Friday, 30 November 2007

With a Poke and a Grunt

Watching the votes build up in the latest poll, I’ve been somewhat surprised to see so many of you pick subjects I wouldn’t, myself, have chose. ‘More stories involving Stephen Fry’ currently lies in second place, with ‘More drunken moralising’ holding the top spot. Personally, I can’t get enough of ‘the Judith Chalmers prophesies’ and would have happily gone out and produced more ‘interviews with Richard’s famous friends’. However, today I thought I’d give you what you so clearly want. Since lately I’ve barely gone ten minutes without writing about Stephen Fry, I thought I’d devote this post to a spot of drunken moralising.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t actually drunk when I sat down and began to write this piece. Nor was I entirely sure what I should drunkenly moralise about. Nothing immediately came to mind. These topics, I find, are best when they descend on you, like a fury or a dizzy spell. So, in the end, I decided to sit down with a piece of paper and write down a list of things that annoy me. If began like this:

Cheap jam. Practical jokes. Rudeness. Card shops. Rugby. The internal combustion engine. Rural types. Lentils. Natural fibres. Artificial fibres. Norway. The Guinness Book of Records. Tinned meats. Acorns. Alan Titchmarsh. The M11. Carrot cake. Extra virgin olive oil. Tight underwear. Trekkies. Burnt onion rings.

Just as I was beginning to think that I’d never come up with a decent subject for a rant, Judy came in talking about her evening with Denise Robertson. She was chatting away and I was on auto-pilot, yes-ing and ah-ha-ing as she went, when she suddenly came out with a sentence that turned my blood’s boiler up to high.

‘Anyway,’ she said, ‘Denise has joined Facebook. She told me to tell you that you should be on it too. You’ll be able to exchange messages.’

‘What’s wrong with ringing me up?’ I asked, feeling my cheeks flush.

‘Oh, Richard. It’s not the same.’

‘Too right it’s not the same,’ I cried as I picked up a bottle of wine from the rack and ran to my office, inspired for my rant.

One bottle of plonk later, I’m beginning to feel my rage loosening me up. So let me begin by telling you that I consider Facebook to be a feral world where only the dimmest creatures of the human swamp find pleasure. Somewhere deep within us, the strands of DNA are unwinding in a desperate attempt to end this madness. Civilization is in meltdown as humanity spends its most profitably hours of the day engaged in the single most pointless activity since the invention of the yoyo.

For some godforsaken reason, I joined Facebook just last week. I took a good look at this brave new world and quickly got the hell out of there. It seemed to me that there are people you call friends and then there are Facebook friends. The only difference between the two are an electric fence and a few restraining orders from the local crown court.

My first experience of Facebook happened only minutes after joining. Somebody asked to be my friend. I didn’t know who the hell they were but I thought ‘why not’. It seemed like a win-win situation for Madeley so I agreed to the deal. The next day, I got an email to tell me that my new Facebook friend had changed the status of our relationship and I should log in to confirm the change. When I logged in, I quickly saw how they’d changed the status. They’d deleted me as their friend! I hadn’t even spoken to this person and they’d already erased me from their life. I’ve had enemies that have treated me better.

And that’s the problem with Facebook. It’s that little motto that welcomes you with when you log in: ‘everybody can join’. Wonderful! ‘Everybody’. My favourite group of people. It’s what makes Facebook the periodic table of the mentally unstable, the spiritually adrift, the chemically unbalanced, and the charisma free. I wouldn’t want to share a line at the supermarket with some of these people, let alone spend my day with them, living a virtual existence, playing at being friends. Give me loneliness and isolation if this is what friendship has become.

I don’t want to find my friends through the ‘Friends Finder’. If people are my friends, I already know where they hang out. If they’re not friends, they’re just another stranger who wants to come along and demand that I spend my time in inane conversations while they’re stuck in some office and waiting to go home. And, I’m so sorry to tell you this: I don’t want to write something ‘fun’ on your Fun Wall. The one thing you can be sure about is that no wall that calls itself a ‘fun wall’ will contain anything that’s remotely like fun. It’s like people who declare themselves ‘crazy’ and ‘fun loving’ or having a ‘great sense of humour’. That’s how accountants always describe themselves.

Facebook devalues the very notion of friendship to such a degree that we forget what we mean when we use the term ‘friend’. Is a Facebook friend going to get out of bed at three o’clock in the morning to rescue from the bathtub? Are they going to write you a 2000 word blog post about their meeting with Chuck Norris? I don’t bloody think so. Just because I’ve clicked on a box that confirms that ‘I’m friends with Sue’, it doesn’t mean I’m actually Sue’s friend. And when I’ve got a list of a few thousand such people called Sue, it doesn’t even mean that I really know that Sue even exists. What it does mean is that Sue has linked to me so she can boast to her other ‘friends’ that she’s got over two thousand Facebook friends and must therefore be such an interesting, warm, and wonderful person. Actually, Sue, it means quite the opposite. Simple fact: the more friends you have, the less valuable the word ‘friend’ becomes.

Then there are the applications within Facebook that ‘enhance’ the Facebook experience. The only thing I’ve discovered that enhances the Facebook experience is the ‘Logout’ button. However, for many, there’s nothing that brightens up their day more than informing a ‘friend’ that they’ve just been bitten and that they are now a vampire. Cue the music. ‘I’ve bitten you. Oooh… You’re now a vampire.’ Music ends. High drama it is not. More like an utter waste of time and energy. The place is a meme hell, where you can spend your whole day comparing yourself to others in a seemingly endless list of tests and quizzes that inform you of nothing that’s remotely significant to your life.

‘Bah!’ I hear you cry. ‘But Richard, with Facebook you’ll network!’

‘Network’. The single most nauseating word in the English language, probably invented by an American to replace that old fashioned word ‘contact’. Why would I want to contact other people? For what purpose? Don’t I seen enough of the damn things when I look out my window? People who network are usually people with personalities so utterly toxic that you wouldn’t naturally want to be their friend. They usually breath through their mouths and talk through their noses. They wear aftershave imported from Bulgaria and have every album produced by Five Star, who they still claim are the British Jacksons. And let us be quite clear on this: they don’t actually want to know me. They want to collect me like they collect stamps in their lonely bedsits late at night. My whole existence is reduced to a pretty little avatar on their homepage. And then they have the cheek to ask me to join their ‘communities’. Protest this. Outlaw that. Change the face of democracy. Help X get nominated for Y. Support Z in their campaign against W. Then there are the ‘big issue’ communities that hope to change the world. The notion that any government is going to look at Facebook and realise ‘hell, there are x thousand people opposed to our policy, we better do something about it’ is faintly ridiculous. Gesture politics have never been so futile or require such small gestures.

Take the community called: ‘I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush!’. To my astonishment, there are over 800,000 people so cretinous that they joined in with this nonsense. The only thing more inane than creating this group is actually joining it. What are these people going to do? Confirm what they already know? Discuss their febrile hatred of Bush? Or is it, like so much of Facebook, just another trivial activity to fill the vast emptiness of a daily life in which grown adults can’t find something more meaningful to do with their time?

My last and saddest experience of Facebook was when I was ‘poked’ by a friend. I poked them back, whatever that means. And that was the end of our communication. They poked me. I poked them. Oddly, three days earlier, I had written this person a thoughtful email full of words and clever observations about life, hoping to ask their opinion about something. I never sent it. I thought I was being too presumptuous to expect them to reply. I didn’t want to bother them with it. Yet somehow, there I was poking them. If felt like we’d regressed back to the cave, prodding each other as a means of communication. Isn’t technology wonderful when we can replace words with pokes? It inspires me to end this with some modern form of communication that will be appreciated by the Facebook generation. You know: like a grunt?


michaelpalin'snextwifeafterhisfirstonecarksit said...

Oh, you old grouch -have another bottle of plonk :).I joined facebook a couple of months ago -roped in by my sister. Have only 10 "friends" and they're just about all family - must be the biggest loser on facebook! The best I can manage is to go send my sisters a hamster or a penguin. WHY? WHY? would anyone send someone a hamster -and that seems reason enough to do it.

Swearing Mother said...

Ooh Richard, see you are trying to "get down with da kids" and frankly, I wouldn't bother.

If you have to ask what Facebook is all about, you don't wanna go there man.

Stick to blogging, it's friendlier.

Lord James-River said...

Get out of Facebook, run and don't stop running until you're safe in Judy's arms again, Richard.

By the way, you haven't seen the Chipster recently, have you?

Richard Madeley said...

MPNW, 10 real friends or 10 Facebook friends. I'm just not getting involved in it. I think it's going to end badly, like a suicide cult. Mark my words. It's gong to go bad.

Swearing Mother, I am down with the kids. I'm hip and I'm happening. But I agree. Blogging is much better. More depth to it. None of this poking going on.

Lord James-River, I'm out of there. I was wondering what you'd been warning us about and now I can see. And now, I've not seen Chip. I'll have over there now to see what he's doing. The last I heard, he was in a sulk about something.

lee said...

haha - 8 proper friends and one who tracked me down and one who I talked to once and tracked down on facebook to make enquiries about doing a radio show.I guess that people are "tracking people down" -that's a warning to clear out right there, isn't it?
In defence of extra virgin olive oil -what product do you know that you can condition your hair with and use it on your roast potatoes as well?

elberry said...

Most amusing and true, amusing because i 'friended' you on Facebook and you rightly ignored it, true because it's true. A loathsome Xian prima donna vicar's wife i hated keeps trying to 'friend' me. i keep ignoring her, thus is the equilibrium maintained.

Richard Madeley said...

Well, Lee, I think your evidence is backing up my theory. I've not actually got any problem with olive oil. I actually like it. It's all this 'extra virgin' business. You're either a virgin or your not. I think that's my complaint.

Elberry, I'm sorry if I ignored you, though I can't remember a request coming through. It wouldn't really matter if I had linked you. I don't use the bloody thing. The most sense piece of... Oh, hang on. I've said all that. (And shouldn't you now be blogging? It's the 1st.)

Claudia said...

trivial activity to fill the vast emptiness of a daily life-that about sums it up. yes, I'm on there, it's a great time waster!

Richard Madeley said...

Oh dear, Claudia. Please don't. Go and do something better instead. Find a view to look at. Buy a pet. Read a book or try to write a poem. Please do anything but that. You'll be one of zombies soon and I wouldn't want to have to hit you with a spade when you come to eat my brains. I really wouldn't.

Ethel said...

Argh! I joined FaceBook because apparently our big school reunion for next year is being organised via it, and I discovered that everyone I went to school with is now prettier than me and has babies. (And sod all organising's been done, either. It deviated into a discussion of our history teacher.)

My biggest dilemma, though, is what to do with this vast list of people who've bitten me, poked me and invited me to join their groups - I don't want them to get a note saying I've officially ignored them, therefore confirming my reputation as a Grumpy Sod. But I don't want to accept some of them, either. So the list just sits and gets longer and longer...

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