I have read many articles on how Facebook is such a horrible invention and how loathsome it is; I have never felt inclined to respond. It just wasn’t important enough to bother with. But now there seems to be an incessant and ever increasing murmur about Facebook and other social networking sites. Recently a dear of friend of mine joined the murmurers and it his contribution that has forced me out of the comfort of my nonchalant slumber.
In his article, the premise of his discontent with Facebook seems to be that a neighbour of his fell sick, got hospitalized with his entire family and circumvented the African protocol of informing his neighbours about the mishap but opted instead to post this misfortune on Facebook. He places the blame for this unconventional neighbourly conduct squarely at the door of Facebok which he charges is, taking the flavour out of social relationships.
To better follow my thoughts on the matter you may want to read the article he wrote in its entirety as this blog post was initially written as a response to the sentiments he expressed.
In many ways; Facebook and other social networking sites are fuelled by the very humane need to reach out, connect, interact, share and have communion with others.
Like all things, it is prone to being abused, misused and sometimes inappropriately elevated to replace the very real tangible world and human interactions proximal to us.
I think of it as an escape for many people and for some it is a chance to join a cyberspace pissing contest and brag about their life’s achievements (real or imagined).
This is often the case when the pissing match contestants feel that their audiences consist of those who never thought they’d amount to much.
But also Facebook is just another marketplace, if you don’t like fruits…there’s a vegetable stall; if you’re reserved and introverted…chances are you’ll interact differently with people on these sites than someone who say like me, is extroverted, opinionated and who by virtue of being a writer, is accustomed to interweaving her personal stories into her ideas and views about the world.
I don’t think Facebook should come with a manual in as much as dictating what appropriate or inappropriate conduct is not really the preserve of anyone on cyber-space.
The reality is it is not compulsory for anyone to be on any social networking site as far as I know and behaviours on these spaces vary from what one can deem as being proper to what one can consider to be distasteful.
In his article my friend shares how, “Another friend says she read about the death of her grandfather on Facebook, she says she was shocked at the temerity of the relative not to announce privately first before rushing to announce to the world.”
That sense of shock is understandable when it relates to information as sensitive as announcing a death.
We, Africans like displays of decorum. We have certain ways of treating delicate matters. There are hierarchical channels of communication. Certain protocol is observed and in many instances seniority is adhered to.
The most senior member of a family is often the default spokesperson…but with spaces such as Facebook… the individual’s narrative blurs these lines.
The cousin who announces the death of a grandfather for instance, is addressing his grief to an audience he sought out by himself and if he is not in the top echelons of the family hierarchy; then chances are it would not have consciously occured to him to assume the responsibility of being the bearer of bad news to other family members.
Like I said…the lines are blurry.
The neighbour who will announce on Facebook that he fell sick will do what I myself often do, use the easiest and most convenient medium to spread the news; which arguably is a far more convenient way of doing it because face it – calls are expensive and visits are sporadic in the busy and hectic schedule of every day living.
Moreso, these sites are a lifeline to many people scattered far and wide beyond home, friends and family and they will share (without discretion perhaps) – everything!
Everything…the inane, the good, the bad, the foolish, the ugly, the awesome and the tragic – in varying degrees; people exchange triumphs and troubles over distance, space and time…
I find it remarkable; I find it demonstrates how we are alike in many ways regardless of where we are. I like that sense of a shared human experience that defies the restrictions of geographic positioning.
Facebook – rightly or wrongly – has provided a platform for people to live out fantasies as though they were realities; to me it is yet another manifestation of escapism; of pretending their existence is more than what it really is. It’s sad. It’s pathetic. It’s deceitful. But here’s the thing – it’s all too human.
Another dear friend, the internationally acclaimed Zimbabwean blogger, Fungai Rufaro Machirori set the cat among the pigeons a year ago when she posed the question, Is Facebook a farce? and the reactions where instant, fierce and mostly casting social networking in a dubious light.
I think one of Facebook’s redeeming qualities is that each individual experiences Facebook according to their choices and preferences. By this I mean that the very people who are on Facebook understand that it is on a request and acceptance basis.
The people on your Facebook are your fault, yes – you put them there and if they are an inappropriate audience or a source of discomfort – well then for crying out loud – simply remove them instead of throwing your toys about it.
I have two Facebook accounts, one has exclusively my family, closest friends and beloved acquaintances…it is comprised of 115 people that I know, like and get along with (in varying degrees of course) but it is a network of people whom I ask “salt” (to borrow from my friend’s article) from any day or any time…the fact that I use Facebook as a medium of requesting that salt as opposed to using a phone, sms or email really shouldn’t be such big deal – but that’s just me.
The point is I will have found a means of communicating that best suits me and my need at that particular time and a means I am confident will suit the recipients of my message.
The fact that the audience I am communicating this message to don’t happen to prefer or appreciate that particular mode of communication does not make Facebook a bad thing; it just makes it an unconventional medium that some people would rather not employ in certain circumstances.
Particularly if those circumstances relate to something they regard as personal, private and something to be treated discreetly. These sentiments of what we wish the world to know and what we wish to withhold also trace back to the images we wish to project of ourselves on the cyber-meeting place. Images of success, achievement, fulfilment, status and fame.
Again, my dear blogging friend, Fungai Rufaro Machirori examines these preoccupations in her article about how, Facebook + Life = Lifebook
My other Facebook account has over 900 people and I need that audience for my work as a blogger and writer…I interact with some of them on chats but mostly I am conscious of an audience that have a certain perception of me as an opinion leader and occasionally consume the literature I produce. I find a wonderful platform to market my wares on this marketplace without resorting to hawking.
To be fair though, when I am in trouble, I find Facebook to be distracting because there are all these strangers demanding my attention when I am preoccupied with the serious business of surviving an imminent crisis so I often deactivate the account and sort my shit out quietly and in the more private sphere of person to person interaction. It works for me.
Issues of privacy are blown out of proportion as far as I can tell because I have a sister in law who has had her Facebook account for a while and only has 37 people on it!!!!! And she certainly has no “privacy” concerns because its family and she CHOSE to have it that way.
People should not whine about the choices they make as if using social networking was something they did at gun point…if you don’t like what’s on your Facebook, delete some people, restrict others, block some, deactivate the account altogether and start afresh (if you wish) or just forget about the whole thing if its gonna cause you to get an ulcer.
Finally my friend concluded his article by resolving to “take stock of my life, to nurture the relationships that matter and to build on the growing ones. I am taking a break from my 1 200 odd Facebook friends to concentrate on my real friends and family”, he writes.
I respect his resolve to quit Facebook and focus on nurturing the relationships he has with those who are physically proximal to him…but the selfish part of me wonders where that leaves me and what that spells for our friendship?
I adore him to pieces and don’t communicate enough with him as it is and if he falls off the Facebook radar, I know I’ll find him on Twitter and Skype and also on his Gmail account – but somehow I’d rather share the Facebook experience with him.
I’ll miss sharing the banter, the teasing, the arguing, the pictures, the photos, the insane links, the radical jokes, the atmosphere of communion that keeps people hooked on their computer screens because life is unfolding through Facebook as much as it is happening in reality.
What his resolve proves to me is that like all choices…Facebook and social networking is just another. Live with the people you choose to allow into your space or get rid of them. It’s not rocket science.
I concluded that his was indeed a well written piece that just unwittingly happened to be another addition to the growing Facebook-bashing literature and the contrived hysteria around the lack of privacy or decency (whatever one’s definition of that would be) on social networking sites.