My name is Stephen and I am a social networker. There, I've admitted it so I am half way there.
It seems that nowadays you're nobody if you're not social networking. Everyone's at it, and what's more we are doing it with people with whom we have the most tenuous connections. All of which makes it sound like some kind of sordid method of experiencing casual encounters. The only difference is that nobody out there seems to mind who they encounter, nor even which gender they pick up.
Collecting Facebook or Myspace contacts is the modern equivalent of going everywhere with a pencil and a little black book, and asking everyone you see to volunteer their telephone number. It's impossibly intrusive, yet I have come across very few people who have been unwilling to add me to their list of 'friends'. Except they're not friends. Not really. I have a ludicrous 136 people on my list of friends. Of those I interact regularly with around eight, and have had one or two conversations with two or three more. That leaves around 125 people lurking on my friends list with whom I have had no online interaction. I can foresee precious little prospect of that changing in the near future.
So who are these nameless, increasingly faceless majority? Some are old friends from my student and school days (they are the ones I keep in touch with the most), others are people I have met down the pub. Indeed, I speak to these people far more often in the more civilised environment of the local battle cruiser than I do online. Yet more are people I met while playing basketball (something I no longer do at present). As for the rest, the awful truth is that they are just friends of friends of friends of friends. People I might speak to if I were to cross their path, but whom equally there is every chance of never laying eyes on again.
The depth of pointlessness of Facebook goes further still. Some of my contacts are family and my closest friends. People I have absolutely no need to speak to via the gift of technology when I could just as easily pick up the phone or pop round for a brew. To illustrate the point, the woman with whom I share my home is another of my Facebook friends. Absurd.
Absurd, yes, but far from the most absurd facet of social networking. Thankfully I am yet to be caught in it's grip but there are plenty of people out there (and you know who you are) who indulge in the practise of sending virtual items to their online chums. Fancy a pint? Don't be going down the local in the pissing rain, just whack over a virtual beverage to Dave from down the road. Before you know it he will have returned the favour and sent that same pint to at least 243 people that he never actually speaks to either. I wouldn't want to be left to wash that glass.
Yet for all it's peculiarities Facebook is strangely addictive. Despite myself, I log on at least two or three times a day to find out who has joined the latest 'group' (a collection of individuals who have something in common, for example loathing Cristiano Ronaldo or loving pies) to which I belong. From these groups my list of friends only ever seems to expand, as I trawl through needlessly to add yet more people I will never speak to online.
I'm also incredibly keen to see who is online when I am, or whether anyone has placed a message in my inbox. Then there is something called a Funwall, on which people write the same things over and over, or place the same hardly amusing videos or smug mottos which they have found on the back of a fag packet. Funwalls are nothing but a breeding ground for wannabe Oscar Wildes, or a playground for lazy bog humour or low quality pornography. And yet a day hasn't gone by for weeks without a thorough inspection of my Funwall. It's become a bit like picking my nose. It's a disgusting, pointless habit which benefits nobody but somehow I find myself unable to stop at times when otherwise boredom may set in.
I'm constantly being warned that Facebook may have to shut down owing to some legal wrangle or other. Every time I read the warning I shudder slightly, terrified of losing my futile network of anonymous online comrades. And then I'm reliably informed that people are always scaremongering about the prospect of the site's closure. At which point I breathe again safe in the knowledge that I will still be able to find out who is Hot or Not, who owns me (you what?), or who wrote what on which wall.
My name is Stephen and I am a social networker.