Paul Vallely: Why I am a lapsed Facebooker

09 September 2009

Paul Vallely discovers that he prefers woodchips to microchips

AN EARLY adopter is one of those cutting-edge characters who is always ahead of the trends, and is among the first to embrace a new technology or fad.

I am an early adopter. Sometimes.

In my case, that hap­pens only when the relent­lessly contemporary folk in my office in London ask me to write about something new. In the process, I am sometimes forced to sign up for things. Which is why I have been a Facebook person for some considerable time.

The nation is now so mad for Facebook and other forms of internet social networking that hardly a week goes by without some hospital or local council banning staff from using it on office computers.

The latest is Portsmouth City Council, which has decided to block access to the site after it discovered that employees wasted on average 400 hours every month checking what their friends were up to. Some staff were regularly spending more than an hour of work time on the site each day, not to mention using the office internet for booking holidays, ordering shopping, bidding on eBay, and just generally web-browsing when they should be working.

I have to admit that, despite my early mem­bership, I soon became a lapsed Facebooker. I keep forgetting to go on it, and when I do I’m not sure what to do there. I have accumulated an odd collection of “friends”, some of whom are real friends, but others who are people I don’t really know or wouldn’t want to be friends with in the real world. So I just ignore them. They won’t be able to work out who they are from that description, because I ignore almost everyone almost all the time. I have had the same brief, unsatisfactory foray into MySpace and Twitter.

I should have kept it up, suggests the latest research from the University of Stirling. It purports to show that Facebook and video war-games help develop the memory powers that are being withered by the tyranny of other technologies — such as that of speed dial, which means that we can now no longer remember phone numbers.

I am unconvinced, although I rather like the researchers’ suggestion that short bursts of info, as on Twitter, will make you more of a twit, not less.

To me, all this networking consists of utterly pointless activities. Quite frankly, if I want a dis­placement activity, I can stare out of the window: at least there are real birds in the garden . . . and, at present, a tree sculptor called Tim Burgess carving an owl from our old robinea stump.

Anyway, it looks like I might be ahead of the trend again. Facebook may be all the rage, attrac­ting 87 million visitors in the United States alone in July. But among the smart folk, Facebook has be­come uncool.

The New York Times has just reported that a “small but noticeable” group are fleeing. It quotes one trendy who said that Facebook was good for finding people, but that “by now everyone has been found.”

Another shut down her account because she disliked how nosy it made her. A third came to fear stalkers. A fourth decided that Facebook was stalking them. A fifth objected to Facebook’s unsuccessful attempt to claim perpetual copyright of users’ contributions to the site, pronouncing it creepy to have your personal life commer­cialised, and citing the world’s trendiest philo­sopher, Jürgen Habermas, in support. There are even “Shut Your Facebook” T-shirts.

So you see, just by standing still I’m fashionable again. Like a stopped clock, which is at least right twice a day, reality is catching up with me. Don’t say you don’t get the latest tips here in the Church Times from us early adopters. Now I’m off to have a look at the owl.

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