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We Need To Talk About: Facebook

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Following Facebook’s 10th anniversary last week, Online Features Columnist William Cafferky discusses what it has achieved in this time.

The 4 February 2014 was a special day. It marked the tenth anniversary of one of the most influential and dynamic inventions of the 21st century: Facebook. For many people around my age, it is hard to imagine life without the looming presence of world’s third most popular website. For many others, it is far from a source of enjoyment, but instead instils a sort of duty-bound nosiness that we didn’t even know we needed.

Quite how, prior to 2004, any of us managed to keep up to date with our second cousin’s highest score on ‘Candy Crush Saga’ is a mystery. However, for many, the wonders of Facebook have surpassed the mundane monotony of afternoons spent gathering virtual crops on ‘Farmville’. Parents for example, if like me you’re naïve enough to let them, can now pinpoint, better than you can, the exact amount of times you’ve been drunk in a week. In fact, in my case, my parents’ use of Facebook has evolved beyond my own. I’m beginning to worry that soon I’ll return home to find a new adoptive brother, only for my confused parents to protest “Didn’t you see our status on Facebook?”

Image Credit: Jonathan Nackstand/AFP/Getty Images
Image Credit: Jonathan Nackstand/AFP/Getty Images

We are not far from a point where will have a whole generation whose lives have been comprehensively documented on the Internet. Whether it is the hilarious anecdote your four-year-old child had about socks, the intense deliberation over what to have for breakfast, or your undoubtedly thoroughly educated opinion on the crisis in Syria, no significant event or idea goes unrecorded.

I find myself in a position, I imagine not too dissimilar to many of yours, whereby the frustratingly useful nature of Facebook has me in a sort of trap. I can’t help but feel my relationship with it is analogous of a sort of broken marriage, only kept alive because of a shared mortgage and an ageing dog.

Facebook itself, with a sort of sneering awareness of my reliance, seems to be morphing into all the things I despise the most, safe in the knowledge that I’ll never leave. Recently, I have encountered a growing Internet trend known curiously as ‘Neknominate’.  The general premise of this ingenious creation is to drink dangerous quantities of various toxins, for seemingly no reward other than the smug satisfaction that you yielded to peer pressure. Competitors are goaded and cheered by passive ‘likes’, as their liver groans in disbelief. Then, perhaps unsatisfied that their suffering be contained within themselves, they “nominate” others to do the same.

I must confess, with weary cynicism, that the viral nature of this idea doesn’t surprise me. Facebook satisfies our thirst for social interaction, but in a disconnected manner that allows us to sit back, observe, judge, laugh and cry with impunity. Don’t get me wrong; it boasts many useful and enjoyable elements. Were it not for Facebook, I would undoubtedly miss any of the event invitations that previously, I’m assured, were lost in the post. In all seriousness, it has allowed me to keep a level of contact with friends and family abroad that prior to its existence would have been inconvenient at best.

There are numerous examples that illustrate how Facebook has been used as a collaborative force for good. Allegedly, social media sites provided a vital tool to the proponents of the Arab Spring, in aiding their quick communication and mobilisation. Facebook accounts have also been used to spread awareness of missing persons, and aid in their eventual safe return. These examples are important to remember, especially for dreary cynics such as myself, who consistently bemoan the antics of Facebook’s “lad culture”.

Nonetheless, I admit I shall not be joining the festivities of Facebook’s most recent landmark with any real vigour. Instead it provides an opportunity to ponder what the future holds for social networking, and how it has affected the way in which we socialise with one another.

William Cafferky, Online Features Columnist

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