Social media turns friendship into a stressful chore
Much has been written about Facebook and its apparent devaluing of friendship. If you want to be friends with someone, or are already friends with someone, it does seem strange to go through the mechanised process of requesting and confirming that friendship online.
Especially in such a public setting – even though some people, such as former Adelaide checkout chick Caz Marshall, sacked last week for bagging a fellow shop assistant on Facebook, still clearly struggle to grasp its public nature.
The flipside of course is that Facebook is a great way to share photos, anecdotes, to arrange to hook up, organise a visit, whatever – that is, if you have the wit and the enthusiasm to work out how to use it. I am not in this latter category.
I’ve been on Facebook for two years and only joined in the first place for reasons of journalistic curiosity, then switched it off after an unfortunate photo tagging episode involving some snaps from a 1989 Murray River houseboat holiday, about which no more shall be said.
I reactivated my account last year during the Liberal leadership wrangle when Joe Hockey solicited public feedback about the emissions trading scheme from his Facebook site. It’s difficult to imagine a nerdier reason to rejoin. But since then I haven’t commented, updated my status, or become friends with anyone.
The simple reason, as one of the several billion people who spends almost all day sitting in front of a computer, is that Facebook feels far too much like work to be liberating and entertaining. Same goes for Twitter, which to me is only a slightly less annoying and less time-consuming version of Facebook. Anything which requires that you log on and subject yourself to the worst noise in the world, Microsoft’s symphonic start-up sound, feels far too much like just another day of drudgery in the office.
The other feature of Facebook which it shares with the sheer horror that is office email, is that it creeps into your psyche and lays a nagging and ever-present guilt trip on you. And it’s here where it not so much devalues friendships but puts them under strain. No-one likes being ignored and the moment you put yourself out there on Facebook by sending a friend request or a friend recommendation, you run a very strong risk of being unloved in return.
There’s generally a reason people stay in touch, or don’t stay in touch. There are some people who you would dearly love to reacquaint yourself with. After a chance meeting online or, heaven forbid, in the real world, you might happily resume an active friendship. But for the most part people drift apart because they’ve got their own group of close friends, and simply don’t have the time or inclination to keep up with everyone they ever met and liked.
Facebook is positively crawling with people who you haven’t seen for years and are keen to hook up. And the moment they get in touch with you, you feel an instant pang of guilt if you fail to respond – not out of any sense of rudeness, but either because you’re too busy or are a bit of a luddite and don’t know how to use it properly. It’s like the familial equivalent of those nagging work emails which you always promise yourself you’ll get to on a Sunday night to start the week fresh, and end up dozing off on the couch instead.
Beyond this, Facebook has the potential to completely distort the meaning or importance of old friendships. There was a recent story linking midlife divorces to the number of people in their 40s who are struck by a sudden yearning to get back in touch with a childhood sweetheart or old flame. This is obviously also unreal behaviour, but it’s amazing the frequency with which relationship counsellors are identifying it as the cause of midlife marital collapse.
The corresponding aspect to this is the impersonal and almost cowardly nature of trying to establish a relationship through the web. One woman I work with says she’s now imposed a rule over her personal life which is to automatically reject any requests for a date which come via Facebook or Twitter. It’s a fair rule. If a bloke genuinely has the hots for you, you would think he could pick up the phone, or be really old school and even ask you out face to face.
Writing on The Guardian about whether Facebook devalues human interaction, technology blogger Ros Taylor defends the social media site as elevating friendship to the same revered status it enjoyed via the medieval convention of “courtly love”, where people would seek each other out formally to confirm their relationships.
She quotes from the philosopher Cicero’s essay on friendship where he writes: ““What can be more delightful than to have someone to whom you can say everything with the same absolute confidence as to yourself?”
The sentiment contained in that quote is totally undermined by the oft-forgotten public nature of Facebook as a medium. The fact that it is such a public forum, a form of publishing that is not really any different in its effect from a news website, means that sensible people wouldn’t really say anything on Facebook with absolute confidence. Especially when the people who run it have shown such ambivalence towards shocking hacking episodes involving the online profiles of dead kids and abuse victims.
As someone who is being dragged reluctantly into the world of social media, the most depressing aspect is how much time it seems to require. This more than anything makes it no real fun at all. The irony of these sites is that they are all ostensibly meant to make staying in touch easier and to free us up to give us more time, but instead steal time away from us. It’s long been my personal theory that the amount of time people spend at work on social media sites was an unheralded but significant contributor to the global financial crisis, particularly in the white collar industries where some workers seem to spend half their day buggerising around messaging the world. Life’s too short to spend it in cyberspace.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…