Recently I heard of a guy called Matt Zulesza who started a project called 1000+ Coffees. Matt’s plan is to have a one-on-one coffee with each of his 1000+ Facebook ‘friends’ over the space of the next three years, or as long as the project takes to complete. His intention is to remind himself, and others, of the importance of ‘real life’ socialising, and to celebrate the individual humans he has had the pleasure of meeting throughout his life so far. I think that’s wonderful. However, Matt’s project got me thinking about Facebook – the good, the bad and the, well, sad.
I have 649 Facebook friends. That’s a big number, but it’s fairly modest compared to many whose Facebook ‘friends’ top 1000, 1500, and even 2000. I must admit, I cull Facebook ‘friends’ regularly. Once upon a time, circa 2007-08, my number of Facebook ‘friends’ was important; the more the merrier, I accepted the friend requests of anyone and everyone (even my friend’s pet rabbit). Now, most of my Facebook friends are ‘real’ friends – individuals I’d genuinely enjoy meeting for coffee. (Then there’s the few people I remain ‘friends’ with for entertainment and/or stalking purposes. Or those I want to delete but can’t as they might be offended, so instead I’ve hidden them from my newsfeed.) All in all, I am pleased to have remained technologically connected to (almost all of) these people. It’s nice to see what old friends are up to, and to follow the adventures of those who are travelling or live far away.
I would have no qualms messaging most of my Facebook friends to catch up for coffee, if it wasn’t for the fact that many of these ‘friends’ would find it weird. If I bumped into a Facebook friend in the city, we’d stop and chat before going our separate ways. We might even exchange phone numbers and organise to meet for coffee later in the week (though it would probably never happen). But if I were to send out a personal invitation to a random friend for coffee via Facebook, completely out of the blue, they’d very likely be completely weirded out. They’d question my motive: does she want something? Does she have a crush on me? Is she planning to murder me? Is she pregnant with my baby? How sad. Since when did being friendly become weird? But I guess I’m a hypocrite; if a random Facebook ‘friend’ sent me an invitation for coffee without any forewarning, I’d be majorly creeped out too. Having said that, I’m quite open to testing this theory. Matt Zulesza – I salute you.
I’m on the cusp of being part of a generation that doesn’t know a world without Facebook: the Facebook Generation. I signed up to Facebook in 2007, at the age of fifteen. Kids today are signing up to Facebook as young as eight. Children know the word ‘Facebook’ before they know the word ‘dictionary’. A man in Egypt even named his daughter ‘Facebook’. There is literally a disorder called ‘social networking addiction’. Kids born from 2004 onwards will never live in a world that hasn’t seen Facebook. For the Facebook Generation, myself included, it will never be a strange concept for a human being to have their own online profile: a digital timeline of posts and statuses and albums of personal photographs available at the click of a button. So, how exactly is this a bad thing?
A few months ago was my five-year school reunion (I graduated in 2009). I was responsible for organising the reunion, which, of course, I did through Facebook. Back in the day, I’d have to have contacted my old school to obtain my classmate’s postal addresses, most of which would be outdated. I’d have to have sent out physical invitations, stamp and all, with a request for RSVP via e-mail or telephone. I wouldn’t have known much at all about the classmates with whom I hadn’t maintained personal contact. Our five-year reunion would have been exciting; a highly anticipated occasion filled with surprises. But, thanks to Facebook, the days of mystery and anticipation are long gone. I already knew what everyone would look like; that Sally had pierced her nose, that Rose had a tattoo on her wrist, and that Sam had died her hair blonde. I knew what people were studying or what jobs they had. I knew those who were in relationships, and with whom, as well as those who had travelled or lived abroad. I knew which girls had remained in contact with one another, and those who hadn’t. I knew everything, and so did they. Whilst it was lovely to see my classmates in person after half a decade, there were no surprises. And I think that’s a pity.
However, there’s a perk to our every photograph, comment and wall post being retained by Facebook. Far in the future, when we’re old and grey and unable to understand the most modern advances in technology, we’ll be able to look back over decades worth of photographs, comments and wall posts on our Facebook profiles (assuming that the Internet hasn’t run out of storage space or the earth hasn’t exploded). Of course physical photo albums already exist, but no family photo album is as true a record of one’s entire life than a Facebook profile. In thirty, forty, fifty years time, we’ll re-discover photographs from our twenty-first birthdays. We’ll be able to read over wall posts to and from friends we’ve long forgotten, and people we once loved. Our children, our children’s children and maybe even our children’s children’s children will be able to delve into our own personal histories, via our Facebook profiles. That’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind my parents having grown up with Facebook so I could see images of them as teenagers, passed out on the bathroom floor with penises drawn on their faces. But then again, I like the fact that they lived a mysterious life before I came along, a mysterious life I’ll never know.
There isn’t really a point to this post, but maybe we can learn something from it. Let’s make more of an effort to catch up with friends for real. Let’s meet friends for coffee and talk. To do that, we’ll have to actually log off Facebook. Surely that’s not too hard, is it?
…now I better share this blog post on Facebook so that my ‘friends’ actually read it!