A staggering 500 million people around the world use Facebook and its founder Mark Zuckerberg has been adjudged the most powerful man in the world by Time magazine for the year 2010, and Facebook, Inc. has been regarded as being the best place to work. The movie, The Social Network (a movie about Zuckerberg) has made its presence felt at award ceremonies around the world. Social networking, and in particular Facebook, has taken over our lives in a way few would have thought possible a some years back.
Looking closely at the way social networking works, one finds that it is all about creating a more ‘open’ and ‘connected’ world. I wonder though, how necessary is it, for all 250 or 400 of our ‘friends’ to see pictures of our new set of wheels, or of our lovely vacation in Florida, or of our children’s birthdays? Conversely, how important is it for us to learn about their activities?
Most of us have Facebook friends that can be roughly classified into three groups: family, good friends, and those ‘friends’ who are in fact merely acquaintances. Why do we feel compelled to bond with all those people? Are we simply keeping up with the Joneses, or is it that artificial high we experience when someone tells us how awesome we look?
There was life before Facebook, and as far as I’m concerned, it was simpler. People hang out on Facebook, just as they do at the water-cooler at work or school, to get the latest gossip, chill out and make friends. And like in a social environment, people are praised, bullied, ignored or respected. That is the reason why Facebook can be so addictive. There is always that inquisitiveness – did that hot guy from work comment on my status? Suddenly you become all-important, and you find yourself wiling away precious time on the site.
And then there is a plethora of uncomfortable situations that this tool can create. There are times when one must add the boss as a friend, or worse, a family member who happens to be annoyingly nosy. You do not want these people to end up learning a little too much about your life, but you must add them because if you don’t, you might hurt their feelings, and who knows how a hurt boss might react?
Everyone, from the bespectacled girl you hardly spoke to in Biology class nine years back — to the boy who was the football captain- to the geek who sits across your table at work is on Facebook. And you must wish them a very happy birthday, and engage in light-hearted banter that makes you appear witty and smart. You must present yourself as a happy, successful, popular and beautiful individual who would look forward to a class reunion or just about any party. In a life full of pressures and deadlines and challenges, do we really need the added stress of maintaining a Facebook profile?
Another sensitive issue is that of running into exes, which can rekindle emotions best forgotten and can even wreck present day relationships. And the games! A new life was breathed into computer games when the Zygna guys launched Farmville. People spend hours on Facebook in an activity that is – well – pointless. One of the pieces of news in the recent past that infuriated me was about the woman who killed her child because she was too busy playing Farmville.
High school life as we know it has changed, and you would be hard-pressed to find a teenager who does not spend time on Facebook. I don’t mean to sermonize but I would rather the kids spend time with good friends you can see in person, rather than stare blankly at the PC for hours.
I sign off with the knowledge that Facebook is very much here to stay and indeed, grow, and that management gurus have called it the way forward for corporate executives and businessmen. But for the individual, caution when using social networking is a must – after all you must have heard about the privacy issues that surround Facebook? Don’t even get me going on that one!
Who knows though, when the ‘next big thing’ will come and make us forget Facebook like we forgot Myspace? I do hope for our sake that we can use this tool to our advantage – for certainly, a facility with such remarkable possibilities has its positive points too, provided it is used with lots of common sense, caution and awareness.