Thursday, 30 June 2011

FaceBook FaceOff

Ed Yojus

The quaint little group had assembled in one of the sports bars tucked away somewhere nondescript in the Zurich Old Town. People of varied nationalities and professions, but all of us were united by the common love for sports, beer, and a few more other things under the Sun.

On the television screens , a not so engrossing football match in the under 21 Euro Cup was being beamed. Still, all the tables in the bar were taken, and the pretty barmaid was clocking 100% efficiency as she poured out the drinks like a conjuror performing her trick.

"Darned weather this, always cloudy and raining. I hardly felt like going to work today!" exclaimed Murray, the Irishman who worked for a software behemoth. "I specifically left Ireland to get rid of this gloom."

"It has obviously followed you here," I said, "It was much better last year."

"I bet you made a status update on the weather in your FaceBook account," teased Sylvia, the attractive Swiss girl who taught the rest of us A3 level German language.

"Well no, I don't use FB that much, though there is this colleague of mine for whom life apparently happens between status updates! His updates are like:
            'Just had breakfast'
            'Considering going to work'
            'Car tyre is flat'
            'Got locked in the garage (sent via e-Mobile)'

"Did that status message get him rescued from the garage?" asked Christoph, half English half Swiss, teacher, tennis player, surfer… The rest of us came from different "walks" of life, he was definitely from a "run".

"No he just hollered till his wife came with the spare keys."

"I don’t have a FB account, and am glad not to have one," said Sylvia, "I certainly don’t understand what this fuss about FB is anyway, though I agree it is rather popular. My grandmother has an FB account, though she lives the life of a recluse, not really interested in knowing anything that goes on in the world."

“Great! And how then did she get to know of FB?” I asked.

“She used to attend this ‘reclusive club’ for the elderly where all the others convinced her to open an account.”

“Hang on now! How the dickens can someone be reclusive if she were socializing in a club and chatting to them all the time over FB?” I exclaimed, surprised.

“Well, though all of them were on FB, they were just passive readers. They hardly ever made any updates. And anyway, grandma got tired of this non-reclusive stuff in a ‘reclusive club’ and hence dropped out after a while.”

“Ah thank you, that helps, wow! Some club that!!” remarked Murray.

"My story is only slightly different from Sylvia," said Christoph. "It was the loss of a bet that caused me to open a FB account., but I don’t use it much."

"Hey that’s new," remarked Boris, the Russian insurance agent. "Do tell us more about it."

"It was like this. One day one of my colleagues asked me if she could add me as a friend in FB, and I told her that I did not have a FB account. She goggled at me for two seconds, and then said that I couldn’t be serious.
"I told her that it was true, so she asked me to get an account. I told her that I saw no reason why I should, and to that she said that everyone else saw the reason. So in a moment's folly I made this bet with her that if she could find hundred people who felt that I should be on FB before the week was over, I would open up a FB account.
"She just put up a question on FB 'Should Christoph have a FB account?', and soon a hundred perfect strangers had voted a resounding yes even before forty-eight hours! So, I lost and had to open the account!"

We laughed till we almost spilled our beer on each other, and then Boris remarked, "You are right about the strangers part of it. I have about two hundred and fifty friends on Facebook, of which I don’t even two hundred, and won't recognize forty of the rest if they were to suddenly walk up to me. There are also a few other "friends" whom I would like to punch in the face if I meet them. That leaves about seven real friends with whom I talk regularly."

"I also have around two hundred friends on FB, but only because I used to play FarmVille avidly once," I said, "But not anymore."

"Why don’t you play any more?" asked Murray.

"Oh I was only interested in the Christmas gifts, and once I had opened them all, I lost interest in the game."

“How about the next Christmas? You would have got gifts for the next Christmas too,” said Boris.

“It would have been quite a pain to keep playing for another twelve months for the next Christmas!”

"Don’t you think that you guys all speak of FB as though you are apologetic that you have an account in there?" asked Sylvia.

"Well, there is no doubt it can be a royal nuisance," said Christoph.

"Yes, everyone wants to be your friend; the status messages just don’t stop coming, things can get rather trying," said Boris.

"Is that all that people do on FB?" asked Sylvia, “Sounds like a pretty stupid place after all.”

"Oh no, there is actually a lot that you can do in there. You can setup polls, like the one that did Christoph in; you can share photographs and videos, or interesting links; or you can show that you "like" something… it might be someone's comment, a social cause, someone's photograph, etc." Murray explained.

"Yes, there can be lofty causes, like environmentalist groups located in Atacama desert campaigning about saving Beluga whales, and I can "like" the campaign and demonstrate my support for the endeavour," I said.

"I once poked forty people within an hour," remarked Christoph.

“And you also find some quick wit here and there,” I said, “People do put up interesting status messages, like, ‘Insert coin to view my status message.’ “

“He must have become a pretty rich guy!” exclaimed Murray.

“Well, no doubt he must have posted some status messages on how rich he finally became, but since I never inserted any coins, I never learnt that!” I said.

As the laughter died down, one could see that something serious was still writ on Sylvia's beautiful mind.

"There seems to be a lot of intrusion into a person's privacy. Wasn’t there an uproar recently that too much personal data of the users was being collected and used without their permission?"

"That debate will always go on," exclaimed Boris. "If you have a 'social network' where you are interested in letting every moment of your life and your opinions known to others and vice versa, the line between private and social becomes rather thin."

"Apparently FB was also collecting some data from their users clandestinely, but they claimed that it was to customize content suited to the tastes of individual users. All for a good cause," I said.

"Of course FB said that any user could control all that through their privacy settings," said Murray.

"Somehow the damned privacy settings never work for me," complained Christoph, "Every time I try to make it deucedly difficult for someone to send a  friend request across,  it never works! I am so flooded with so many requests that could do with an Ark!"

"I have this uncanny feeling that the privacy settings are never on the same page the next time I try to access them!" remarked Murray.

"I don’t go into the trouble of finding out where they are hidden," said Boris. "I normally wait for a visit from my ten year old nephew, that fellow always knows where to find them."

"Could you please send him over to my place the next time? That would be a really great help!" quipped Christoph.

Great idea. I think the next time your nephew comes over, he can pay all of us a visit, except for Sylvia,” I said. And the idea met with enthusiastic approval from all others.

“Ok guys, that was a wonderful conversation! I need to push off now, got an early day at work tomorrow,” said Boris, rising.

“Yeah yeah, why don’t you just say that you gotta make a status update about the football match?” joked Murray.

“Well I guess we should all call it a day, same place, same time, next weeweek,” said Christoph.

We left in ones and twos. I marvelled at the fact that astonishingly here was a group of five whom Facebook had failed to woo even with her considerable charms. All along I had the idea that it would take a talented search party from Scotland Yard to be able to find a single person except me who wasn’t enamoured by it.. But that evening, I knew I was no longer alone, and the burden of not devoting myself fully to FaceBook was lifted off my soul. With a contented smile and head held high, I walked off into the rainy night.

Ed Yojus is one of the new breed of socially networked populace who can effortlessly switch between content producer and content consumer. However, as the article suggests, his social networks develop more in old fashioned bars than the new world of clicks.

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