The 5 stages of Facebook: Trepidation, Exhilaration,
Stabilization, Infuriation, & Acceptance - by Gary Wright
Social networking is, of course, an internet phenomenon. Until recently, 'socialising' didn't extend much beyond the notion of a group of people going out & drinking until they forgot that they didn't really like each other. But changes are afoot. New generations of computer-literate youngsters think nothing of using the World Wide Web as their first point of contact with fellow human beings. Enterprising internet technicians have simplified the interfaces of online communication to the point that even people over the age of 25 - who are otherwise useless - can understand the appeal of computerised communities.
The fastest-rising star amongst the constellation of social networking sites is Facebook. Its blue & black on white simplicity is designed to soothe the dimming eyesight of older internet users ('Silver Surfers'), who are intimidated by the rainbow-assaults of other web pages. Indeed, the 'book' element of Facebook's name was calculatingly chosen to lure obstinate luddites away from their hopelessly outmoded printed texts.
Minty-fresh and irresistibly alluring, with a wildly inconsistent approach to capital letters: Facebook will steal your soul. And eat it.
The tactics of Facebook's executives have been a remarkable success. The site has become such a cultural totem that double-page spreads devoted to Facebook etiquette are regularly featured in the quality national press. Some of these articles make for portentous reading. 'Facebook suicides' - the act of withdrawing one's profile listing - are on the rise. Tales of social missteps & clanging faux pas abound. Old flames return to burn down new relationships. The pace of assimilation has been so rapid that we've never stopped to question precisely what it is we're signing up for. I hope that this analysis will provide some food for thought. For those already entangled in the tendrils of the network, I can only hope to offer some empathetic comfort.
You've signed up. You're asked to fill in some details on your profile page. How much are you prepared to share? Do you really want to post a photo of yourself for everyone to see? Does anybody actually care if your favourite films include Notting Hill and Saving Private Ryan? And what about friends? You can search for the people in your e-mail address book, but do you want all those people to have access to your every thought? Now is the time for serious consideration. The choices you make now could seriously affect your future on Facebook, and beyond.
Ah, nuts to it: say yes to everything! Let's be friends with everyone; we live in an inclusive age, after all. And it's not as if you have to talk to anybody if you don't want to; they'll just be sitting there on your list. It might even make your so-called 'real' friends work a bit harder at being nice to you if they think there's a bit of competition, the ungrateful bastards. And look at all these possibilities for self-promotion! You can change your 'status' on a whim, and virtually everybody will be informed about it. Tee-hee! This will be a great opportunity to demonstrate to everybody how funny/deeply unhappy you are. And you can write on other people's profile pages, so that all their friends can read your nuggets of glittering wit, too! As if all that wasn't enough, you can post whole albums of photos of you and your mates doing really great things, like visiting museums, and playing computer games. This is the best thing ever!
The initial rush has worn off. You've reduced your rate of status updates to two per week, and are starting to feel a bit embarrassed about all the previous ones, which somehow aren't quite as funny now as they seemed at the time. Hopefully the people on your friends list that you secretly find attractive don't think you're a total berk. Maybe joining some 'groups' would help to increase your feeling of integration. If you're an insufferable pedant, you'll be well provided for; plenty of Facebook's well-educated denizens have very strong feelings about misplaced apostrophes and rickety grammatical constructions. You decide to join some (in an ironic way, obviously). After a couple of minutes, the pointlessness of the exercise becomes apparent. You feel a bit cheapened. Still, people from school that you barely knew are sending you 'friend requests', which is flattering (it's a bit strange, though; you were hopelessly unpopular at the time). To give visitors a more rounded sense of your multi-faceted personality, you download some novel 'applications'. After a month, however, nobody has scribbled on your Graffiti Wall, and your aquarium is singularly devoid of fish, so you sheepishly remove them. At some point, it occurs to you that you haven't left the house since signing up, so you open a window as a compromise measure.
The realisation dawns that Facebook is nothing more than a gigantic sticker album in which the hopelessly insecure can collect dubious evidence of their popularity. You start ignoring friend requests, since, although you harbour no ill will towards the requesters, you understand that they will never communicate with you in any meaningful way. In fact, nobody is communicating with you in any meaningful way. Have you offended them somehow? After all, it's easily done in an environment where face-to-face inhibitions are eliminated, and every gaffe is publicly broadcast. Everybody else seems to be having fun: they're all openly advertising the dates and times of their private social engagements. Is everyone invited? You become increasingly frustrated by your own inability to log into the site without idly browsing for at least quarter of an hour, reading strangers' inane declarations of platonic affection for other strangers, written in nauseatingly infantilised manglings of the English language. You are bombarded with a never-ending mosaic of knowingly-posed, aren't-I-pretty? faces, most of which you want to deface with rude slogans in indelible ink. The stifling atmosphere of self-regard only serves to remind you of your own egocentric reasons for being part of this petty charade. You feel shamed, hypocritical and exhausted. Only one option remains: Facebook suicide.
On second thoughts, it's too much hassle to withdraw from Facebook completely. You'd have to keep explaining to people where you'd gone. The easiest thing is to cheerfully submit to the madness, keep your head down and your mouth shut. Just like real life, then.