Bebo, Faceparty, Facebook, Myspace, Myface: social networking seems to be the thing we do best nowadays. Rewind ten years and the dark and dodgy world of chat rooms was still very much taboo and regarded as unsafe and slightly seedy. However, with our ever-growing dependence on technology we have overcome this reticence and are now embracing it whole-heartedly.
My first, brief experiences with online ‘networking’ began through AOL online chat where chat rooms are themed, aimed towards particular interests and pursuits. People were only identifiable by their screen name and a very limited profile covering ‘a/s/l’ and perhaps a few details of other hobbies. On the one hand the risk of assuming a false identity was made easier, although the absence of pictures and information regarding friends, family and associates made it slightly harder for you to be tracked down.
Facebook profiles are a stalkers dream come true: addresses and phone number are accessible (if the user chooses to divulge such information) but for the most part ‘facebookers’ exercise caution in what they chose to share and privacy options.
What worries me is the apparent time that teenagers spend on socialising silently and alone. On a recent chat show involving 15-18 year olds, it seemed that the time spent online was a daily average of 5 hours! It is no wonder this government is in an uphill battle against obesity and heart disease. Apart from the obvious detriment to one’s health if such a large portion of the day is spent sedentary, I find that after even a few hours of looking at a computer screen my eyes are strained and I am left with a headache.
The young people interviewed protested that it was for lack of anything better to do that they resorted to hours mesmerised by the comings and goings of their peers. The drinking age of 18 stops them spending those valuable hours in the park after dark damaging their livers and so the Internet is required. Who raised these unimaginative children? What about the wealth of authors, poets, artists to which we have free access in museums and libraries? How about a walk along the South Bank, in Hamsptead Heath or a boogie in your bedroom with iPod blasting if the thought of actual human contact has you breaking out in a sweat.
Another thing I despair for is the caliber of grammar and general use of the English language adopted by many online, not all of them without basic G.C.S.E. English. Unless you have learned the incorrect spelling of words (“sez”, “skool”, “’avin’”) surely it is easier to use the correct spelling rather than take those extra few seconds to work out how they are spelled phonetically? Some of the spellings do not even minimise the number of times the fingers need to come into contact with the keyboard (“choon” for example). However, we live in a society of freedom of speech (for now) and so people must be able to spell as they wish.
Back to the subject in hand: Facebook. I use this example, as it is the only site I am held hostage by. My feelings towards my captor are mixed, perhaps even edging towards Stockholm Syndrome. I hate the fact my heart leaps when I see I have 3 new notifications and maybe even a message or two. A little sad, perhaps, but I use it solely for entertainment value and ease of communication rather than looking for new friends. My total daily use is never more than one hour. It means I do not have to take pictures anymore: I rely on my more camera savvy friends to post theirs up and I can browse happily, or ashamedly, as last nights memories come back).
The arsenal of modes of communication at our disposal has certainly complicated human relationships and dynamics immensely. Text messages, emails and msn conversations are scrutinised in minute detail; the lack of a response is hailed as a bad omen as is the speed of a reply. One person I knew took offense to the number of kisses I left at the end of text.
The heroines of Jane Austen novels were spared much daily tension, quite content with hearing from their loved one once a month, by letter. Today, the removal of someone’s relationship status can cause jubilation or heart ache for those involved.
One thing Facebook will prove useful for in the future is the analysis of societies, examining theories such as the 6 degrees of freedom: a sociologist’s dream come true. But for now it comforts, amuses, irritates, exposes, wastes time and lowers grades. But will these social networking sites fade out like mini disks or are they here to stay?