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2010-04 Social Networking

a column written by James for the Sligo Weekender

 
 
I value my friends enormously, and am proud of my wide circle of friends from all walks of life - friends I have amassed along lifes rich, colourful, yet obstacled path.

So why the hell would I need virtual friends?

On a daily basis I receive online invitations to become somebodys friend - by and large, people I dont know. Will you be my friend please? are words I havent heard since breaktime in the Grassy at the Model School. One of the most irritating things in the real world is when one is poked in order to get attention. However I can choose not to be virtually poked.

Facebook boasts in excess of 60 million users. And Im not one of them. In truth I dont Facebook, bebo, or twitter, despite mounting peer pressure to do so. Somehow I dont feel the need for a computer to suggest who should be my friend. Nor do I want the world to snoop in on who I have decided to rank as my Top Friends. Virtual farming likewise doesnt do it for me. Facebook profiles appear almost identical, and it seems tricky to leave Facebook once you join. All in all - Big Brother online.

I fully recognise that many of these social networking sites are an excellent means of keeping in touch with family, friends and ex-classmates, as well as offering other features such as photo-sharing. Sites such as Linked-In facilitate professional networking. Fansites bring together people with common interests. In spite of that, social networking seems to have gone too far, utterly taking over lives, and becoming the new 21st Century addiction. Furthermore, it condones slang, misspellings, bad grammar, that dreadful text-talk, those frightful smileys, LOLs and all that dross.

The art of letter-writing and card-sending is undergoing a drawn-out demise, having been replaced by email and other online and mobile methods of communication. With an ever-emerging amount of  social networking sites, it appears that we are now further laying ourselves open to identity theft, fraud and an irredeemable loss of privacy. 

It sometimes seems that every technological advancement, while unquestionably meritorious, is paradoxically causing society to drift further apart.
I was excited to acquire my first mobile phone, but have resisted upgrading to a Blackberry, or more recently an I-Phone. My LPs became cassettes, and later CDs. But I seldom download music from I-Tunes, as I still prefer to buy the CD. My DVDs replaced my videos shortly after my Discman supplanted my Walkman, but do I really need to  upgrade to Blu-Ray now? I already have hundreds of TV channels, of which I have watched a handful, and have thus far resisted Movie Channels, as I always take great pleasure in the whole cinema experience (including, admittedly, a minor addiction to Pick n Mix).
Am I odd?

I appreciate the apparent advantages of online books, and the ability to browse your laptop library anytime anywhere, but surely E-books arent going to take off. As Hughes&Hughes permanently closes its doors, perhaps the pleasure of spending an hour in a bookshop, choosing a new paperback is going to become a thing of the past, and with it, the physical aspect of holding a book, or falling asleep reading. What then of the buzz and excitement when a Harry Potter book is released  will that vanish if books are to become readily available online?

And then there is the newest iteration of inane geeky micro-blogging  Twitter. Does one have to be a twit to twitter? Or is it tweet? Perhaps tweeters are simply narcissistic people with too much time on their hands. I dont need to know what type of crumpet Jonathan Ross had, or what kind of moisturizer Jordan rubs on her botox  no matter how famous or irritating they are.

In a nutshell, we are becoming permanently tethered to the Internet. I am not suggesting for a moment that, like Greta Garbo, I want to be alone, but why not spend more real time with our friends and family? Adopt a pet, exercise. Everything in moderation. It seems like the negative components of the Internet are beginning to outweigh the positive. What in reality are the advantages of spending hours in front of a computer screen  blogging? And for those of you who think Im some sort of 20th Century Scrooge, trapped in a technological time-warp   BLOG OFF!?