Thursday, 10 November 2011

Facebook and the Beautiful People

When I was seven for reasons unexplained to me I switched schools. On my first day there happened to be a girl who was also moving to the same school as me. Her name was Sarah and I remember her striking blonde hair for some reason, and I think she had ribbons in it, although I wouldn't put my life on that. We chatted in a reasonably friendly manner in reception before we were sent to the same classroom. At that point she managed to fit in right away and I began eighteen months of misery as the permanent "new kid".

Nearly thirty years later and we have a new equivalent of this. It's called Facebook.

"Are you on Facebook?" people will ask, and I had to reply "yes", because I was. But I really wished I wasn't. However if someone stealing someone's phone and impersonating them on Facebook is "Frape" then I was somewhat "Frapped" on the site due to a few people that I wouldn't be in touch with any other way.

Why don't I like Facebook? Because it marginalises people. You want to put something witty up? Sure, go ahead, but if your face doesn't fit don't expect it to be recognised, or liked, or commented upon. It'll just drift away into nothingness. If your face fits then go ahead and virtually sneeze before you see how many people rush to comment "Bless you".

With all the moving around I did as a kid it took me a hell of a long time to become comfortable with myself. What I don't really need is a reminder of how I was never really that popular, and how I don't really matter to people I'd even go so far as to say are still pretty important to me.

Friend requests hold a similar stigma to me. The fact is that I haven't been desperate for friends since I was eleven, and I'm not in any hurry to change that now. I'd like to say that I've never sent a friend request to anyone, but that wouldn't be true. There are a few people who I've unfortunately lost touch with who I jumped at the chance to maintain contact with, but that's about it. There are plenty of people who I've seen about who I've thought about adding and just decided against it. They've obviously seen me yet haven't decided to add me, so they're clearly not bothered about me, why should I be so about them?

Of course that does lead to the awkwardness when someone suggests that you add someone as a friend. I once received one of these e-mails through from a particularly good friend, and given that it was a particularly good friend I actually acted on it, whereupon the request to my friend's friend sat dormant for months. In how many ways can that be awkward? If you're me you automatically assume that someone didn't like you after all. I mean, everyone's on Facebook all the time, aren't they? What would take someone so long to add you?

(This is typically where my wife reminds me that I'm oversensitive, which to me becomes another reason why I shouldn't be on Facebook.)

And then you get the people who are in it just for the statistics? "You've got 400 friends, well I've got nearly 450!" And how many of those are friends exactly? I had a clear out on Facebook once and in doing so deleted someone who was what I would call a "collector". It took her a few weeks to try and add me again, at which point I remembered that she and her husband had gone so far as to move house without ever telling Lorraine and I. I was actually able to choose to ignore her permanently.

Someone suggested recently "Can't you unfriend or ignore people who you don't like?" Chance would be a fine thing, but you can't avoid them. Those people are everywhere and can't be avoided. What I love on Twitter is that I occasionally have to dodge a retweet of something Grant Wahl has written, or possibly a random opinion I might disagree with, but they're few and far between, and those people you don't want to hear from are simply ignored, or if it comes from someone you previously liked, they get to be unfollowed.

Facebook keeps trying to add features, and in doing so found more ways to get under my skin. It used to be that your "People You May Know" list could have people permently banished from it, and I wasn't shy about using that. At some point they changed it so that you couldn't ignore people, and along the way I know there were plenty of people who couldn't stand me (and to be honest I felt the same way about them) and I could no longer ignore them.

And then there was what began as Facebook places, and soon became a way to say "I'm out with friends and you're not". Again, fun if you're popular, less so if you're not. In fact if I'm completely honest looking at those kinds of comments made me utterly miserable.

You see Facebook is there for the beautiful people, for those people who might genuinely have 400 friends, who people want to befriend. It isn't for people like me who just go about our daily lives and attract little or no attention. If you type in "Better to be hated" into Google you're offered alternatives such as "ignored", "irrelevant" and "loved for what you're not". I'm past trying to be someone I'm not, and if being myself gets me ignored or makes me irrelevant to people then I can't change that. Again though, what I don't need is a reminder of it.

At 1am on Wednesday 26th October I finally thought that enough was enough. I could chip a few "friends" away here, pare the notifications even further back and even change my password to effectively disable my access, but no, I really needed to be rid of something which made me feel so worthless, and instead cancelled my account (although I wish I'd taken a screenshot of the "These people will miss you" page, because as of this moment none of them have). I wondered if I might have regrets, but that would be a matter of time.

Two weeks later and I don't feel any regret, in fact I wish I had done this years ago. I've spent more time since in actually talking to old friends, and trying to keep in contact in a more earnest fashion. This has been so worthwhile that again I wish I had done it earlier (Facebook or no Facebook), because friends don't exist in a list, they exist in reality, and deserve more than a "comment" here and a "like" there.