What is it about social networking sites, that gets people interested and makes them participate? Some Facebookers are really addicted to their profile and the communities they belong to. They visit their profile daily and search for friends to add to their collection.
There are many other activities members indulge in. They add photos to share, write messages on walls and send friendly pokes. Lets not forget one can invite other Facebookers to groups that deal with a huge variety of topics and interests. To create more activities and fun elements, Facebook recently provided a Facebook scripting language to allow the build of small applets by anyone who wanted to or could.
Applet developers have jumped on this with gusto. This means that I have been invited to become a vampire, had one zombie invitation, a poke pro invitation, a scrabulous request and even an invitation to play poker. In between this I get to answer questions and discuss movies.
The people in my list of friends live in South Africa, America, Europe and Asia. Is this the reason for its popularity? Possibly, but I don’t think it is the whole picture. Yes there is a need for people to stay in touch. Long gone are the days where friends started kindergarden together, remained best friends through their life and were buried in the same graveyard after living to a ripe old age. The migration of people has taken that stability away.
Technology has allowed these migrants to stay in touch. Facebook is one of these technology enabled meeting places where news can be shared, memories revisited, new friendships made and new experiences arranged. After all the meaning of the term facebook is the collection of information and photographs to help one adapt to college life. This has been expanded to be relevant for life after college as well.
But it’s more than that. I think modern society is missing the boat when it comes to providing relevant living spaces. Gone are the informal meeting spaces that were provided by church squares, the village common, the civic centre and shops that one could walk to from home and into from the pavement. What has been built in recent years are concrete shopping malls that are meant to replace those casual social spaces and at the same time nurture the consumerism of the age.
Of course the older areas of European cities have preserved some of these spaces. Restaurants are encouraged to spill out onto pavements and shop doors open onto the streets. People meet, socialise, take part in events together. But what about the more ‘modern’ cities? People join up to visit shopping malls? Kids spend their lives at the mall. Where is the real life community? The new civic spaces need arts and craft fairs to get the people there.
What really made me make the connection was a talk on TED by Jim Kuntler who was talking about the devastation that the horrific urban landscape of shopping malls and faceless building has had on human living conditions. He attributes some of this to the worship of the motor vehicle, but also points out that architects and town planners are letting down the human race.
His talk which may be viewed here, made me wonder about Facebook and how that fitted in with our living. Are we that alienated by our environment, divorced from our families and childhood friends, that we need online communities to make up for it? Is this what drives young men to shoot at students at Virginia Tech, or where ever they do?
We seem to be facing a total alienation from support groups, people we can relate to, buildings and open spaces that make us feel part of a community. None are available to us. No wonder we are joining online communities, keeping in touch via Twitter and posting our photos to Flickr so that the few remaining friends and family members are able to keep in touch with us.
Anja Merret lives in Brighton, UK, having moved across from South Africa just over a year ago.
She now looks after the business interests of her daughter who is a Flash Developer and Accessibility expert. She started a blog at the beginning of the year under the heading of chatting to my generation. Although she is chatting to the baby boomer generation, she sometimes feels that all generations have the same issues to face, they just don't have hearing aids or walking sticks!
One of her pet peeves is the war in Iraq and in fact anything that causes innocent people to get hurt. But she also loves tech stuff, although only as an amateur. She considers herself a Silver Surfer Gadget Geek. She is even considering queuing for an iPhone in the UK later on in the year. But her daughter has offered, so she will only be taking hot food to the Brighton Geeks waiting in line.
Her musings may be found on http://www.anjamerret.com Her observations on personal power and self-development may be found on http://www.pinkblocks.com