Sunday 15 May 2011

Facebooking Eurovision

Much against my better judgement I was compelled to watch the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday evening. I do not intend this post to be a release of my pent up annoyance at the (generally) tuneless and out of tune songs, or the lunacy of some of the costumes, or the embarrassing fact that so many countries’ songs were performed in English (notably contrasted by the French presenter’s refusal to speak any English), or the tedium of the entire results process, rather it is a reflection on the way in which I watched it.

Having had the television tuned to BBC1, I used my smartphone (an increasingly inappropriate name when it’s used more for computing than phoning) to update my Facebook status with some sarcastic remark as is my wont. Within a couple of minutes, a Facebook friend defended the event; we exchanged a couple more comments with me still using my smartphone before I had to resort to my laptop computer to type my comments and responses at a rate at which I could keep up with the other posts that were also appearing.

As I had the full size keyboard I was able to update my status and respond to other people’s comments at a far faster pace and, seeing all of this going on, my wife picked up her laptop and we sat next to each other on the sofa engaged in digital exchanges with other people and occasionally with each other. I was quickly paying more attention to Facebook than to the television and duly made a remark about my status hosting a virtual Eurovision party.

Despite teaching about the purpose of texts and considering their permanence (at A-Level, at least), I am struggling to define what we were writing. Unlike instant messaging, which can most readily be paralleled to a conversation as the most ephemeral of texts, our posts and comments have – unless I delete them – become a part of my Facebook Wall for all to see. What we were saying, or writing, was in effect a private conversation (or, more accurately, a series of personal conversations as different trains of thought were pursued in different update threads), but it was all carried out in public and a record remains for anyone to read. While I know the likelihood of it being read in the future is minimal, we have added more to our ‘external memory’ or, for want of an alliterative oxymoronic description, our personal public persona. We are generating digital content at a phenomenal rate, but to what purpose?

Google has said that their aim is to organise the world’s information, and if you Googled ‘Eurovision’ during the event, their results included a live news feed and posts from the Twittersphere; I have seen this during other live events and assume it is a regular feature. What were personal remarks and comments for friends have become part of a greater public consciousness.

But none of this really crossed my mind as I sat commenting and updating my status. It was entertaining to interact with friends in our virtual environment: arguably, the Internet has made communication the easiest thing on the planet but it is, ironically, removing a human element from the whole process. Maybe next year I should invite a group of people round so we can be rude about the songs in person.

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