Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is anyone a wallflower in social networking?

Through various technological methods of this superage (made up word) we're living in I've been made very aware of rather intimate but mundane details of my friend's lives that I was never privy to before. I know when they get up, when they do their washing, which baby has thrown up, what parties everyone goes to, what they are doing - like right now... It's sort of like watching Big Brother, but without the Turkey Slap (I'm warning you now that if you click on that link you are going somewhere VERY over 18 and pretty disgusting).

When I meet up with people they reference these technologies within the actual conversation they're having and before you know it everyone is talking about reading what's going on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. But they're using that as a vehicle to have the conversation in the first place. It's surreal. I suppose if bloggers met up they'd talk about reading what each other wrote in their posts too - it's unavoidable but you also end up finding yourself in meta-conversational hell more than you do an actual conversation. Now I'm writing a blog post about it! Bizarre.

So I read on Facebook the other day that you were feeling angry about [insert some detail here] is something I hear a lot of these days and before you know it you find yourself diving head first into a self referential labyrinth with no way out. Moreover, I'm torn between feeling like a peeping Tom that has no business knowing half the stuff I know but also needing to reference these posts in real time conversation in order to acknowledge these declarations in the first place. I mean if someone goes to the trouble of declaring it on Facebook, it must be important enough to reference, right? And even if it isn't, well it's already out there so it's moot point. They wrote it, you read it, therefore it became news by default.

But why are our mundane thoughts important enough for us to reference anyway? Is it superstar envy? We know that Lady GaGa likes going to the beach, therefore it's okay to know that I like going to the beach too. And is this form of communication any less or more valid than blogging or writing an email? Is blogging simply Facebook's self-important smug cousin anyway? Maybe Facebook has torn down the layers of pretension existent in blogging right down to the raw truth: I bought new shoes today. Or does this all come down to the simple fact that despite all the technologies to do so, having a conversation with actual listening involved is just all too hard these days? Are we down to just making statements now? We've declared ourselves newsworthy, putting ourselves into single sentence print - we say our bit and the next day we say something else. Hear Ye, Hear Ye - I have made chicken soup for dinner!!!! It may not be particularly interesting but it's become news anyway.

The truth is I've never felt closer to and yet also more disconnected from my friends. I know all the facts but with none of the feeling but it's still the prime method by which I find things out these days. Even if I haven't read it I've heard it from someone who heard it from someone, who read it on Twitter or wherever. The simple truth of the matter is that high horse or not, even if you're not on it, it's there and it's affected the information you receive about your friends anyway. And truly, it's amazing, how easy it is to click link after link after link and discover something you probably were never meant to see. Over the past few months I've been informed of a wedding, an engagement, a death and a birth via Facebook - none of which I was told personally. However (particularly with the death) through Facebook I was able to piece, bit by bit a whole history of information that put me in the middle of a great many links between others that I never would have known about before and that gave both me and others a vehicle by which to relay intimate details to people who are not on Facebook but are connected anyway. Once upon a time you would have got a personalised phone call or a message on the phone. Now, you read about it at the same time as everyone else with as much privilege as anybody else. It's already out there, after all.

I wonder what will become of human relationships in the next 10 years? These vehicles of self publicity (and I include blogs in this) are clearly bringing us closer together in one sense but at what expense?