Online Friendship

Over at The Guardian Tom Hodgkinson has written about the people who bankrolled Facebook in an article called With friends like these… and it is not a pretty picture. Hodgkinson’s original beef seems to be that he actually does not like social network sites because they tend to isolate rather than connect people and that any form of social connections they create are inherently shallow. So far I am in agreement with him.

But the main beef of the argument is that the people financing Facebook are ultraconservative greedy capitalists who are unconcerned about the privacy of the users. Sure he is right and it is a shame. But how does this differ from almost every other corporation? I would have been more shocked if an online venture had been bankrolled by altruists.

I was skeptical to Facebook, indeed as I am to all social networking sites. But I decided not to knock it without trying. Early on I aired my skepticism by asking my friends the question: If I don’t get facebook – does this mean I am too old? Is this a mid(?) life crises? The answers were predictable which is unsurprising considering I was asking the question to other Facebookers.  I muddled along. Collecting friends adding applications but still unconvinced.

I joined causes and added applications. Recruited friends to causes and compared everything from movie taste to strange dating preferences. None of which revealed who I was. As with all online behavior it is a persona or a dimension – it is not me. Anyway, so now I have 136 friends. What does this mean? Am I popular yet? I still don’t get it. Isn’t a double espresso or a beer with a live friend infinitely better than all the online notes? Hodgkinson really puts his finger on the whole thing

And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn’t it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk?

Rather than silly comparisons and online games I want real connections. Of course I cannot easily drink beer with friends in other countries but Facebook is no solution to this problem. I don’t have the interest or the energy to try to reform Facebook through campaigns or to attempt to leave it by deleting each contact one by one. So I will let Facebook be and let the activities continue. The whole thing will eventually just go the way of the dinosaurs when users find something new to amuse themselves with. Until then the advertisers will believe that they know something about potential customers, the researchers will believe they know something about online communities, the investors will believe that they will be rich forever and the users will believe that friendships exist online.

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