In a rather romanticised way, I am writing this first Editorial by candlelight in my new (but simultaneously very old) University bedroom. The lack of internet in the new house has reverted us all back to the days of Austen, with no tweeting, facebooking, poking or stalking. At the moment, my only means of internet are to shamelessly steal Redbrick Office time and run the risk of being fraped by sneaky Section Editors, or to sit in the shiny new Guild Reception and pretend to check my.bham whilst secretly entering the virtual social world…
It is this concept of social networking that has got me thinking this week. After seeing the highly anticipated The Social Network on Monday – and perhaps the absence of my own ability to have constant access to my Wall – I have come to realise just how reliant we as a student body, a young community and a society have become on social networking sites. As becomes obvious in the film, Facebook has become an imperative tool for us to keep up-to-date, 24/7 with everything that’s going on with ourselves, our friends, our families and possibly even our enemies and exes.
We all do it. Well, over 500 million of us do. We tie ourselves up into these virtual and everlasting friendships with people we met once, we ‘like’ things we probably wouldn’t in real life and we tag and comment and create a whole new virtual life for hundreds of ‘friends’ to see whilst we hide behind a probably pretentious profile picture.
I am in no way mocking or degrading the Facebookers of the world – I am indeed one of them – but aren’t we all too embarrassed to admit just how addicted we are? Don’t we all secretly spend an hour or two a day scrolling through people’s profiles, stalking the occasional picture and wasting time, and then justifying our knowledge of everything and everyone with the staple quotation: ‘Oh yeah, I saw that on my mini-feed…’
Perhaps what made me laugh the most upon leaving the cinema, was a friend revealing that the first thing she did once the film had finished was look at her Blackberry and realise that she had four new Facebook notifications waiting for her attention. How this made the film all the more relevant and realistic and prove yet another ironic example of networking overload in a world where it is now more ridiculous if you don’t have a Facebook account; in a time when calling an old friend for a two hour-long phone call has become a quick text-speak conversation on Facebook Chat.
But whilst I may advocate that we have become an age of the networking obsessed, it is undeniable that social networking has become one of our strongest allies today. In a way, we are lucky to be of a generation where connecting and communicating with hundreds of different people is commonplace.
Over the summer, I spent my time flitting between various work placements and internships in London, meeting new people and making connections in the hope that one day I would be recognised and hopefully employed.
I’d like to think that I’m pretty socially aware. If University has taught me anything, it has been how to network and maintain relationships with people. I’ve learnt that it has to be done in order to get anywhere and I’ve somehow conjured the confidence to introduce myself to someone and make sure that they remember me. During these placements, the value of networking successfully and staying firmly on the same page as everyone else was taught to be essential so perhaps I owe a lot to our modern networking abilities.
Long gone are the days where you’d be fired if you were found to be on Facebook between the hours of 9 and 5. On some of my media-based placements, I was actively encouraged to be on Facebook all day and my superviser made me sign up to Twitter. Now, as well as revelling in a little Facebook stalking, it is all too tempting to actually ‘Follow’ people, although I admit that I am not a top tweeter yet.
Another new introduction was Linkedin. Linkedin is, effectively, the Facebook of employment where you upload your CV, past experiences and job aspirations and link into companies so that they can recommend you. Now, no one can tell me that wasting my time on social networking sites won’t help me get a job because, actually, it could. As a final year living an imminently ending student life, getting oneself noticed and remembered in the employment realm of things is a big deal.
I feel that we have come to a point where we need to think about where the world is going to go from here. Another friend questioned what we would do without Facebook and what’s going to happen when we are married with children in thirty years time – will it still exist then? With a social networking site still to rival the international success and billion pound fortune of Facebook, is the next example of virtual insanity just around the corner or will we all wake up one day and realise that we need to take it back to basics?
If anything, my internetless University home has done wonders for my relationships at the start of this term. Although, admittedly, my housemates and I have bonded over Sky+ as our only connection to the outside world, the four of us have been sitting together most evenings talking and joking about our days and spending quality time with each other face-to-face and not from behind a screen facade. No one has been locked away in their bedrooms on their laptops or sat in the living room with one eye on their homepage and the other on their mobile. Having no access to social networking sites has improved my real life social connections, we even played Articulate the other evening, possibly a highlight of my University career so far.
So for all of Facebook’s wonder, modernity and relevancy it’s important to remember how we communicated before 2003. I know that reverting back to pre-profile has been a breath of fresh air for me and I’d encourage everyone to take a day or two off from the world of social networking. Ironically, it forced me to see a lot more faces and books.
Printed in Redbrick: 22nd October 2010