April 19, 2009
I don't need more friends
For the life of me, I can't get what the big deal is about Facebook
By Sumiko Tan
Never say never because you don't know what the future will bring and you don't want your words to come back and haunt you.
But I'm going to say this anyway: I'm not on Facebook and I never ever will be.
Two hundred million people around the world have signed on to this 'social networking' website where friends can hook up with one another.
They can post messages and the goings-on in their lives for their friends to see, upload photos of themselves, send virtual gifts and take part in quizzes.
All around me, friends, colleagues and relatives have hooked up, even those who had vowed not to do so.
They love how Facebook allows them to keep in touch with current friends and reconnect with old ones.
'With my closer friends, I always have a window into what's going on with their lives, even if it's just a one-line update that they are stuck in Bangkok,' says a colleague.
'Sometimes, there'll be something they saw or read and got excited about that you will want to comment on and vice versa. For that brief moment, you guys are back in touch and exchanging views and gossip without having to arrange to meet up for two hours over coffee.'
A friend notes how Facebook allows people who are shy socially to be better understood. It was through the site that she found out a friend had a miscarriage and how another coped with her depression.
It also helped her get over the death of her dog last year. She posted a photo album in memory of him and was comforted by the comments left for her.
Other fans cite how Facebook can be used to network and for parents to keep track of what their children are up to.
So, if Facebook is god's gift to friendship and social harmony and 200 million people are having a ball cementing friendships in cyberspace, what's wrong with me? Why am I resisting? Five reasons:
I have enough friends already, thanks.
I value my private space.
I don't want to feed my voyeuristic instincts.
The posturing one sometimes sees in
Facebook makes me cringe.
My time can be put to better use.
First off, 'friends' on Facebook aren't necessarily friends as we know the word but people who have agreed to allow each other to have access to their sites.
It's impossible for anyone to have hundreds of 'friends' in real life but in Facebook, it's not uncommon.
Almost anyone can be your friend. Just click and say 'yes'. And so they come knocking: primary school friends, secondary school friends, junior college mates, university acquaintances, work friends, ex-cubicle colleagues, army mates of ex-boyfriends and so on.
A colleague found himself with 62 friends after just two weeks on Facebook. He said 'yes' because 'I guess that was the only polite thing to do and it also felt good to have 60-plus friends without trying'.
Leaving aside how the notion of friendship is being devalued, I don't think I can cope with the idea of my social circle growing at such an exponential rate.
Maybe I'm small-minded and small-hearted, but I'd rather keep my group of friends as it is - small and select.
True friendships require maintenance and already it's hard work sustaining those I have in real life.
Do I want to expose myself such that 'friendship' is expected of me from former classmates I no longer desire to be in contact with, colleagues I don't wish to know better, work contacts I have zero inclination to convert to friends, and acquaintances who should remain just that?
The beauty about real-life friendships is that they can die. As we move along in life, some friendships fade, others expire and there will be those you deliberately erase. People change, you change, it's sad we're no longer friends but it's nothing personal.
How exhausting, then, to have all manner of friendships resurrected and indefinitely too. Of course, you can decline to 'accept' a friend on Facebook but it will be churlish. You can also 'delete' a 'friend' from your site but people rarely dare do so for fear of offending the person.
That's another reason I'm anti-Facebook - I don't want to waste emotional energy angsting over whether I'll upset people who don't even matter to me in the first place. The pettiness involved smacks of primary-school politics.
There's also the issue of privacy and private space - mine and that of 'friends'. It's one thing to share my thoughts and photos with my 'real' friends on Facebook, but the site also allows Facebook-level friends access to them.
It boggles my mind how people have no qualms uploading their photos on the site. Don't they realise how the pictures are so easily accessible, shared and even abused? And once they are shared, forget about deleting them ever.
That photo of you drunk and puking in Zouk which you - or a 'friend' - posted? It's going to haunt you when you're a 40-year-old mum.
The other day, a colleague and I got to talking about a friend of a friend. I wondered what that person looked like and, hey presto, a photo of her landed in my e-mail. It had been retrieved from his Facebook. No harm was done and I appreciated the photo, but I wonder if she would too if she had known.
The other thing I dislike about Facebook is how it feeds the voyeur in me.
In the name of research, I borrowed a password to enter the site and found myself delving into the lives of people I knew and hardly knew. I'm ashamed to admit it, but a lot of ungenerous thoughts surfaced while I was checking out their albums.
Hmm, is that how her husband looks? Not quite the Prince Charming I'd imagined. Gosh, what an ugly jacket she's wearing. Why is he posting those ridiculous photos of himself? What's with the gallery of happy-family photos? What's she trying to say and prove?
I didn't like the conversation going on in my head and was glad to log off.
The thing about Facebook is that there is a certain amount of posturing going on. People are making a public statement about themselves after all, from the profile photo they decide on (who uses a passport picture?) to the comments they post.
It's amazing the amount of effort some put in to depict how successful, smart, happy, trendy, popular and well-travelled they are. I find this pretentious and off-putting.
Which leads me to my final point - life's too short to be stuck in front of the computer for more than it's necessary.
Already, I spend more than 60 hours each week staring at the computer screen either at work or at home. That's more than 35 per cent of my life.
Having Facebook will mean more hours. Don't I have better things to do, like going for a run or picking up bowling or gardening or knitting or whatever?
To each his own, of course, and clearly Facebook is a godsend for millions of people. It builds friendships, alleviates loneliness and even gives meaning to one's life.
It's just not for me.