Thursday, 19 September 2013

Revealed: Why we hate Facebook - (blog)

The most tedious thing people say about the internet is that they are bored of Facebook. You hear it all the time: "I don't go on Facebook anymore", "I'm just sick of Facebook". Is there a product – or even a thing – so widely used which attracts so much derision from its users? Even my mother, hardly a super user, has been telling me she's had enough of Facebook. And, with that announcement, normally comes the prediction that people will get bored of the site, and find something else to do.

The problem seems to relate to the perceived "cool" of the site, something it has always struggled with. For all its popularity, Facebook has never had the shiny appeal of Twitter or Google. It began as a guilty pleasure, characterised by "stalking" your friends, and founded by – if you believe the film – a spiteful, nerdy narcissist obsessed with what other people thought about him.

And there is something about the vanity of Facebook which seems a bit distasteful: sharing news about your job or photos of your new baby is quite aggressive when you're broadcasting to hundreds of people. It's 2013's answer to those smug, bragging Christmas round robins everyone hates. We all do these "social obligation posts", as Facebook calls them, but the highs of public adulation are short-lived, and when we see other people boasting, it makes us jealous. A recent torrent of studies claim Facebook actually makes you depressed because it inspires envy, pride and a sense of missing out on fun.

Personally, I get a perverse pleasure from other people's cringe-inducing brags on Facebook. Here's a classic example from January:

What a year! Graduated with a PhD from Cambridge, moved to London, worked in 16 countries, travelled to 4 continents, perpetrated an obscene carbon footprint, survived cholera, influenza and bronchitis, watched 4 Olympic events in person, managed not to drown at the Jubilee flotilla, witnessed a crazy Boat Race from the Vice Chancellor's riverboat, enjoyed some amazing birthday parties including my own, dined in some incredible venues including the Painted Hall and the Savoy Ballroom, was knighted in the Order of St George, advised a variety of governments and businesses, lunched witth the Dalai Lama, met heads of state, ministers, military leaders, captains of industry and a wide range of fascinating people, and felt the love and support of my amazing friends and family. Hoping that 2013 is a year filled with health, happiness and love for all of us and that at this time next year, we can all look back and find satisfaction in how much we have learned, grown and changed. Happy New Year, everyone!

That kind of message might annoy you, but people are like that in real life too – Facebook just helpfully collects all of them into a single bulletin. The reason everyone hates Facebook is the same reason they (reluctantly) use it: it's just a simplified, exaggerated account of who we are. Zuckerberg said yesterday that he didn't want Facebook to be a "cool" product, he wanted it to be an almost invisible utility, like electricity. And that's what it is really, just a mirror of our own personalities, albeit an edited one.

We hail technology like Twitter and Facebook as completely changing the way we communicate, but in fact, all they have really done is massively expand and speed up our conversations. Which is a major change, but it doesn't mean we are suddenly exposed to new emotions, it's just more of the same. The constant aggression on Twitter is just the village square, cranked up by the tiny message length, which removes all possibility for nuance and caveat. And likewise, Facebook is just us, in discussion with a lot of friends at once.

So when people say they hate Facebook, what they mean is they hate other people, which is unsurprising: we're probably not meant to interact with that many people daily, given how predisposed to comparison and jealousy we are. But you can use the site without suffering vain creeps. If you don't want to hear from someone, you can hide or delete them – a luxury you didn't have in the real world. And if it really gets too much, you can delete Facebook altogether. Just be careful you don't graduate to the high priesthood of online smugness, and go round telling everyone how happy you are without it.

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