“Facebook is the life support of my entire being”, says one second year Oriel physicist; “I would literally die without it”. On reflection, it seems very strange to have such a positive attitude to a single website. But by now we all know what it is to have Facebook, and many people feel much the same way about it as this physicist. It means having at your disposal a vast and effectively, no, totally, cost-free amount of information about your friends, acquaintances, and sometimes even people who you nor any of your friends have ever met. It is a massive, self-supporting and rapidly growing industry in itself, which currently has over 500 million active members: that’s 8 percent of the planet. Powerful stuff indeed. Above all, Facebook represents a new mode of communication, one that has transformed the way in which we live our lives. What’s more, it has transcended the bounds of the internet in that, for many, it is no longer just a website, but an occupation: for better or worse, it has become an essential “life-support”.
However, it’s sometimes very easy to forget that many people don’t use Facebook, don’t care about what it offers, and genuinely don’t wish to get to know it. So what does it mean to be on the site these days, when most people can’t conceive of a life without it? Would you really be missing out? The range of responses I found varied from the blissfully apathetic to the passionately reactionary. Another of my friends as Oriel doesn’t have Facebook, but feels no need or pressure to sign up: “I just don’t really care about it – its not like I have any need to use it anyway, and from what I’ve heard its just a timewaster”. This is the classic disinterested attitude many – they know what people the site for, yet for them it’s still not really a must-have when it comes to socialising. In contrast, a second year English student is more passionate about the issue. Whilst being “tempted” by the prospect of joining up, and egged on by (real-life) friends, he remains untarnished. One of the biggest persuading factors? The “gushing respect for my cyber-celibacy” that he receives from most people once his abstinence is revealed. He admits his delight, but on a serious level, it’s enough to convince him there must be good reason to go on as he is. On top of this, having seen the hit The Social Network, he is crystal clear that he has “no desire to help finance the Los Angeles high-lives of people who I would describe as a bunch of dicks”. Above all, though, it seems that to resist the guiles of Facebook is often seen as a mark of individuality, or distinction; would ‘nobility’ be a step too far?
All of this raises a very interesting issue: the take-up of Facebook is now so widespread that it does seem that being uninitiated has become a definite, determined protest. It’s a minority-based, reactionary and, yes, noble stand against the mainstream commercialisation, even degradation, of what was once pure, genuine friendship. When I log on every day, my reluctance just not quite enough to make me kick the habit, I can’t help but think we’re losing something in the translation of social interaction from the real world into the screen; it’s true, something makes me want to react against it. Presumably, though, as time goes on, and the hordes that fall to Facebook’s free and friendly mantra grow and grow, those who dissent will become even more of a minority; their position will become more controversial, even more anti-mainstream; the pressure to conform will be even greater. The apathetic, too, will become more and more conscious of what they could be missing, and feel pushed to make a decision either way. Or maybe it will just become clearer that those who reject Facebook manage perfectly well in their social lives without it, and the aimless distractions it often brings. Will we throng or flee? Only time will tell…