Thursday, 8 November 2012

Facebook Status Update

Over the summer, I took a proper look at Facebook for the first time.  The executive summary:  I didn't like what I saw.

As an information-professional-in-a-research-led-university (that's what it says on my passport, honest) I have to try to keep up with "social media", for the simple reason that's how the majority of students experience the world.  True, I have this Grumpy Old Man thing going on, where I repeatedly try to persuade my colleagues that finding things a bit difficult to find is an honourable tradition in higher education.  Might even be the point of the whole thing, maybe, d'ya think?  But I know it's a lost cause.

At least the current generation don't have to memorize core texts, in the way mediaeval scholars once did.  Why, they don't even have to buy, copy out or photocopy core texts, as we 20th century students did.  The library has either bought access to e-book versions or taken the trouble to copyright-clear and digitize individual key chapters for them, then made them freely accessible via the online catalogue.  They need never get out of bed. Have smart-phone, will study.  The pill-form degree cannot be far away.

We were all caught napping by smart-phones.  Three years ago, most of us didn't understand apps, or the differences between the Apple and Android platforms (not to mention also-rans like Blackberry and Windows).  We thought it was pretty whizzy that all students were able to use our resources on their laptops in the campus wireless environment.  Why would anyone want to scrutinize data on a screen the size of a large matchbox?

Because they just do: that's how they lead their social lives, idiot.   I frequently see little groups sitting at a table sharing a coffee break, silently engaged with their texts and tweets on their phones, and busily "liking" stuff on Facebook.  The downside of all this is obvious to anyone over 40, but there has to be a massive upside, doesn't there?  Or why would smart young people spend so much time doing it?

I decided to investigate, so -- fearlessly -- I signed up for Facebook.  There seem to be three camps, where Facebook is concerned.  There are the Professional Oldies, who like to pretend that anything involving a computer is Satanic; to them, Facebook is final proof of that proposition.  Then there are the enthusiasts: "Come on in, you'll love it! You'll have 10,000 friends in no time!!"  Naturally, I'm a bit wary of them, in the same way I'm wary of Jehovah's Witnesses and exercise fanatics.  Finally, there are the Facebook Survivors: "I tried it, and barely escaped with my privacy intact..."  They pressed survival tips on me -- Dos and Don'ts, recommended settings, the phone number of a good cult-debriefer.

Having signed up, the first thing I did was to seek out genuine friends, and to "friend" them.  Hey, look at me over here, being all ironically contemporary!  Be my "friend", friend!

So.  The first thing I discovered was that most of my friends are extremely infrequent Facebook users: they were on it but not in it, so to speak.  It took weeks for some of them to notice they had a new "friending" request (that was their story, anyway).  They had not updated their own "status" for months, years even.  It seemed they had joined up, toyed with a few updates, then forgotten all about it.  It seemed they didn't get it.

But the next thing I discovered was that, as soon as they did friend me, all their other "friends" piled in, like a coachload of garrulous gatecrashers. Help!  Mind that carpet! A good many of these people were updating their status every ten minutes with the most unbelievable rubbish.  This was incredibly annoying.

The thing is (and I almost feel I should be ashamed to admit this), I do not care about the ephemera of the lives of people I do not know and will never know, much as I'd like to hear every little thing from my actual friends. I don't want to see a stranger's daughter's baby snaps, or read about that delicious meal in a Seattle restaurant, or join a campaign to save a neighbourhood shop in Belgium, or be puzzled by unfunny cartoons, or pretend to admire cute (and not so cute) pictures...  I was overwhelmed and repelled by this endless, churning tidal wave of stuff that hundreds of strangers "like" and, incredibly, therefore want to share promiscuously with the entire Facebook universe.  Argh!  My friend's "friend" is my enemy, it seems.

The Facebook Survivors helped me out, of course: unfriend people with too many chatty friends, they said, change some privacy settings, if necessary get a new identity and move house to somewhere without broadband.  As much as anything, though, I was annoyed to find that Facebook seemed to bring out my inner Professional Oldie.  I simply couldn't see the point of it. And that, of course, was exactly what I had set out to discover. I, too, didn't get it.

So, with the ending of my summer Blog Break, I did what everyone else had done: I walked away, shut the door, but left Facebook turned on and the door unlocked.  Occasionally I have a peep, but don't go in.  Like my friends, I am also now on Facebook, but not in it.

And, please, don't even think of asking to be my "friend".  A refusal often offends, as the sign over the bar used to say.


Dave Leeke said...

Thanks, Mike for doing it so I don't have to!

Actually Mrs Dave does it to keep in contact with First Born who lives in Mexico so it's obviously useful. However, She does spend a lot of time looking wistfully at the photographs of the grandchildren of her many "friends".

I have no intention of getting involved with social not-working beyond blogging, of course.

Mike C. said...


You're welcome. I'm still annoyed that I don't get it. But then, I don't get clubbing, either.

I think blogging only *just* counts as Social Media -- you could turn off the comments and ignore everyone if you wanted to!


Dave Leeke said...

Good point; but for me, Mike, it's the comments that I most enjoy. The interaction and points of order etc are what really make blogging worthwhile. There's a lot of humour there and sometimes they are the best part of it.

Kent Wiley said...

Sorry to have contributed to the avalanche of trivia from unknown "friends" this summer. I'm pretty convinced you can't be over 50 and "get" FB. I check it every few days, perusing the inanities (one young "friend" updates her status every time she moves to another club), and still fail to "get" it. I never even liked the telephone, as a youth.

Mike C. said...


No problem, you were by no means the biggest Portal of Pointlessness! It was an interesting experiment, and I haven't bailed out completely...

Now you mention it, I *loved* the telephone as a youngster, to the annoyance of my father when he got the quarterly bill. The advent of mobiles has changed all that, of course.


Martyn Cornell said...

All right, I won't try to friend you on FB ...

Facebook, and Twitter, are pretty much essential if, like me, you run a semi-pro blog: when I post on the blog, I put up links to the post on FB and Twitter, and it boosts the hits. I've had more than 450 hits via FB in the past month and 200 via Twitter. Other referrers are more important (Huffington Post! Wikipedia!) but every little helps. And since I'm in HK, and I now have people I know from New York to New Zealand, it IS a way of seeing what they're up to. But there's certainly a lot of blather on FB. However, Kent Wiley, some of the keenest Facebook users I know are over 60, so I'm pretty convinced you're wrong there.

Twitter is extremely useful if you're in a community that communicates via Twitter, as the beer community in the UK does: I get a huge and valuable amount of news via Twitter. And because of some of the people I subscribe to - David Aaronovich, Nick Cohen, to name two - I get directed to articles I would not see otherwise. But it can be the most awful timesuck.

Mike C. said...


See, that's why I thought I'd give it a try -- sounds so useful, put like that.

I have actually enabled the "like this post" button on this blog, but either nobody likes (sorry, "likes") my stuff or it's a bit too discreet down there at the bottom of the post. As far as I know, I have not picked up any FB or Twitter traffic.

If I lived in HK away from friends and family I'm sure I'd feel different about FB.

[Aaronovich? I was at university with that guy, and he went off with some of my best records when he was "sent down" {the university equivalent of "unfriending"), inc. a first pressing of Full House with the blacked out track list. Haven't spoken to him since.]


Martyn Cornell said...

Hah! I'll drop him a Tweet about them ...

Interesting piece last week in the Times about Mr A's father and the effect his constant affairs had on the family - unfortunately you need a subscription to read it. Not that I have one - I use the one et up by a paper I used to work for.

Mike C. said...


Now I think about it, we did exchange a few emails on the subject many years ago -- he denied all knowledge, of course.

We were quite close friends for about two terms, but he was way more political than me, and fell off the edge of the known universe when he was sent down at the end of the first year. These days, we might have stayed in touch via FB, I suppose.

It's very odd, now that he turns up quite often on the radio -- I don't even know the name of his wife, yet there's that familiar voice again. I must say, I'm impressed by his performances on Radio 4's Saturday Review -- he's quite a good and well-informed arts reviewer, something I would never have expected.

Of course, most old lefties who knew him back then can't forgive his rightward turn...