Facebook 'mimics playground insecurities of primary school'
29 August 2007 at 13h09
woke up one morning with fear in my bones, because the first thing I
wanted to do wasn't to have a cup of tea – but check my Facebook,"
recalls one recovering social-networking enthusiast, Sam Devito-French.
Rather like heroin use, the first heady days of Facebook membership can
be lost in a hazy love affair with inboxes full of "friend" requests
and flirtatious messages ("pokes"). But like many addictions, it can
leave you slumped on a mattress with nothing but your laptop, a few
mouldy coffee cups and a sense of exhaustion, fear, and self-loathing.
"I gave up when I realised that I didn't need a social network to have
a fulfilling life – I'd much rather meet up with someone over a pint,"
says 27-year-old Sam.
He, is one of a growing tribe of Facebook "refuseniks", disillusioned
with the seductive charms of the popular site, which has claimed 24
million screen-slaves worldwide since its conception by a couple of
spotty (now-billionaire) college students in 2004. So popular has the
site become that in the past six months' membership has risen at 19
times the rate of MySpace, surging 523 per cent to 3.2 million.
Like many Facebook
users, Sam was cynical at first and joined on the premise of boosting
his freelance photography career, but soon the hypnotic screen revealed
a side to his character that would have best remained hidden. "I'm
ashamed to say it, but Facebook turned me into an Internet stalker. I'd
broken up with my girlfriend a couple of months earlier, I was tempted
by morbid curiosity, expecting to find a photo of her with someone
else. It was a frightening experience."
Sam also got caught in the grip of Facebook's virtual popularity
contest. "I became obsessed with how many friends I had. I accepted
people's "friendships" because it would add to my figure – not
I wanted them to be my friend."
But Facebook "friendliness" is no substitute for genuine friendship,
says Professor Ray Pahl, co-author of Rethinking Friendship, and only
leaves us feeling dissatisfied. He believes Facebook is a form of
immaturity, "It's not a real social network," he says, "it kids
up best friends to find their social niche. When people grow up and
settle down, they realise that real friendship isn't about turning on
the computer – it requires real effort and taking the rough with the
Like compulsively stuffing your face with chocolate éclairs while
aimlessly flicking through the latest issue of Heat, Facebook cleverly
taps into the modern desire for "continual surface stimulation", says
psychologist Derek Draper. "There is something about our culture that
pushes us towards activities that are hypnotically shallow, rather than
committing to something more profoundly."
Sam agrees: "You join Facebook on the pretence that you want to stay in
touch with people, but it just becomes a gap-filler. I would find
myself endlessly refreshing my page out of boredom. Eventually I would
find myself trawling through my list of friends and realising there
were only a few people I wanted to talk to. I got quite angry with the
Sinister, exciting, addictive, irritating – whatever our relationship
to the online networking phenomenon, it now performs an important
social function for a large portion of the 15 to 35 demographic. But
the real question is whether it will vanish in a puff of its own hype,
or prove to be the tip of a virtual iceberg? A recent YouGov survey
found that only 50 per cent of people questioned said they would still
be using Facebook in five years, compared with 94 per cent who said
they would still use Google, suggesting that it is more likely to be
driven by changes in fashion.
Safely disentangled from his virtual friendship web, Sam says he now
appreciates "hearing people's voices" or "bumping into old
accidentally". "Isn't life more interesting that way? I am no longer
avatar – it actually requires some effort to be my friend. Writing on
people's walls and checking out their photos doesn't add up to