Wednesday 22 October 2014

Lorraine Courtney: Endless chatter and pointless friends: why we’re falling out of love with Facebook

Published 03/05/2013 | 05:00

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has helped change the world, but have we now grown bored with social networking?
Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook has helped change the world, but have we now grown bored with social networking?

BORED with Facebook? You're not alone. We love Facebook here in Ireland and have more than two million monthly active Facebook users.

However, that figure has fallen by 63,240 over the past six months according to Social Bakers, and we aren't the only nation deleting our account. In the past month, Facebook lost six million US users and 1.4 million UK users.

It is the same story in other big markets like Canada, Germany, France and Indonesia. Are we all finally quitting Facebook?

Facebook's success is a modern legend. Mark Zuckerberg came up with the novel notion while still at Harvard, launching the original Facebook from his dorm back in 2004 as a way of letting students keep track of who was sleeping with who.

The idea caught on and membership expanded to other US universities and in 2006, to the public. By 2008 it had 100 million users. Currently, it's around a billion. No other social networking fad has had that kind of success.

But it appears that the company is succumbing to the inevitable downside of becoming too popular too fast. On the internet, what is trendy one day risks becoming passé the next. Facebook predecessors MySpace and Bebo shone brightly but fizzled out once fickle teens moved on to the next big thing.

Facebook's strength is that all of your friends, your grandmother and all the people who usually miss out on tech fads completely are on it but this is also its downfall. It's the Groucho Marx factor: any club that would have your parents as members isn't a place you want to be.

Facebook is slow and this creates another dilemma. Amidst all this heightened chatter, we're not saying much that's interesting. Rather, we're breaking a cardinal rule of friendship: Thou Shalt Not Bore Thy Friends.

That's something most users are asking themselves as they wade through endless posts, photos 'liked' by people they met once and spur-of-the moment friend requests. People don't really have very much to say on it in comparison with Twitter, which is constantly breaking and circulating news and inspires instant discussion of that news.

The speed of Twitter makes it frenziedly addictive. It takes masses of willpower not to check it every two minutes in meetings, at the dinner table.

It is hailed as the engine that drove the Arab Spring and where you can find out what Stephen Fry had for breakfast. It's both a voyeuristic window into the gilded idiocy of celebrity and a spotlight on suffering that would otherwise go unrecorded.

Twitter's fuel is extreme emotion – rage, jealousy, mawkish sentimentality and LOLZ. And as more and more people join it, it'll only become more compelling.

Then there's the overwhelming urge to keep pimping your Facebook profile. But in all that information you're posting about your life, your holidays, your promotions, your children and even that mojito you just drank, someone is bound to find something to envy.

Earlier this year, a study conducted jointly by two German universities found rampant jealousy on Facebook. The researchers found that one in three people felt worse after visiting the site and more dissatisfied with their own lives.

The researchers from Humboldt University and from Darmstadt's Technical University found holiday photos were the biggest cause of resentment, with more than half of envy incidents triggered by them. Social interaction was another factor, with users comparing how many birthday wishes they received and how many comments or "likes" were made on postings and photos.

And that's without mentioning borderline stalking exes by arrowing through photo after photo into the small hours of the morning.

Facebook fatigue is real. At the start of this whole phenomenon I opened my laptop and considered the various reasons for signing up: friends living abroad that I couldn't be bothered writing emails to, a feeling that the world needed to know all about me, a constant urge to write about myself, show photos of what I was doing and where I was.

There and then, I got it – Facebook fatigue before I'd even hit join. Logging on to Facebook is like brushing your teeth. You do it every morning, but it's a bit dull.

Irish Independent

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