So, what’s my big problem with social networking sites?

15 Jun

Despite being criticised for this post before I’d even written it 😛 I’ve decided to defy advice, and write it anyway…! (You know who you are, my blog police 😛 )

Well, back in another life – maybe all of 16months ago – when the concept first crossed my inbox I was actually pretty naively and geekily excited by it. The thought of connecting all of the real people in my life through an virtual network where we were all “in” on the playground chatter appealed to my online persona.

And, for a while, the rose-tinted spectacles fitted quite nicely… I have a rather successful set of old school-friends who I’d previously lost contact with; the American girl who set me up with my first ever email address; my cousin-collection; and many others I could list.

Well, they’re all on there… but I rarely ‘network’ with them any more. Or whatever it is you are meant to call the random collection of functions that constitutes such a social network. Some of my contacts, I’ve never got further than adding them to my site, and them doing me the courtesy of adding me back.

Having now experienced the reality of social networking sites, I have a rather embarrassing confession to make… the part I hate the most about them is the people. Now this might sound completely and utterly daft, before we even get anywhere near the anti-social ramifications of it!

[Incidentally, it is this “people-problem” that is the basis of my justification for generalising across social networking sites, as it is not so much the functionality (which is all pretty cool to a geek like me!) or the implementation of said functionality (which sometimes leaves something to be desired, and probably does distinguish one site from another.) The only ‘hole’ in this logic is that some may argue you get a different ‘calibre’ of user on different sites… but to me that doesn’t really matter – my friends are my friends and will remain IRL friends whichever site they use. Yet the issues I have with them on one site are just as much of a problem on any other site I could persuade them to use. But this could be a whole post in itself…]

To get back to my problem with connecting with my friends online…

Really, my friends are all lovely people – well, of course they are 😛 or else they wouldn’t be my friends! They’re all nice enough to put up with acknowledging an acquaintance with me, so that says something!

But, when it comes to the etiquette of an online social network, they seem remarkably ‘open’ to all the peer-pressure of conforming to the expectations – so much so that they also expect me to ‘conform’. And conformance to peer-group pressure really is one of my pet hates 😛 before we get into the details!

(Ah, maybe that’s why I don’t have many friends… light begins to dawn in my befoggled mind!)

So, what does a social network ‘feel like’? Well, its like some kind of an exclusive club. Before you join a network, you are completely cut off from the ‘world’. I fully understand all the privacy/confidentiality/protection reasons for the various permission-settings functionalities, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re hideously barrier-like to use.

But some people can – and do – chose to let their stuff be public. The sites are more cunning than that though – if you’re going to benefit from other peoples sites, then you have to be a ‘member’ too… and as soon as you are a member, they “have you”, to be exploited for all sorts of chocolate-eating purposes.

So yeah, before I even get started, I have a problem with being ‘forced’ into signing up to something before I get the chance to decide if it is “really me” or not. This is not something I am happy to accept – I object on principle to the coercion involved. Fair enough, I do ‘persuade’ people to e.g. start a blog, but I nevertheless concede it is a very personal thing and think people ought to be able to choose for themselves what their preferred ‘involvement’ is. Also, no-one at all is prevented from reading my blog just because they do not have a blog themselves. With social network sites, its more all or nothing than that.

There is a bit of a loyalty thing going on too… You could end wasting your whole life on one of these sites… yet which site you chose as your ‘primary base’ is crucial to how your ‘network’ pans out. Without neccessarily intending it this way, it seems to happen that you end up spending more time contacting and becoming closer friends with those who are on the same main site as you. You have a faster asychronous exchange of messages, and share more of the common functionality of the site together.

To compare blogging again (a topic dear to my heart :-P), although I am personally opinionated about which technology to use, that would not in any way stop me from reading the blogs of others using a different technology. But social networks currently seem to revel in their very exclusiveness…

Ooooooh… 👿 … doesn’t like it!

I joke about my ‘cliques’, but for me being in a clique is all about the close-ness that exists between clique-members/friends. The “leaving people out” side of it isn’t really what appeals to me. I like to think that “my cliques” have got an open-door policy, where people who are willing to show themselves friendly are welcome to be friends.

So, when friends persuade me to join their network-of-choice, I am sorely tempted. Despite my now-admitted hatred of them, I want to be able to give others their choice in the matter. But the very exclusive nature of them doesn’t really allow me the freedom to retain my choice in the matter. Well, I can retain my choice, but then everyone ignores it… because it doesn’t “fit” their “inside the box” view of the social network. Doesn’t seem fair somehow…

But I feel like I am somehow not-showing my friendship by my refusal to get involved. And – the caring person that I try to be! – it hurts me to give that impression to people who really truly *are* my friends. Yes, I do want to show my friends I ‘associate’ with them – but why can’t I do that a way that I like doing too, instead of being forced through hoops.

Hey, this post is far far too long already! And I’ve not even got past “signing up for a social network”…

Ah well, hopefully the next section should be shorter, because as far as the content of a social network goes, theres not very much to say about it. Just maybe that’s because there is actually not very much to it!

Ok, so onto my next sweeping generalisation, a very large percentage of what goes on on social network site is just bland. I suppose in my blunter moments, I’d call it spam.

I’m getting fed-up of skimming through 3rd-cousin twice-removed’s birthday message to her best buddy in school. Or about finding out another youTube clip that someone somewhere thought was cool. I could waste my whole life on youTube too… but without being too egotistical about it, I would like to think I have better things to do with my life.

It may sound rather harsh to call friend-generated content spam… but when there’s enough of it, and when no-one actually really wants to admit they don’t care about half of it, it does take someone to put their head above the parapet and name-and-shame it.

So, be on the social network, but just ignore the “traffic”? I suppose that’s an option, but a rather pointless one. And it doesn’t quite suit my argumentative disposition!

And, then in the midst of it, you do occasionally get some meaningful communication. Because I know this, and because I am “in” I am far too conscientious to ‘let it go’… It has happened, though, and I have been disappointed in myself and apologised profusely when it happens.

But really… what *is* wrong with a simple email, or a text? Call me old-fashioned if you will, but really, where is the additional functionality here!? The only addition is informing the whole world in the process, instead of just your buddy – and really, that’s an anti-function as far as I’m concerned.

Incidentally, it was one of the things that bought me into bebo in the first place, when they sold themselves as somewhere where you could “connect” abstracted away from your email address. So even when you changed email, you wouldn’t lose your connections as you just updated it once and that was it. However, even back then, I thought cohesion would be much better satisfied by a lean-and-mean site that was simply a database of connected contacts.

But, it was at the point when bebo removed this functionality that I first began to become disillusioned by the whole idea, I guess. That and the peer-group expectations that just drive me mad: You are expected to have checked your messages. You are expected to have seen the new photos on your friends pages. You are expected to have realised that their status has changed from “happy” to “depressed” and be ready to pick up the pieces, and give them an emoticon to cheer them up. Personally, I think they’d be better with one real hug than 100 virtual hugs!

And all this when I am so busy checking my mobile for messages, my phone for voicemails, all my email accounts for the latest distribution list items, replying to texts with the now-considered-acceptable-but-still-hideous 12-14 button interfaces available. Oh yes, and all the message boards/forums I’m signed up to.

Life is just too busy already to add social networks into the mix as well. I’d rather go back to a simple life, where I can get a non-virtual hug from one friend at a time, and see their smile as they tell me their news from last week. The news I haven’t heard yet because I haven’t spent every waking moment refreshing that page on the web where it would have been displayed.

I think for my own sanity, I just have to resist the latest pressure to join in. I shall continue to solitarily blog away to myself long after everyone else has moved on. As I’ve mentioned previously, blogging has many benefits above and beyond merely attempting to spam loyal feed-subscribers, and so the “ah, but it’s just like blogging” argument is not just about to catch me off guard 😉 .

This blog is for me. That’s the way it started, and I can continue if need be. I love sharing it with you all, but only so long as you want to share 🙂 go do more exciting things if you like!

See you all back in the blog-o-sphere sometime after you’ve been through the pain and frustration 😉


Posted by on Friday, June 15, 2007 in philosophy


Tags: , , ,

11 responses to “So, what’s my big problem with social networking sites?

  1. Grant

    Friday, June 15, 2007 at 11:58 pm

    Mmmm, ok, you really do have a big problem with these sites, don’t you? I suppose since I was one of your targets/muses for this (as well as your blog police, apparently) you’ll be expecting some kind of reply. Allow me to “conform” 😉

    In the past couple of weeks since I joined Facebook I’ve got back in touch with three friends from school that I haven’t spoken to for 10-15 years. I’ve also learnt a wee bit more about some folk in the office and have (gasp!) actually started face-to-face speaking with them more as a result. Posting up a photo of my newly laid back-garden turf kicked off a bit of chat that seems to have ended up with me hosting a barbeque at some point over the summer. My blog entries are imported automatically into Facebook so I’ve got a few more readers now. I’ve joined a few interesting discussion groups for subjects that interest me. If that’s all that comes of it then that’s just fine and dandy by me.

    No-one is expecting me to have looked at anything they’ve posted – it’s just there if I want to see it. Yes, there are the little cliquey in-jokes between friends but no more so than, for example, friends that sit next to each other in the office yet still insist on typing out their conversations on an instant messenging service (remind you of anyone? 😉 )

    Anyway, I guess what I really want to say is that it’s just a bit of fun. I enjoy it. There’s nothing deep-and-meaningful going on behind the scenes. On checking my last status update I (sheepishly) see that it says “Grant is wanting to become a spandex-clad wrestler after watching ‘Nacho Libre'”. Hardly worthy of a blog post, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it instigated a short chat with an old school pal about the films of Jack Black, which was nice.

    There’s no “inner clique” that you’re not party to (you can still come to the BBQ 🙂 ). In fact, after my initial frenzy of trying out different areas of functionality I can see it settling down into something like what you felt you got from the original Bebo i.e. a spruced-up contacts database.

    Just a thought – I wonder if these social networking places actually work better for people who are using them to get back in touch with folk they’ve lost contact with over the years rather than groups of current and already established friends? They are what you make of them, I suppose…

    Oh, and I don’t plan on leaving the blog-o-sphere or “moving on” (it’s still my preferred medium for making a complete fool of myself in public) and I’ve yet to experience any “pain and frustration” with Facebook. I’ll keep you updated though – will a “simple life” once weekly hug-and-tell be OK for you? 😀

  2. quact

    Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Admit the truth. Such sites as bebo and youtube use up your valuable neopets time 😉 😛

  3. cath

    Saturday, June 16, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Tcha, Grant always gets in first to say what i want to say!

    I’m only on Bebo and it’s definitely good for getting back in touch with people who you’ve lost touch with or don’t see very often in real life. If you use the mail option then it doesn’t even have to be in full view of the public – i do agree that random comments between friends make for incredibly dull readng most of the time even if the recipient does cherish them and find them ineffably precious. I also think most people would agree that spam isn’t such a harsh descriptor for it really. As i do believe i may have said to yourself before, if you’re going to write about personal things, a life that’s actually interesting is one key prerequisite.

    But I don’t really get the coercion thing btw – what you seem to see as coercion i would be more inclined to see more as harmless convention. And there’s no value in resisting convention just for the sake of it.

    (I’m still laughing about the neopets. Do you get ant versions as well?)

  4. Grant

    Sunday, June 17, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Tcha, Grant always gets in first to say what i want to say!

    Sorry about that, Cath 🙂 . In this case I must admit to having had a fair amount of advance warning that this post was about to be published…

    By the way, is “Tcha” a phthong? 😉

  5. rach

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 8:43 am

    Hmm… think I’ll just leave you two to agree with each other to your hearts content 😉

  6. Grant

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 9:10 am

    Are you suggesting that you are going to ignore your “lifestyle coaches”? 😛

  7. cath

    Monday, June 18, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    “Tcha” is a patented way of representing the exoticness that is a dental click, aka Great Uncle Bulgaria’s “tsk tsk,” only without the tartan. (Rach: style tip: tartan is so not in this season – you want to be stepping out in silver this summer mmkay?)

  8. rach

    Tuesday, June 19, 2007 at 9:22 am

    Of course I wouldn’t ignore you! (Hardly get the chance, do I? 😛 )

    But… I am just putting you “on hold” until sufficient internet bandwidth appears in a certain wee flat I’m getting to know quite well. Can hardly do your coaching justice if I give it only a cursory glance while having my mind on more important matters 😉 (Yes, I am *really* working right now!)


  9. Grant

    Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    You’d better cast your vote in the Lifehacker “Is social networking a waste of time?” poll. I like the word they’ve used to describe real life – “meatspace” 😀

  10. Grant

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007 at 9:31 pm

    Facebook can be dangerous 😉

  11. rach

    Wednesday, July 11, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    *conscientiously voted “Yes. If I want to socialize, I’ll go out – in meatspace – and socialize.”*

    Ooooh, I’m glad to see 700 people agree with me! *does not need to single-handedly save the world after all 😉 *


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: