Ever felt like throwing your laptop out of the window because you’re fed up with modern technology that’s supposed to make life easier actually making it more complex? I’m pretty sure we’ve all experienced the “computer says no” frustration of an online banking system failing to perform an urgent transaction or an online shopping cart that repeatedly refuses to debit our credit card. And then we have the perils of today’s popular social media sites. “If you can’t beat it, join it”, as the old adage goes. And that’s what we do, joining social media sites such as Facebook in our droves…
At an August get together of some Brighton-based bloggers, the conversation turned from Facebook and Twitter to Foursquare – a new-fangled web and mobile application that encourages users to connect with friends and update their location by "checking in" at whatever venue they’re visiting. Users earn points for this checking in process and, if they do it from a particular venue on more days than anyone else, they’re titled “Mayor” of that location. One girl laughed that she’d earned the dubious privilege of becoming “Mayor of Morrisons”.
While Foursquare sounds amusing and it could be a good way of identifying kindred spirits in a bar you plan to visit imminently, it also sounds like a handy resource for burglars, stalkers and those who want to pin you down for a “friendly drink” when you’d rather avoid them. And, indeed, does the online community really need to see us checking in at our local chip shop, park bench or favourite public convenience we visit daily when we have nothing better to do? My Mother keeps saying: “Why don’t you keep your private lives to yourselves?” Oh but it’s so much more fun to share our every move… or is it?
People frequently complain that “big brother is watching us” when it comes to store cards that track our shopping habits, speed cameras that measure our MPH and CCTV cameras deployed in public places, yet it seems that we don’t mind proactively broadcasting our exact location online. Perhaps Channel 4’s ‘Big Brother’ is partly responsible for this trend: thanks to social media such as Facebook and Foursquare, we can all be the stars of our own “reality internet” performances, 24/7 and with very few editorial restrictions.
I hold my hands up to various Facebook “broadcast” crimes during my two years as a member: i.e. posting dull-as-dishwater status updates, moaning about my lot, airing personal grievances and starting catty ‘Facebook wars’. OK, so my updates on the “Jo Ego Show” have never been quite as bad as “I’m doing the dishes now” or “I’ve just changed a nappy” but they’ve come close. I asked myself recently: would I stand with a megaphone in Brighton’s Churchill Square and broadcast the same material to 325 people who were physically present? I think not. “Hah but would you manage to gather that many people in one spot anyway,” said a critic from my Facebook friends list. Whatever – the point stands that I wouldn’t tell the gathered crowd that “I’m in a bad mood today”, “I’ve got a hangover because I drank some cheap vino” or “my little boy has just poohed on the floor”, so why does it seem OK to do this on Facebook? Because you can’t see the people’s faces and their true reactions to the worst of one’s self-serving claptrap, that’s why!
I recently had ‘interpersonal issues’ with a friend who thought that the Facebook updates I posted while on ‘holiday’ (I use that word advisedly: I’m married to my laptop these days) were all about him. Err, but what about the other 324 people on my friends list who might be viewing my status updates and were simply fascinated to know that I drank a couple of tequilas and pulled a mate’s curtain rail down (two separate incidents: both equally, ahem, enthralling).
My sparring partner grumbled: “You’re trying to wind me up with your updates. I don’t put anything about what I’m doing on Facebook.” Err. Apart from the fact that’s not strictly true, isn’t the whole point of Facebook to show and tell people what we’re doing? Or, perhaps, some people think it exists to be used as a glorified dating site – a different sort of “show and tell”.
Personally, I think social media has a lot to answer for in the ‘noughties’. It’s quickly turning from “social media” into “anti-social media”, what with the tendency to encourage late night Farmville and Zynga Poker addiction, fostering misunderstandings between friends and instilling bad feeling between partners. It’s all too easy to descend into “ooh but you’ve got your ex on your friends list so why shouldn’t I have mine, blah blah, bleat bleat”, in between fits of furtive snooping on third parties’ profile pages, where you can learn that they just did the dishes and that their child poohed on the floor.
And just think of the social scenarios we must handle today that weren’t an issue three years ago. Such-and-such hasn’t accepted our friend request so they must hate us (cue fit of hideous, creeping paranoia); such-and-such has defriended us; such-and-such has turned us off their news feed so we’d better turn them off ours as well. Ner ner ner ner ner! This level of playground-quality behaviour is hardly surprising, given that Facebook was designed for freshers (i.e. new university students) in the States before it became popular as resource for every man, his dog and its laptop.
So let’s get Facef*cked, Foursquared and four-eyed, shall we? Or shall we slam down the lids on our collective laptops, realise that we’re not really stars of our own reality internet shows – we’re often sharing all that is trivial and mundane – and go back to using a pen and paper if we really must communicate our every waking thought? Perhaps, upon rereading our own written comments, we’d quickly become bored with the dross we write in “dear diary” and consign it to the deepest, darkest desk drawer where it belongs?
In these days of iPads with downloadable apps that do everything from show share prices to play womb sounds to soothe babies to sleep, GPS tracking devices installed on Blackberry phones and YouTube footage from camera phones being shown on serious news programmes, there’s no turning back the technology clock... but that doesn’t mean I can’t fantasise about shutting the lid on Pandora’s Box.
Perhaps the Amish have the right idea. Their idea of “social media” would be a barn-raising. I’m starting to think they’re doing themselves a big favour and they’ll have the last laugh when we’ve Twit-Faced ourselves to insanity and turned ourselves completely four-eyed in a few years’ time.
Hmm! Enough said. Must get back to my Facebook now…