On Facebook


UPFRONT:  ‘WHAT’S ON YOUR MIND?” asks Facebook. And it’s nice to be asked, though I’m suddenly aware that I don’t really have anything on my mind. I curse the little blank space on Facebook waiting for me to insert some witty precis of my current state of mind. This is what used to be called a “status update”, back in the early Facebook days (ie about three weeks ago), a window into the teeming mind of Fiona McCann.

Eh, Fiona is writing a column? Fiona is procrastinating writing a column by pretending to use Facebook as research for writing said column?

There are those like my friend Tom Ryan, for example, who really know how to work the status update: “Tom Ryan leads a life of quiet perspiration”; or “Tom Ryan: some days are best seized unconscious”. Unfortunately, not all of us have Tom’s gift for self-effacing one-liners. When I read that “Sabrina is recovering from four hours of Bikram yoga!!!!!” it makes me want to punch Sabrina in the Facebook. And as I learn that “Brian is hungry”, “Claire is in Paris”, “Shane is enjoying the sunshine”, valuable minutes of my life are being lost forever, frittered away on Facebook.

Oh, how the word friend has been devalued by Facebook, which reminds me daily of the cheery illusion that I have 317 “friends”, a thought daunting enough were it not for the fact that a large number of these are passing acquaintances, people I went to school with 750 years ago but haven’t seen since, and one person I don’t even remember but with whom I have so many friends in common that it seemed churlish to reject the hand of Facebook friendship when it was extended. And my mother, whose mastery of every technological tool that can be used to keep tabs on her daughters is truly terrifying.

But I digress. My very own Facebook presence on the whole is grindingly banal, and the pressure to maintain an interesting online persona while on permanent lookout for incriminating, double-chinned photographs of myself posted by my so-called “friends” is turning Facebook into a full-time job.

So why am I still at it? The official line is “professional reasons”, Facebook being an essential journalistic tool to keep an eye on the zeitgeist and in touch with my 317 peeps. The truth is a little closer to your common-or-garden nosiness, though. I like flipping through other people’s photos, and finding out what people I know (as well as one person I’m pretty sure I don’t know) are up to without having it filtered through conversation. As well as the opportunity to test my movie knowledge or to
find out once and for all which Sex And The City character I am, what I like about Facebook is that it allows me to snoop around the lives of others.

Which, of course, means there’s always the chance that others are doing the same to me. While I am certain that the accumulative hours of my life spent flicking through the birthday photographs of friends of friends of friends is motivated by a benevolent curiosity about human nature, that’s not exactly how I see it when others do the same to me. And as careful as I am about who gets to access my Facebook profile (only 317 of my dearest, dearest friends), there are some things even I can’t legislate for . . . including, principally, my own stupidity.

Take for example the engagement. When the Beyoncé popped the question, I followed protocol and broke the news to my immediate family first. And then – so help me God – I changed my Facebook status. In my defence, I finally had something on my mind, so I may have been a bit carried away.

Furthermore, my status change was so obscure, I thought, that few would be able to read between the lines. Ha! Who was I kidding? Before you could say Control Z, the news had spread among my 317 friends and beyond. Then some of my non-Facebook friends – let’s call them, er, friends – found out from my Facebook friends, and the natural order was upended. People were writing congratulations on my Facebook “wall” while I furiously dialled close friends and relatives in an attempt to get to them before the internet did. It was a lesson hard-learned.

Of course, now I’m under pressure to start tweeting as well, given that Facebook is suddenly so five milliseconds ago. Harrumph. Unappealingly, Twitter appears to consist almost entirely of constant status updates, and we all know how I feel about them. On the plus side, my limited investigations indicate that you don’t so much get Twitter friends as followers, like Jesus or Gandhi had. And it would provide a new use for those valuable, never-to-return minutes that I would ordinarily be using to compose Facebook status updates or take movie quizzes. On the other hand, it would increase the risk of me exposing ever more embarrassing aspects of my personal life to thousands of readers at the tap of a keyboard. Now why would I ever sign up for that?