My starting point on the web has never been my friends; rather it’s been other people who I’ve found to be interesting. I read blogs by people I’ve never met—and, truthfully, I’ll probably never meet—and the majority of the people I follow on Twitter are not people I know offline. I choose to listen for what they think or say or do rather than who they are. So much of my knowledge comes from the help of these strangers.
I think this is why I get on so badly with Facebook. Its inward-looking nature—exacerbated by its forced two-way “connections”—just doesn’t suit the way I want to experience the web as an open network of people, many of whom will appear briefly in my life before disappearing back into the void. As they help me, I hope something of mine may one day help them.
I do want to build strong connections with a few close friends, but Facebook fails at this: the encounters it encourages are so superficial as to be meaningless. Pithy comments and party photos; sending pixelated cows; “Liking”; supporting causes as badges rather than worthy candidates for time or money; too much “yay” and too little thought. These things lead eventually to death-threats toward women who put cats in bins, when people with little going on in their lives can feel they have achieved something by pledging “support” or registering hysterical anger with a second’s effortless clicking. 15,000 members of a Facebook group only indicates you’ve taken up four hours of the world’s time. Numbers of supporters now mean nothing.
The level of discourse taking place on Facebook around the government’s program of cuts exemplifies this. I see many “protest groups” set up on Facebook with merely the few seconds thought it takes to mindlessly slate cuts aimed at a particular sacred cow without taking any time to think beyond this in order to offer effective and constructive criticism. Your cause may be worthwhile, but which of the thousands of other worthwhile causes would you cut instead? And why?
With fewer and fewer sites gobbling up ever more of today’s mainstream net use, is the way I want to use the web to find ideas and understand other people’s experiences going to die or become a ghetto, with fewer and fewer people taking the time to think and, especially, to write? Disappearing beyond a torrent of Free Tibet supporters who collectively pledge a few pence each after their initial spate of clicks before moving on to claim that a cup of tea solves everything?
I suppose it’s reasonable to believe a cup of tea can solve anything if you also believe that a couple of clicks can help free a country.