My name is Juliet Bowbrick and I have been clean of Facebook for nine minutes. Not the thirty seven days or so it should have been. Oh dear. I went back on. Now I am reliably (?) informed that I can’t leave, that I have shot my bolt, can’t do a Frank Sinatra, have to stay put or go and stay gone. So I thought, maybe I should stay for a bit, stir it up, try and put into practice what I have been preaching. I am fully expecting an intervention from the nay sayers, and I don’t want you lot to think I have abandoned the revolution, but let’s be honest, it was only me here wasn’t it? See you on the inside.
Question 18 of my survey asked “If there was somewhere else to go other than Facebook would you go there?” and lots of you answered “yeah why don’t you get on and build it?” Well of course I am no Zuckerberg but here goes. If I played Victor Frankenstein to the Facebook monster then I’d start by giving it a heart and soul and senses. Heart to make you feel, soul to raise you up and senses so that it would touch you, even in the places you don’t like to be touched. Because you are all disappearing into a vortex here folks and it is a high price to pay for so little return. I get how great it is on there, fuck knows I miss it, but whether you pride yourself on your limited use of it or have succumbed entirely to its embrace, Facebook’s beauty is really only skin deep. And when I look at its visage I am itching to take a scalpel to it.
The Like button – what’s not to like?
That universal thumbs up gets me down. Is that really the best there is? Just the facility to like something? I want more buttons, I want to admire your post, adore it, love it, respect it, dislike it, hate it, disagree with it. I want to snort my drink down my nose at it. I want to recoil in horror at it. I want to shake my head at it. I want to cry at it. I want to feel more than like could ever humanly describe. Don’t you?
All I want is a photo in my wallet
No more cartoons or works of art to say who you are. I want to see you, what you look like right now – today. Let’s all see each other for who we really are. Come out into the light you may not be the hideous monster you think you are, hiding behind that picture of Salvador Dali or Southpark’s Kartman, then again you might be monstrous, but hey, that’s sexy in my book.
What are little Facebook’s made of? Sugar and spice and all things feline.
In my brave new Facebook world those of you who’d still insist on showing us your culinary and cattery delights would have to live in another section. You’d be welcome to come and visit us over here but you can’t bring your sugar or your whiskas with you. Same goes btw for your kids, your relatives, your dog and your dinner. Perhaps we could have a little box in your profile where you keep that stuff locked up and we have to ask you for a key before you get to show it. Obviously, as far as I’m concerned, that will be one box that this Pandora won’t be opening.
Sharing is caring
I am not after a bleedin’ heart fest here, but can we start to share what is really important? Who is going to be the first one to put their hand up and say what’s in their heart not their head? I have trawled through endless posts from you, all of you so clever and bright (well actually not all of you but I don’t want to offend the thick, boring ones) and yet…and yet, the very most I can hope for is a heartfelt response to a revolution or an acknowledgement at the sadness of a bereavement. Are you all really not feeling anything? Is every day one where you roll out the Facebook bunting and bounce about, because if that is the case then I am the most miserable bastard on the planet and in a minority of one. You don’t need to cry on my shoulder – I don’t want to develop damp rot – but just something subjective about anything in your life would be such a welcome relief from the constant objectifying of your experiences.
I’m still very pro links, I like that you bring this treasure to my door, but bring it cos it means something to you not because the Guardian thought it was good or You Tube has it in its top five. This self perpetuating stream of unconsciousness is eroding the conversation. How depressing is it for you as well to bung that link up and get one ‘like’ and a four word comment? Don’t you want more from your hunter-gathering expedition? Of course you do! So find something that means something to you, and then tell me why it does. I promise I will respond properly to it. (If I come back of course).
Talking of which, let’s have a conversation, let’s write more than three words when responding to a post and try not to include ha ha. I don’t want a treatise or a dissertation, just a conversation. You remember having conversations before you were liking and loling your way round Facebook? If you don’t, then why not take yourself off for a few days and only communicate with your friends via email and phone see how different it feels. Oh Christ am I turning into a Bronte sister advocating a return to letter writing? Actually I think I am.
I know what profile means in Mark Zee’s world it means ‘sideways on’ doesn’t it? We only get to see half of you at best. And apart from the first time a new friend comes along, when do you ever consult consult peoples’ profiles? That’s because there’s never anything new there. You fill it in at the beginning and leave it to wither on your cv vine. I’d love a less static one where you could put down your mood, what you’re wearing, how strong your libido is anything that tells me something new about you.
I can’t see you can you see me?
Part of this experiment in leaving Facebook has involved meeting up with those of you I have never met but only known on Facebook, and this much I know, online and offline are two entirely different things (duh, but you know a lot of you don’t think that). And though those meetings were fleeting, they resonated with me in a way that is so profound, given what I had known of them on Fb, that I have to urge you to go and meet your friends, the new and the old. Touch them, touch them up if they’ll let you, but go and smell the scent of other human beings. You may not like the aroma but it is a heady fucking tincture compared to the germ-free adolesence of Facebook.
So in conclusion we know that I can’t build it and you won’t come, but if Facebook was the alleged vehicle for revolution then why not start one right there? You already have the masses, why not start kicking at Zuckerberg’s walls you have nothing to lose but his chains.
My darlings, how I have missed you while I have been lying about in the sun getting drunk and neglecting everything. But now I am back and ready for you to whisper sweet survey nothings into my ear. In case you’re confused (I know how hard it is being on Facebook and reading this) click on this link and fill out the form. Thank you.
I mean it about the prize too.
Also… lots of people are asking if I’m serious, well in truth, serious as I ever am, but yes, I am interested in your responses and will compile the (anonymous I hasten to add) data and have it up there as soon as. I am also really interested in talking to anyone who would be prepared to talk openly to me about their feelings on Facebook and to that end you can email me (in confidence) at Juliet@bird.co.uk.
Here’s a nice little bit of misogyny for the weekend. Some no-mark survey comes out that says how women piss each other off on Facebook by fitting into an annoying stereotype. It comes with a lovely Guess Who? graphic, and for a minute you can have fun (only if you are a girl though) working out which one you are and which one all your (only female) friends are on Facebook. Of course we dismiss this stuff don’t we, because it’s just a bit of puff to get the company noticed, and we know, don’t we, that these stereotypes are just more grist to the mill for the haters out there who want to shove us in a box and shut the lid to shut us up.
But it got me thinking about the boxes that I put my Facebook friends into. As you know, the first box, and the biggest, was the upper limit of 100 friends, which I now question given how parochially limiting that was. But the other thing it gave me – and this is embarrassing to admit – was power. It was great to be the doorman on my own private club deciding who could and couldn’t come in. And admit it, whether you have a free-for-all open house or do as I did, that friend request box top left is thrilling isn’t it? Because as grown-ups that no longer happens. When we were on the playground it was common for a kid to say “will you be friends with me?” Later at the disco it was “will you dance with me?” at the party “will you snog me” and the next day (hopefully) “will you go out with me?” But as we age those questions disappear. Requests for intimacy drift into the implicit and friendship development becomes gradual.
On Facebook, once we have accepted our friends and started to live our social networking life, we begin to sort them into groups. I don’t know about you, but I did a big cull about half way through being on Facebook. I was spending so much time swearing at my newsfeed that I went through all my friends, studied their posts and then hid a massive bunch of them. This was less of a power trip and more of sanity saver as I sorted the interesting wheat from the Farmville/location, location/sachharin chaff. However, those shoved in the boring box didn’t get a second chance because of the nature of Facebook ie once in it they couldn’t get out. So there was never a time where I could be notified that they had suddenly become interesting.
Finally, I was left with the friends I considered worthy of my attention, and for the most part, you lived up to my expectations. Now that I am away from it I have some strong impressions remaining about you. Each of you lives in a box that has your profile pic stamped on the top, each of you has a persona that seems emblematic of your essence. But is that all that you were? Do we all, in fact, limit ourselves on Facebook? Build our own boxes? Is the nature of Facebook such that you cannot fail but to corale your personality, curtail your activity, curb your enthusiasm? The template it provides with all its inherent limitations has to mean that we are dumbing down our complicated multivariate selves to fit its silicon simplified code. We can post photos, links, music but how much of ourselves can we put up? And is it right to voluntarily shoehorn ourselves into Zuckerberg’s business model?
I said on my podcast once that I would never share on Facebook what I was really feeling. And remembering back to my friends, I don’t think any of you did either. But if Facebook becomes the default setting for our socialising are we never going to tell each other about our interior lives. Is Facebook just a party where we put on our best togs, flash our best smile and make sure we have the coolest music in our hand ready to wow the crowd with our brilliance. And if Facebook isn’t the place to really be ourselves where is?
I’ve never had a tattoo. It’s not that I don’t like them, I do, a lot. I even moved in with a bloke once because he had the same gun tattoo as Paul Simenon, but I couldn’t get one myself, I don’t like the permanence of them. I don’t like to stay in one place too long, where I live now is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since being a kid. I don’t have a regular tipple, I don’t have a ‘type’ with blokes, I don’t want to make a choice and then have to stick to it. That’s why I chose option 6 when leaving Facebook, the one that said “this is just temporary, I’ll be back”. What I didn’t realise is that Facebook is not temporary at all, it’s permanent whether you like it or not. Facebook is Hotel California, you can check out any time you like; but you can never leave.
Why do I say that? The answer lies somewhere between a solipsist’s nightmare and a stalker’s wet dream. Once you have gone onto Facebook, once you have glimpsed the world through Zuckerberg’s eyes, the image is indelibly burnt onto your retinas. To me, it’s just like it was when I heard Never Mind the Bollocks for the first time or discovered the internet; my view of the world changed forever. You cannot undo what is done. Joining Facebook means entering an environment where you see people in a different way. Not because they put up the best photos of themselves (which they do) or try and be clever and funny (which they do) but because it’s the one place where they will always be. To the point where the “liveness” of their presence is even defined by a green dot or a blue crescent. So, you join a social network where the existence of another is defined not by the normal intermittent social contact that comes with physical relationships, where people come and go, here they are tattooed onto Facebook’s arm. This brave new world once seen is impossible to forget, and that affects how you define yourself and your relationship to others. So I left Facebook, but I didn’t, because Facebook didn’t leave me.
And here is a weary word of caution: woe betide you having a Facebook romance, because when it goes wrong, which it almost certainly will, you will not be able to content yourself with the illusion that they’ve ceased to exist or better still are dead. Not only will their profile be there (providing you didn’t really fuck it up and get blocked) reminding you of their continued existence, but, worse still, they’ll update their profile and you will have as many reminders as you can stand that life goes on…without you. The last scene of Zuckerberg in The Social Network, constantly refreshing the page of his unrequited love, was a telling, if mawkish, reminder of what we are all getting ourselves into.
I know when I’ve had a drink, I might try and post on your profile babe, maybe have a little chat – even try and give you a poke for old times’ sake. But in the cold light of a morning hangover the ten reasons I hate being your friend on Facebook come back to haunt me:-
1. Your sentimentality
Don’t make me party to your pity party; sharing with me that someone you know, or someone you don’t know but heard about, or someone you don’t know, haven’t heard about but you’re certain exists, has asked you to tell everyone that it’s important that they share this soppy shit.
2. Your hobbies
I don’t want you to tell me every single time you’ve ploughed a field or fed your cow. If there was an EU subsidy for Farmville you’d get it, the amount of time you spend there. And as for telling me how many stars you’ve got on Angry Birds I can only wish you as good an outcome as Tippi Hedren’s Melanie Daniels got from Hitchcock.
3. Your i-phone app’d photos
First it was sepia, then it was green, then it got a frayed edge. Now you have your head stuck onto a victorian gentlemen. I get that you have an i-phone, I’m happy for you that you can make your photos look vintage. You just can’t make them look decent.
4. Location, location, location
What is it with you geezers and maps. If I need to know where you are I’ll ring you up and ask you. So what if you’re in Costa Coffee? So what if you’ve got a badge at Four Square – you’re not in the Scouts. Unless you have something interesting to tell me about your locale then just assume I’m not interested.
5. The sound of you eating
So you made a Jamie recipe? Bully for you. How many more times will I have to see a picture of your lasagne? This is not Masterchef and you’re impressing no-one.
6. Your laugh
Everything makes you lol and when you’ve finished that you rotfl. But you’re not are you? You’re just *saying* that you are. Imagine being face to face with me and I tell you “I am laughing out loud at that funny thing you just said”. Mind you, I wouldn’t ‘cos when I’m with you I feel bfm (bloody fucking miserable).
7. Your mates
No-one can have 974 friends. Most of them you couldn’t pick out of a line-up. School friends you never see, people from work who you never socialise with and your cousin who you always told me you hated. All of them hitting the like button as if it’s an adequate substitute for a conversation.
8. Your germs
I’ve caught some terrible viruses off of you. First you tell me I can “see whose stalking you”, then you send me “the sexiest video ever” and then you send me a “harmless prank that ends in tragedy”. The tragedy is that I fell for them all and I’m still fighting the infection.
9. Your family album
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad you have kids, I just don’t want to see them. Same goes for your dog, and your cat and all your relations. I don’t even really want to see pictures of you as a kid – when I came round your house you didn’t get the photo album out, what makes you think it’s any more appropriate here?
10. Your objectivity
Looking out at the world and reporting back to me what you see is not good enough. What can I learn from that? That it’s a sunny day? That there are tall buildings in London? Put the photos on Flickr and stick those observations in your diary. I want you to share with me your thoughts about what you see, to engage me in a conversation. Why not take time to write something interesting rather than the two seconds consideration you currently give your posts. Research something, travel around and bring me back some information treasure. Embrace subjectivity. Be a better Facebook Friend; stop hiding who you really are and maybe I’ll stop hiding your posts.
Disclaimer: The events depicted in this post are not fictitious. Any similarity to any person living or dead on Facebook is entirely deliberate.
Facebook, dear Facebook,
I’ve missed you so bad,
I just keeping thinking
Of those great times we had,
I made you a cake,
It’s not as sweet as you,
I sewed your name on my hankie,
It made me feel blue.
I wrote you a poem,
That I nicked off of Donne,
I wrote you a letter,
About when we had fun.
I carved out a heart,
On a tree in the wood,
Oh Facebook, dear Facebook,
Are we over for good?
I have discussed with various friends from Facebook about the difference between real and virtual relationships. Friends that are fully committed to the virtual world are keen to emphasise that there is no difference between the two, and those who exist primarily in the real world seem to be equally sure that virtual relationships are infinitely inferior and, on the whole, less valid.
I got very close to some Facebook friends who I have no contact with in the flesh at all, and found them very affecting. I was alarmed in fact, by how affecting they were. In many ways the interaction is much less ephemeral than a verbal conversation; the word remains on the page, like a letter, to be pondered over, re-read and treasured. Hearing people talk with your eyes is a strange experience, watching a live chat scroll by I would try to convert the writing into a voice, weave a personality around the type, ponder on the spaces between the words. There is a resonance there that allows you to hold on to an interaction that everyday corporeal conversations prohibit. Try and recall, word for word, the last chat you had with a mate in the pub, compare that with the email you’ve got from them in your inbox.
But on reflection, I’m not happy living in this cloud, because in the end the apparent solidity of the print on screen is really nothing more than vapour. Without touch, without sound, without smell all we have is a construct that is entirely controlled by the person hiding behind the smoke and mirrors of the internet. Whilst I appreciate that the gap, void even, that gets filled by virtual interaction is playing a vital part in many peoples’ lives (I admit to missing it terribly since leaving Facebook) it is still a poor substitute for friends we can hold in our arms and whose eyes we can gaze into, there is no window into the soul when all you have in front of you is the computer screen.
Maybe I’ll be proved wrong if cloudgirlfriend.com, an app that is possibly coming to a Facebook page near you takes off. The aim is to allow you to create a (secret) virtual girlfriend who posts to your page so that your friends believe you have some hotty in tow out there in the ether. The hot air that fills your plastic networking doll, is all from you: the site requires you to huff and puff the ideal qualities you seek in a girl in order to breath life into your babe. In four easy steps you go from definition to date, hey presto you have someone to love. Whether this app gets past first base with Facebook remains to be seen but it does make me wonder what it is we are looking for when we go online to make friends.
Clearly many of the people we have on Facebook we either could or do see in the outside world, and we can stay in touch with those that it is harder to travel to. But would you settle for just Facebook Friends? And if the answer is no, then what is really preventing you from just conducting those relationships outside of the forum of Facebook?
Just around the corner from where I live is a house that has regular parties for swingers, people come from miles around for a night of sweaty swopping, and it’s not the first one to exist in this area. Growing up here in the seventies I remember lots of stories of car keys on the coffee table, naked “touch and feel parties” and I was forever seeing someone’s husband with someone else’s wife after the wife swopping party carried on a bit longer than it should have. I’d always assumed it was something to do with the water round here but it seems, according to Adam Crozier ITV Chief Executive, that we’re all at it. Speaking at the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit in London, he told the assembled throng that almost half of those watching The Only Way Is Essex on ITV2 are also using Facebook or Twitter at the same time.
So, in the network that we like to call social, we’re all having a bit of the other behind our TV spouse’s back. Not content with television monogamy, we’re vajazzling our viewing with a sprinkling of digital diamonds just to give it an extra sparkle. In fairness, programmes such as The Only Way Is Essex, with its perma-tanned beauties and muscle-bound hunks, is bound to get the Twitterati frantically wacking their keyboards. That, to me, is no worse than knocking out a crafty one whilst your partner is lying asleep next to you. But watching TV and going on Facebook is swopping pure and simple, and I don’t think I like it.
Prude that I am, I have steadfastly avoided the two-screen experience, I feel disloyal to the television turning away from its loving gaze to get an eyeful of Facebook. I admit to the occasional snog with Twitter during Question Time, but for the most part I have been a pretty faithful partner. My constancy to the TV was tested during one of the early episodes of the splendid The Killing, where I was distracted for a moment by a particularly juicy titbit on Facebook. I’d become so immersed in the Danish masterpiece I’d convinced myself I was actually understanding what they were saying rather than reading the subtitles. I flirted about on Fb and when I looked up ten minutes of the precious Forbrydelsen had slipped by and I had no idea what had happened. Lesson learnt. Laptop closed. Lund and Lund alone had my attention from there on in (by the way if you don’t get the Killing references where the fuck have you been?).
I get that we have the capacity to do two things at once, to have two entertaining partners to play with at the same time, but doesn’t it just dilute the experience? Don’t you feel just a tiny bit grubby to have it both ways? Our continuous partial attention will inevitably feedback to the programme makers and influence how they produce TV in the future. Will you start to receive friend requests from the stars in the show? Will there be an infinite recession of You Tube clips of the programme you’re now only half watching appearing in your News Feed. Worse still, will there come a day where Facebook and TV decide to get married, and you end up standing in the church crying “it should have been me” as the two lovers that you were seeing at the same time kick you out of bed.