessment of the massive orgy. Hazards I’ve identified to date are:-
– Biscuit crumbs
– Knee Dislocations
– Manual Handling
– Inadvertant Onanism
Troy: Inadvertant Onanism. I wouldn’t get that joke without you, Throbbings. If you’ve taught me one thing, it’s when to laugh at educated masturbation humour.
Joe: Throbbings, I read your very first blog when you posted it and remember thinking, “that was good, I will always read Throbbing’s blogs”. Some time later I read another one, maybe your 11th or something and thought “that was really, really good, why the hell have I not been following these? I’m going to go back and read the ones I missed, and I’ll definitely read them all from now on”. I think this is maybe the fourth or fifth of your blogs I’ve either bothered or remembered to read now and I’ve just spent the last three minutes punching myself in the face. I shudder to think of the amount of hours I’ve wasted doing something not as good as reading your blogs, the exact figure is hard to calculate but it’s somewhere in the region of ‘most hours’.
Throbbingsofnoontide: Troy, I am delighted that you learned something so useful.
Paddy: This made my ovaries hurt. Love your blog posts. This one in particular.
Throbbingsofnoontide: Making a boy have ovaries is my finest achievement to date.
Troy: Ungraciously knocking the two boys with testicles that you made earlier off the top spot.
Throbbingsofnoontide: I bought some cheap fingerless gloves in Tesco. They are very nice except they seem to have two tiny woolen testicles attached at each wrist. I do not understand their purpose.
Troy: Obviously you bought the male pair – how else are gloves to reproduce, if not with miniscule material sex-organs?
Throbbingsofnoontide: Holy shit. I didn’t even know gloves were mammals.
Joe: For what it’s worth, I agree with Tony, your writing is indeed special. Take this thread for instance, I love the way you’ve effortlessly weaved the characters of Troy, Paddy and Tony into what, on the face of it, seemed like an everyday thrilldramaromcomsciencehorrorporn about a middle-aged woman posting a blog. Very clever writing. Adding me into the mix two-thirds of the way in was a masterstroke, nobody saw me coming. Least of all me. I was like ‘oh, I’m not in this thread’, and then I was like ‘SHIT!!! Yes I am!!”. Reminded me a little of when Kevin Spacey turned out to be Luke Skywalker’s father at the end of “The Sixth Sense”. Brilliant. Criticisms – I thought you could have developed the character of Hayley a little more. I liked her a lot, but was left kinda wondering what was the point of her. Is she some kind of metaphor? I don’t get it. Also, having me analyse the story as part of the story in this bit of the story right here, well it’s amusing and everything in a kind of wry post-modern sort of way but this kind of thing’s been done many times now. Maybe it’s a subtle nod in the direction of Charlie Kauffman but if that’s the case, it needed to be a little more subtle. I dunno, just feels a bit ‘contrived’ to me, that’s all I’m saying. All of this, however, is not to detract from what I think has been one of your finest works to date. I give you a fluffy 9.
Mikey: I agree with Joe’s assessment of the plot to date in this thread but I can’t help feeling that the twist ending of me showing up and complaining about the ending is one of the all-time terrible endings. I mean, it just doesn’t make any sense. What am I even doing here? It’s ridiculous. I’ve had nothing at all to do with the story and suddenly I make a dramatic appearance? Honestly, Throbbings, I know you like to surprise your readers but you’ve really overdone it this time. The character of me has been a big mistake.
Joe: Hmmm….. my first instinct was to agree with you here, Mikey. I did think that. What _are_ you doing here? But then, is it not just possible that we’re both simply missing something really, really clever in Throbbing’s writing? I keep thinking back to that Hayley character. Perhaps you and her are connected in some deeply symbolic way? I have some theories on the subject: 1) You are a ghost. 2) Hayley is a ghost. 3) Hayley is a semi-fictitious character who, you manage to convince the authorities, is the mythical mastermind behind a game in which you were only a pawn, before revealing right at the death that you, in fact, are Hayley and leaving nonchalantly in the back of a limo, or 4) Hayley is your father. I actually think all four of those are possible but we’ll never find out if you keep talking over the ending.
Mikey: I don’t mean to keep talking over the ending, Joe, and I can’t help feeling that Throbbings should have made the character of me someone who _doesn’t_ talk over endings but I see what you mean about there possibly being something that we’ve missed earlier in the thread that would piece everything together. Like the bit where Hayley calls Throbbings, “Teen Machine”. Or the bit where Troy introduces the idea that there might be some Custard Creams available. Is it possible that Throbbings is, like, some kind of biscuit-manufacturing machine? And if so, how does that affect her relationship with Tony? Is it conceivable that Tony is going to turn out to be the same person as Hayley? That would be a good twist. I hope that happens. I also hope that you and I get married in the end.
Joe: I’d like that too, Mikey. I always hope that we get married when we’re in one of Throbbing’s threads together, but it never happens, does it. Usually she just has us waffle on for a bit in a way that clearly amuses both of us but more or less ruins the thread for everyone else, before eventually losing interest and returning somewhat sheepishly to our lexulous games. Do you ever feel like we’re becoming typecast? Don’t get me wrong, Throbbings writes way better dialogue for us than most people do but she still has us playing essentially the same two characters we always play. I sometimes think she could exploit our versatility a little more.
Throbbingsofnoontide: No, you’ve got it all wrong. I intended you to be sort of the Statler and Waldorf of the story. You’re the characters who reflect on what’s going on in the rest of the story. I think I may have made you too introspective; you weren’t supposed to start questioning the nature of your existence OR considering wedlock.
Joe: Pfft. No-one’s ever going to believe a story in which Mikey and I don’t, at some point, consider wedlock. You can’t re-write the laws of physics.
Mikey: Agree with this webpipe. I enjoy well-written fiction as much as anyone but it has to stay at least within the realms of possibility. A story in which Joe and I appear but don’t actually _get_ married is one thing but one in which we don’t even think about it? I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.
So, probably, if you hate Facebook, it’s because you’ve got rubbish friends. I recommend you get some better ones forthwith.
Oh, and thank you Drew at http://www.toothpastefordinner.com/. I love you a little bit.