The Social Network

For too long I have shunned social networks, affording them the same criticism as pyramid selling, or network marketing as it was once called. A process that played on the weak, requiring them to turn their friends into business partners, only to lose them over an invisible profit line. As somewhat of a traditionalist, I have always been of the opinion that great riches are born only of hard graft, and that real friends are nurtured and trusted with old fashioned methods of communication, i.e. the telephone. It’s no surprise I never joined Facebook.

Having attempted to watch the film The Social Network on a flight recently, (a fuzzy 4 inch screen and oversized headphones are hardly conducive to the cinematic experience) I learned how from a small acorn, Facebook has grown into a social tornado, sucking up everybody and everything in it’s path (500 millions users). For me it’s secret ingredient is the relationship status toggle. The movie highlighted the moment when this feature found it’s place on The Facebook page, and the rest is history. It plays on the basic human emotion of hope. Knowing where one stands, or momentarily entertaining the fantasy of relations with a stranger. It’s an aspirational tease, which some choose to exploit, whatever their present relationship status.

I have gleaned from talking (yes, talking) to addicts of this medium, that it’s hedonism that fundamentally drives the machine. Combine that with a large helping of voyeurism, and you have two killer human instincts fueling the biggest virtual phenomenon the world has ever known. Whereas hedonism and voyeurism are considered socially unacceptable in the real world, online they have license to flourish, and it’s the exploitation of this that I find most fascinating. Still won’t be signing up though.

Now of course, it’s not used in this way by everybody, and that is another reason for it’s survival. Many people use it innocently, sharing photos, thoughts and memories between family members and close friends. But amongst this set, are an increasing number of people who use it as a testing ground for a second life, and it’s precisely this that smacks of sinister. As the network grows, so does the thirst for information, with people constantly drawing mental comparisons between their friend’s lives, and their own.

The process of learning, whether social or academic must take time. Time to locate, digest and memorize the facts. The social network does away with this, and replaces it with a never ending stream of visual stimulants, for short term use only, though archived in vast invisible servers. It’s the reliance on these visuals that in my view, undermines the human condition.

The most terrifying aspect of the social network is it’s ability to lull the user into a false sense of satisfaction by simulating relationships. It is actually the guilty party in the encouragement of isolation. Accessing the thread to someone else’s life, for many, removes the onus to actually visit, call and talk. A thumbs up ‘likes this’ by way of a mouse click is enough to satisfy the criteria of affirmation. Every minute, increasing numbers of people are perusing one dimensional data on lives whose narrative is engineered towards a smokescreen of happiness. Is anyone on this planet having a bad day? No, just me then!

And that is where I draw my conclusion. The social network encourages people’s subconscious to collate experiences that only benefit the medium in a positive light, score them virtual friends, and raise their social status. Holidays, meals, celebrations are increasingly captured through the lens of a camera, and not fully enjoyed by the naked eye. Often, it’s only the good times that get posted, and with memories only being recorded digitally, people are documenting their existence for promotional purposes, and for the benefit of hundreds of ‘friends’ they may have never even met.

Whilst manageable in it’s present form, an increasing number of real relationships are being compromised by this pursuit of virtual happiness. With more of us living our lives by proxy, soon, nobody will be going out at all! I’m all for accentuating the positive, but more and more of us are living alone, shunning the family and working too hard. This lifestyle is only set to snowball if we allow technology to replace personality. Couples are now slaves to their smart phones and laptops, and have begun to lead separate lives, even whilst sharing a bed.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be hugged by a human, than be poked with a mouse.

14 thoughts on “The Social Network

  1. Good to hear of you in the media of the internet Anthony.

    I avoided facebook – myspace etc after a cursory look at their nature. It appears to be an environment that can bring out the worst in net users who use it.

    anyway good luck with this blog and look forward to the discussions.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with Trish; communication via social networking does little to enhance the social interaction that life experiences and evolution have provided us with. It may be possible to make the initial connection through the written word alone but I always feel that that leaves us open to a minefield of misinterpretation and, in some cases, a worrying dependency in order to satisfy our need to connect and forge relationships with others in a medium that invariably provides fairly instant gratification.

    There is so much enjoyment to be gleaned from making that first move to share a word or two with someone, let’s say, over the fruit and veg in Sainsbury’s; I find myself doing it from time to time, and as long as you don’t go completely overboard you really do feel sometimes as though you are making a difference.

    As a mother of two older children who have been completely sucked in to the Facebook phenomenon I manage to bite my tongue most of the time and let them be, accepting that, as Tony said, ‘it is the way of the world we are heading for’. One exception was a couple of weeks ago when my youngest dropped her iphone in her soup as she was attempting to juggle them both from the kitchen. The ensuing stain on the carpet was as red as the mist that descended. I lost it. Proof that she could not bear to be parted for one second from the phone was worrying indeed; I’m sure they don’t even realise they are doing it half the time and that their phones have almost become an appendage, like an arm or leg.

    I can see the place of social networking, and this has been very clearly demonstrated by earlier comments, but I resent the fact that it and phones with their 24/7 accessibility to all and sundry, seem to play such a large role in life as we have come to know it, especially to those who have choices, to those who can get out to a supermarket and frighten the bejesus out of someone simply by passing comment on the price of sprouts.

    Love that you have started this blog, Anthony – you write well, which is no surprise given your eloquence on the show; I look forward to reading more and to contributing when I can along with your other readers. Bravo.

  3. Yes there are issues with facebook which you rightly comment on. My main problem with facebook is the how it influences the younger generation. The negative effects which I have seen my friends children go through has been an eye opener.

    For example an innocent comment on facebook which is misinterpreted differently by another then resulting in an ugly confrontation. Or young girls posting images on their facebook page, are they really aware of who can see this if they do not manage their page security appropriately – or do they not care? I don’t know the answer – It’s probably wise for parents of teenagers using facebook to also be on there.

    For me personally I don’t use facebook I joined over 4 years ago but deactivated the account as I soon became bored with it. I am one of these fairly rare people who actually like to talk to people I meet whether it be in a supermarket queue, or bank queue. But I think we are rare, particularly (in my opinion) in London where people seem to prefer to keep themselves to themselves. I mean what’s the fun in that!

    Imagine you meet someone briefly you intrigue’s you, interests you or you are attracted to in some way maybe not necessarily on a physical level and you ask to meet up with them – more so than not they will think you are odd. But I happen to believe this isn’t odd, there’s a so much out there we can learn from each other why live in a secluded little bubble not willing to mix and meet new people.

    Yes we have become suspicious of each other but why? What’s the saying, birds of a feather flock together. So if you know you are a genuine person don’t be too suspicious when coming into contact with new people maybe something positive can come out it. Maybe I just live in an ideal world or in my own little bubble….. But next time you are in the bank or supermarket and a friendly woman starts to make small talk with you… Don’t be too suspicious it’s probably me 🙂

  4. Welcome back Anthony x

    One thing i have observed on the internet is that a lot of people on here are lonely. They all seek love and will take it however they can get it, even if that is just by being poked by someone.

    I helped a ‘friend’ in Canada get her life back on track just by gently nudging her to go and see what help there was out there for her. She got money for a new suit and shoes, went for a job interview and she got the job! I haven’t seen on her online lately but i am pleased for her becaused she was incredibly depressed. So not everything about social networking is bad.

    Another person i met onlne (due to a shared love of music) i actually went to visit for real in the Netherlands. It was wonderful meeting him and his family. We had real hugs and i had his twin daughters teaching me how to speak in dutch!!! That also would never have happened without the internet!

    I guess i like the positives of social networking. Trust me i know there are negatives. I’ve had a few rows on my facebook with my family. That said my niece lived in Canada all last year and we saw photos of her all year long. Very calming for my sister to see she was doing ok 🙂
    Lisa xxx

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your AntHony, I have not turned to the ‘dark side’ either. If I havn’t kept in contact with someone over the years it wasn’t a relationship I wanted to continue. Friendships are always unfinished work that need genuine input to grow, they are based on the highs and lows of life experienced together. Facebook appears to allow people to ‘filter’ their lives, it seems sad though, I wonder what peoplpe think when they look at their own site, are they even aware of their own false work?

    On a lighter note – whats been on the menu recently? Missing the tweets featuring the ‘recently eaten by AntHony’ all the fun of food but none of the calories!

    Take care x

    • Hi Zoe,

      Did you see that Anthony said he will start Tweeting again soon? I for one am looking forward to it. His one liners often say a million words.

  6. A great topic to start with Anthony.

    For fear of getting splinters, I may be sitting on the fence here because I can see good and bad from Facebook and other social networks.

    I totally agree with your comment “real friends are nurtured and trusted with old fashioned methods of communication, i.e. the telephone” and may I add, face to face. Over all I think I actually ‘speak’ to some people more because of the Internet. You know you are not interrupting them during dinner (Eastenders!!!) etc. but my email always ends ‘will speak soon’.

    Personally, I like the fact that the Internet has made the world a smaller place but we do have to keep things in perspective and take care. Still the best thing in life for me is to be at home or in a restaurant/cafe with friend/s and having a damn good natter and putting the world to rights.You have been quite a topic of conversation lately!!

    Finally, let’s remember that without certain social networks we would not be having this conversation with you Anthony, so unless the mouse can be Mickey, I send a big hug to you. xx

  7. I of couse would also prefer to receive a ‘real’ hug than a cyber one, but……here we go…..four years ago out of the blue I suffered a complete breakdown for no apparent reason, I was totally roombound not housebound for over 12 months until eventually my GP managed to find a counsellor who would do home visits, gradually and I say very very gradually I came back to life, when eventually I could manage to walk to my pc (desktop) which was in another room, facebook became a way out into the world where I could once again chat with and have contact with people I knew many who lived far away, also I had Anthony weekdays overnight when for months on end I did not sleep, I dreaded the weekends when Nick M was on, fortunately now my insomnia has lessened but I still have an hour or two awake. So for me FB was a lifeline, but……..I do also see the other side of the debate. As I say give me a real hug any day of the’s a cyber one just for you xxhugxx

  8. ……”If we allow technology to replace personality”
    The very fact that you have a blog and are communicating using technology is not much dissimilar to Facebook where people leave opinions and comments.
    But you are right in that nothing can replace that human touch, seeing someone face-to-face, not some distant person whom you have never met in cyberspace. It’s only by meeting people in “real life” that we can judge for ourselves what they are really like. I also agree that we only tend to put “good stuff” on facebook, maybe try to outshine each other and compete with each other socially. I never forget the story of a poor woman who had over 1,000 friends on facebook but when she posted a cry for help, not one person took her seriously or even replied as far as I know, and she committed suicide. On the plus side, Facebook can be a godsend for lonely people who just want to “chat” but nothing can replace having real friends who you can laugh, cry and have a good old natter with!

  9. good article anthony! and very true what you were saying especially about facebook and its dangers,to proper human contact.missing you on lbc please come back soon regards rob in york

  10. Quote – “This lifestyle is only set to snowball if we allow technology to replace personality.”
    Good piece Ant but the above quote im afraid I think IS going to be the way the world is heading for…..

    I recently stopped using FB so much as I realised that I was continually on my phone as if it was my life support machine

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