Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Facebook fatigue

Exactly a day after I wrote an anti-Facebook rant in this blog space, my account in the social networking site got disabled. A few questions instantly crossed my mind while I was mourning the death of my digital alter ego: Is Mark Zuckerburg the new-age bearded mullah who issued a digital fatwa against me? Should I have sought refuge in Salman Rushdie’s sock drawer? Facetiousness apart, in my case Zuckerburg will not have the last laugh.

Here’s how. I feel liberated by the fact that I don’t need to update my status with a Bertrand Russell quote that I might comfortably pin over my desk or an Updike poem that would befit my epitaph. I’ve realised that I am this passive aggressive status update guy, who wants to show his estranged high school flames what a brilliant quote hanger he has turned into.

The ‘Like’ button was my crack cocaine. Whenever my 160-odd friends don’t ‘like’ the latest foreign article or the elusive indie song that I post on my Wall, the withdrawal symptoms set in. What else, I place one more link filched from the news aggregator sites. I can now concentrate on my work for time immemorial at a stretch without having to refresh my page every five minutes to see if anyone ‘liked’ my latest post or not.

With benefit of hindsight, the reality has dawned on me that a tweet-size review of latest Bollywood drivel or recommending the just-released Sigur Ros album is not exactly altruism the way, let’s say, donating blood is. It needed a bolt out of the blue to make me understand that for every page or group that I ‘like’, I am actually walking into a corporate’s trap, who will place ads accordingly. It’s almost as if it’s not ‘my’ Facebook profile. It is Facebook’s profile about me. Whoever said benign corporate is an oxymoron!

I really had to stop wanting to look at other people’s photos and updates. I was almost stalking them, spending hours a day looking at their pages without actually saying hello. I felt detached from my Facebook buddies because I rarely directly contacted them. This kid is tired of his new toy. Many others are not, as yet. According to comScore, Facebook attracted 87.7 million unique visitors in the United States in June. Traffic to two of the most popular blog-hosting sites, Blogger and WordPress, is stagnating, according to Nielsen, a media-research firm. By contrast, Facebook’s traffic grew by 66 per cent last year.

If blogs’ ability to absorb the dime-a-dozen knee jerk reactions isn’t pathetic enough, the Facebook is spawning a totally different beast — slacktivism. Urban dictionary defines it as: “One of those feel-good internet campaigns that doesn’t actually help anybody or has political impact.” Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the main opposition leaders in Iran, has 128,000 Facebook followers. Too bad that joining such groups is being deemed as the hippie equivalent of burning money in a trash can. Regina Spektor nailed it with the beautiful lines in ‘Hero’: “And we’re going to these meetings. We’re not doing any meeting”.

I wonder why there’s no campaign against Facebook’s corporate interests that saw its erstwhile beloved Scrabble application, Scrabulous, pulled amid copyright issues. The Facebook fatigue seems to have caught up with its users though. According to the website www.insidefacebook.com: “Facebook’s growth slowed down in the United States in June, following a burst of activity through April and May. The country picked up only 320,800 new monthly active users in June, compared to the outstanding 7.8 million it gathered in May.”

You, the Facebook user, will feel the fatigue when you realise that a News Feed full of constantly updating ‘friends’, like a room full of chattering people, is no substitute for a conversation. Meanwhile, ‘friends’, e-mail me.


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