Virtual Pollution

Finally it is my time to bitch about Facebook! Our love relationship has turned into a love-hate relationship. I like(d) social networks. I am home in two different countries. Also, I went to an international school and an international university, and later worked in international business (woha, check this international chick out), so my friends are scattered all around the world. The networks are the the easiest way to keep in touch. So, I am everywhere: Facebook, Myspace, Linkedin, Xing, Small World, Internations, Twitter and some other site whose name I forgot. And yes, I admit, I have 390 friends on Facebook. And no, I don’t know them all – some of them are my readers who have expressed the wish to become my virtual friends. Virtual. That part is slowly fading away. But it is important because that is where the problem hides. Few weeks ago, I posted  my dilemma about switching to Mac on Facebook. Within only few hours, I had 29 comments. Passionate comments. People were arguing and kept returning to see what the others replied. Last week, I posted that I was stuck at home with swine flu. Comments? 0. Zero. Welcome to the world of virtual friendships.

There is one slight problem with virtual friendships. No, three slight problems. Or more... One: We are spending more and more time in social networks. Meaning wasting time we could be spending in the real world, and also wasting money. CNN estimates costs of $2.2 billion a year due to the loss of productivity caused by time spent on networking sites. Problem number two: we are getting seduced by virtual friendships, maybe even allowing them to weaken the importance of the real friendships. What I learned with my post on having swine-flu is what sociologists are calling the phenomenon of “weak links”. We think we have 388 friends who are sharing our lives. We don’t. We have 388 virtual pan-pals who are only here when they want it. “Strong link” is my neighbour Markus. He fed me through closed door (yes, like you would feed a beast) while I was ill.

And what struck me most is that the social networks are strongly changing the way we begin romancing (and eventually end up having sex), which has a huge impact how we view and present our lives. Last two guys I met (yes, I admit, they were [much] younger than me) asked me for my Facebook contact. Phone numbers, even e-mail addresses, are passé. Hello, this is a revolution in our dating pattern! We used to get in touch so that we could get to know the person and see if we like him/her. Now, everything is upside down –we first get to know (the virtual) person, then we decide if we like him/her – and then we get in touch, or don’t. We are making decisions based on the ones-and-zeroes identity of the person. Dangerous. Because in the virtual world, what is missing is… yes, the real thing. Everyone is more or less same, and everyone can create the identity they chose to (do you really think I look like my Facebook pic?). We start thinking of our lives in terms of how presentable they are online.  How alienating is that?

I don’t know. I just know I’m cutting this thing to a minimum. I have already trained myself to only log on once a day. And I’ve introduced Facebook-free days. Mostly I combine them with news-free days. They are fantastic – suddenly life seems so easy and uncomplicated! You only have to remove the rubbish of other people’s destinies… Sorry, we’re just too many.