Thursday, July 05, 2007

Saving Face

I shut down my MySpace about six months ago after a few months of non-activity that followed the initial enthusiasm. Realising that I didn't really care about when the new Clap Your Hands Say Yeah album was coming out and annoyed at the amount of time the site crashed, I vowed never to waste my time on a social-networking site again.

Then there came Facebook; I signed up a couple of months back, just to look around, which means I'm probably one of the few that came to it rather than it come to them via a friend's invitation. It was only a month later when a friend of mine joined up that I got going in earnest. Facebook is capable of being a black hole for one's time every bit as much as MySpace though i have found that I waste far less time on it, because of the very sensible policy of limiting profile browsing to your own networks and friends, and, from what I can tell, there are no rock groups on there either, plaguing you with unwanted bulletins. Facebook also seems to be free from the spam that has come to be MySpace's stock-in-trade. The best time-saving feature of Facebook however is its integration with other web applications that I already use, such as,, Digg and Blogger. Many American online news sources have already oriented their news stories to be shared on Facebook and one's web browser can be easily adapted to do the same.

One thing I have noticed about Facebook though is that most of the people I know that are on it are old friends, and many of them were never on MySpace. It has been remarked recently that there is a large class (and even race) divide between the two sites, which is not too surprising as Facebook originated on the Harvard campus and has been open to outsiders only since last September. Given the rapid rise in users, this imbalance is likely to level out however. All the same it was significant that the US military in Iraq recently banned the use of MySpace (which is predominantly used by soldiers) while allowing the use of Facebook (mainly used by officers).

For the moment Facebook is more geared towards grownups, though, like MySpace, it is very much what you make of it yourself. But there still remains the lingering sense of shame among many of its thirtysomething users: are we too old for it? Are these social-networking sites a sign of latent infantilisation? Perhaps but the future of social networking may well be for older people. As this article on the Beeb's website suggested a couple of months back, the people that might benefit best from social networking are middle-aged people recently divorced or even the elderly. The young, after all, do very little on Facebook and MySpace other than lark about with the friends they already know. For some older users, networks could be a vital escape from loneliness and alienation.


Enda P said...

That is absolutely why people of our age should be curious about this sort of stuff. I think that there comes a point in our development as adults that we begin to be no longer interested in the new. This has the unfortunate side effect of leaving us with a lot of catching up to do in terms of skills. Or, more likely, we can't catch up.

Facebook et al will come and go, but the skills and expectations that they foster in us won't. And we will be able to take advantage of these and future technologies and methods of communicating later.

seanachie said...

That is a very good point regarding skills and expectations. Personally I have already abandoned the initial fake euphoria engendered by social networking; I decline to befriend certain people I know, not out of hostility or unfriendliness but simply because I don't socialise with them much in the real world. If I'm not going to bother getting their phone number (much less call them) there is not much honour in decorating my Facebook wall with them.

And, as you say, many sites are transient (though Facebook, with its canny adaptation to other web applications, has the potential to be different). There is a lot of guff spoken about the liberating nature of the Internet but there are positive aspects, such as generating a receptiveness to useful technologies and the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff.