I was having a debate with my husband yesterday about a mutual friend of ours who has given up Facebook. She gave it up for one month to see if she missed it. As the month ended, she decided that she hadn’t missed it and has now given it up entirely.
I argued with my husband that I couldn’t imagine giving up Facebook. There is a lot of debate in the world today about the evils of Facebook but I see it as a good friend in my life. Facebook does a number of things for me: it replaces my need for soap operas (I can’t remember the last episode of EastEnders I saw), it has brought me back in touch with friends who before Facebook I had lost (and for that I am extremely grateful) and it works to amuse and entertain me and, I hope, allows me to amuse and entertain in return. I also use it to promote my art, gain feedback on my art and annoy friends with my art. Finally, I also use it for news (the ‘end of the news’ type news, that is).
Then I had a a weird thought: Facebook is like university. Facebook is everything I loved about university. Being at university for me was like living in a non-virtual social network (weirdly ironic, I know), particularly when living in halls of residence. What I enjoyed about the university experience was the instant access I had to friends – I could pop into their rooms for a quick chat (instant messaging), leave a note on their door (leave a note on their wall) or just go to to student bar for half a cider and a packet of wheat crunches and listen to, and perhaps join in on, the conversations of acquaintances (scroll down my news feed).
Living in halls is a sociable experience, Facebook is a sociable experience. You don’t have to make a huge effort to be sociable in either location. It is there, omnipresent. Access is instant. When I think of the gulf of time between leaving university and logging on to Facebook for the first time I think of a time of relative solitude.
I have no doubts, however, that the university experience is very different now to how it was in 1990. Perhaps now the virtual and real world are so close as to be almost identical.
In 1990, we had one phone between 20-odd people (a Mercury phonecard was a prized possession). We hand-wrote our essays. We read books in the library. Parties were organized by word of mouth. TV was viewed in a ‘TV room’ (and Twin Peaks enticed forth a large audience – the student bar was always empty on Twin Peaks night).
Facebook fills that need in me for instant friendly ‘banter’ or ‘bantaaaar‘ as the youngsters of today would say.
I could never be like my friend, I could never give it up.
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