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Virtually wasting a life away (Facebook)

I joined Facebook three weeks ago.  For someone that just wanted to keep in touch with overseas friends and network a bit, it’s been a bit of a ride: bites, fights, gifts, curses, pirates, vampires.  The options for things to do are numerous—I could virtually build an existence by clicking around.  But, hang on—I was meant to be networking, keeping in touch.  How did I end up being attacked by zombies?

Many of the applications seem to be obsessed with numbers, scores, ratings, a chance to show off how much of a virtual existence you have; those that aren’t are an excuse for something to do: chucking digital food at someone, spanking them, kissing, cursing, giving strawberries.  Others still just take up space on profiles: “superwalls”, aquariums, cartoons.  There are precious few, less than a handful, that offer some insight into the person.  Indeed, the one common thread among all the applications, except for that less-than-a-handful, is that they reward or encourage time spent clicking away and encouraging others to click away, staring at the LCD.

But is this what it’s about?  Does social networking mean spending hours trying to get your name on other people’s pages as many times as possible?  Do we interact with other people by selecting what to do to them from an extended list of options?  By trying to make our profile sufficiently long that it overloads someone else’s computer?  Is clicking, clicking, and more clicking (in the right places, of course) what people consider fun?

When I hear the words “social networking”, I think of meeting people, keeping in touch with people, maybe getting to know a bit more about them.  Facebook, in countless ways—exchanging photos, videos, messages and comparing tastes to name a few—achieves this.  If done successfully, networking through Facebook will contribute to the rest of our lives (or for what it’s worth, our real lives).  It’ll add to our lives, make us more social than we are already.  But in even more countless ways, Facebook has the potential to take over lives, to keep people behind their computers, and it seems to be happening already.

Adding countless applications and inviting as many people to as many things as one can is no doubt symptomatic of this.  It is natural to want to exploit a service like Facebook to its full potential, but when it detracts from one’s real life, it perhaps borders on the too-far line.  Clicking on a button that, without you having to touch your keyboard, posts that you’ve hugged, kissed and annoyed someone veers off course about it when it comes to the spirit of Facebook.  Spending hours getting those ratings to five from five veers more so.  What really counts is what we learn about each other, reveal about ourselves, keeping with old friends and discovering by accident that mutual friend we had no idea about.

Personally, I’ve never really been one for networking sites.  I’ve never touched MySpace; my account on Bebo exists solely so I can uncheck the “send me e-mails when…” boxes.  I’ve always held that I can just talk to my friends in person.  Facebook, though, was to keep in touch with friends from the International Chemistry Olympiad.  Now, before the Olympiad, I hadn’t heard of Facebook—only MySpace and Bebo.  (The Kiwi team’s Bebo habits weren’t especially well received by our overseas counterparts.)  Now I’m on Facebook, and I’m enjoying it, and who knows—maybe I’ll run into some long lost friends around there—but to be honest, unless some restraint is exercised, a lot of it’s rather pointless.

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