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Offbeat – 20 September 2013

Journalists need something to get you to read, and a Facebook scandal is as good as anything else, possible even a bit more relevant than wars in far-off countries, as half of everybody outside of China seems to use it.

Facebook is incredible. I sat and thought about the phenomenon, and that was the overwhelming conclusion. I talk fairly regularly with a bunch of people from around the world. My closer acquaintances and friends are mainly involved in writing genre fiction, more often than not in the realm of horror. There is a continuous stream of ideas.
They come from English speaking countries, the US, the UK and Canada. There is nothing particularly special about them, no great mystique involving pencils behind ears, cobwebs in the corners of rooms or skulls on top of bookshelves. They are normal people who take the time to write. There are others who are not actively involved in writing. Some are Namibians and South Africans. Others are expats.
I meet them by luck or chance. Comments lead to chats which become  friendships. ‘Likes’ don’t really enter into it. A like is akin to an ‘uh-huh’ as acknowledgment, but not much more. In the economy of social interaction on the web, they are like five and ten cent pieces. There are a lot of them, and you only begin to feel them when they accumulate rapidly.
If not for Facebook I would be solitary. I go to the pub about once a week, and talk to whoever is there. There are a couple of people I particularly enjoy talking to, but their appearances are as sporadic as mine, and I don’t talk to them about things that really interest me: changes to cultural archetypes, like the socio-cultural underpinnings of why vampires and werewolves are getting unbearably cute and inoffensive all of a sudden, and stuff like that. And what’s this idiocy about zombie romance?
A friend of mine, someone who I see in real life from time to time, feels that online interaction is impersonal. I am tempted in some ways to agree, but in others not.
A lot of the stuff on Facebook is anodyne: inoffensive, meaningless pap like reposts of pictures of flowers with biblical quotes from people who hope that their professions of faith will buy them their beach houses in Heaven. That’s about as impersonal as a catechism replacing small talk, and about as exciting.
On the other hand, there is the ability to talk to interesting people who you wouldn’t get to know because you need to go home in the evening or they are in other countries and air travel is way too expensive and time-consuming. Words exchanged with friends are personal, even if they are typed into a chat field.
And sometimes, it’s also easier to talk online to people who you like but couldn’t sit in the same room with.
Facebook is great. It’s as personal as you can make it. How you use it depends on how familiar you become with its tips and tricks.
Looking at the complaints and mistrust surrounding Facebook, a lot of it is media filler. Journalists need something to get you to read, and a Facebook scandal is as good as anything else, possible even a bit more relevant than wars in far-off countries, as half of everybody outside of China seems to use it.
It does have its weaknesses. Trying to report a page for offensive content is relatively fruitless. Apparently racism can be excused on the basis of irony or humour. I suppose, as in real life, the solution is to stay away from that sort of group. In reality, you can’t regulate against idiots.
One of the more interesting facets of Facebook is the way that groups pop up, asking me to share my interests by joining groups. Although I join some groups and pages from time to time, I get requests and join as a matter of courtesy. Yet after a while I lose interest and leave them. There’s a form of courtesy to that as well. If the group is active, but doesn’t have enough members, leaving embarrasses me.
I talked previously about social networking being a leveller, something that would impose mass perceptions on everyone. I have to correct myself on that. In fact it gives me the opportunity to meet more people, assess them neutrally and form active friendships based on my own interests.
As I said, Facebook is incredible.

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