It is just over a year to the day since I posted an open letter to my “Facebook friends”. In it I expressed my feelings and expectations of being a Facebook user. Much of what I wrote then still applies but little did I realize that I might be in danger of becoming a Facebook addict. After all, checking out my Facebook page is one of my regular activities not long after rising in the morning and a little prior to going to bed at night, and sometimes several times in-between. I have also seen how Facebook can be a fantastic medium for getting one’s message out and contacting friends, but also the pitfalls given the half truths and nastiness it can help promote.
It was not long ago that none of us saw the Internet revolution coming, which has made social media including Facebook possible, and one has to rack one’s brain to work out what we did before then. Just maybe there was stuff we did then that we don’t do now or a lot less, such as actually talking to people face to face, and read books. One might imagine we have lost something when we embrace this fantasy world of cyberspace and get caught up in a paradigm where bitching and bickering are sometimes regular occurrences.
I have often thought the advent of Internet, boosted by affordable and accessible high speed communications, is a double edge sword. On one hand we have the casualties that come from being able to access pornography and gaming online but, on the other, we literally have the knowledge of the world in meticulous detail at the press of a few buttons and we need not move out of our chair. Facebook is a useful means of knowing and accessing some of this information.
Facebook tends to favour those who deal in soundbites and quick responses but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Often, once hooked one can then be pointed to a place where one can explore the relevant extra subject matter in greater detail. I find it very educational, especially in coming to terms with new ideas and happenings in the big wide world. Given I took up regular blogging at around the same time I became a regular Facebook user, it gives me a chance of letting my 300 odd Facebook friends (and their friends too) know about the latest words of wisdom I have just added to my blog. But I do have some sympathy with those folk who have me on their friends list for, besides letting them know about my latest blog entry, I tend to post stuff that occurs to me and ‘share’ what I have found that especially strikes me, more than most.
I really value my Facebook friends even though some I have not met, cannot place and almost certainly would not be a friend in real life, but because of Facebook I can regard them as friends of a sort, even if we disagree. One of the nice touches is inviting friends to events I am involved in and wishing them happy birthday and find out what is going on, including sharing my own news. I also enjoy having conversations which I can pick and choose on / with a diversity of subjects / people. A few have got so irritated with what I have posted they have decided to unfriend me, which is a shame, but that doesn’t stop my friend list growing. I realize different people use Facebook differently and some simply see it as a means to update real life friends and family on what is going on, by sharing texts / images.
Me, I have a more subversive agenda. It is true that Facebook is a useful means of getting inspired and being taking out of our comfort zones, for there is a lot of mind blowing stuff that, if I were to take it onboard, I would become an overnight saint, and then there is the news, along with comment, especially the sort of useful stuff that mainstream media tends not to cover (and there is a lot of that) – and that really is a godsend. But my subversion is to do with my role as a community activist, cultural commentator and Christian preacher. I try to share stuff that people may not otherwise get to see but could do them good. I try to take in what others say, even if I disagree. I try to restrict what I post to what is appropriate. Sometimes I don’t succeed but I keep trying. It is an opportunity to let off steam and say what needs to be said. For this I am grateful.
One final observation of the ironic variety is the prominent place Facebook has in the market place, making a small number of people very rich and powerful. There are competitors of course, like Twitter and something I have recently become aware off: What’s up, but from what I can make out Facebook enjoys a large following and has virtually sewn up that part of the market for the time being, even though things change and often quickly. The irony is that Facebook tends to attract more radical, free spirit types, but there is more than a hint of a fascist conspiracy in the way those responsible go about things, linked to a sense that big commercial interests who pay good money to promote their thing may unduly influence what goes on.