In different circles I have heard the question of what we all did with our time ‘before Facebook’ raised a couple of times this week. I know that back in August 2007 Facebook quickly become part of my computer routine and, having had a smartphone for the past eight months, I now regularly take opportunities to see what my friends (and I do pride myself on the fact that I have, with only a couple of exceptions, met all the people with whom I am friends in person) are doing or have been doing.
There have been stories in the press of couples splitting up over Facebook, and by this the reports mean one half of the couple discovering they are no longer an item thanks to a status update, rather than Facebook itself being the cause of the split. To a bystander who does not know the people or details, these headlines indicate something of an abhorrent manner in which to behave, but it is surely only the logical extension of perpetually broadcasting the details of one’s life on a public forum, rather than managing the public and private spheres and informing one’s soon-to-be-ex of their impending situation privately over the telephone or (shock, horror) face to face.
Traditionally, social announcements were made in the
London papers – indeed, for a small fortune they can still be made in the papers – but now details of relationships can be precisely addressed to their target audience at no cost. Earlier this week I was saddened to see the relationship statuses of two friends change from being ‘In a relationship’ to being ‘Single’; while I have seen these changes being made by individual friends before, this is the first time when I have known both people and seen their profiles change in such a synchronised way. The touching thing that followed this was the number of messages, albeit public, of reassurance and support that each party received. London
The use of Facebook also came up this week in individual tutorials (or ‘Learning Reviews’ as they are officially termed for us) with pupils at school. As the exam season is looming large, it was reassuring to be told, unprompted, by two A-Level students that they had deactivated their Facebook accounts and had no intention of using them again until the summer. I half seriously asked both students whether they were suffering withdrawal symptoms and both said that while they knew they had to deactivate their accounts for the good of their revision, they had suffered no anxiety about not logging on since deactivating them.
While I was pleased to hear about their decision and that it was not causing them additional anguish, it did make me wonder how we really view and use Facebook. Deactivating an account leaves it dormant on the system and the simple process of logging on to Facebook again will reactivate it. If it is possible to disconnect and reconnect so easily from one’s personal social network, what does that say for the nature of today’s human relationships which underpin the whole concept of social networking?