It all starts with an innocuous bait. You receive one of those “routed via third party” emails, of the kind that start with “Hey Jacques Zammit, John Smith has sent you a Facebook invitation”. You’re curious. Why are you curious? Maybe because you’d love to find out why John Smith suddenly felt that you should be using his programme. The curiosity suddenly beats all other sentiments of irritation – such as why didn’t he invite me directly himself.
After more than a decade of using email you can sniff out those emails that have been forwarded by some dork who still cannot tell a scam if it had “WARNING THIS IS A SCAM” written in its header. Facebook invites tend to be persistent. Whatsmore they keep coming in from people who you like to consider as friends – or let’s face it –acquaintances of some kind. They play on your socialite skills by asking you the implied question you thought you had left behind in kindergarten: “Are you really my friend?”
Refusing one invitation is something you can cope with. Two, three, four and the guilt complex begins to build. By the time you receive the seventh you have already to begun to imagine yourself sitting alone in a cold, cold internet dominated society with no “friends” to talk to. That is the moment that you banish the cynic inside of you for an instant and before you know it you are up and running on the site – repeating to yourself the mantra “This is Just a Test”.
The next day the dreaded emails start flowing in. A gentle flow based on some kind of statistical law that states that once people see your name on a list of “friends” they are bound to click on the “Add to Friends” feature because (a) it’s just a click and (b) it’s just the net so no harm done. The flow changes to a flood that is unstoppable and in a matter of days your friend list has taken on a life of it’s own (at the last count my Facebook site listed 248 friends).
For reasons of space and time I will not go into the “Widget” issue. I hold no truck with being bitten by Vampires or savagely mauled by Zombies. I am also very, very cynical about the pleasures to be had of climbing up the underworld scale by this kind of interaction. Thank God for the ignore button (tip for widget creators – I would have included a “Drive a Stake into the Vampire/Zombie of Choice” facility that would have put things into perspective).
Then there are the groups. The first group I joined on Facebook was amusingly called “The Foundation for the Protection of Swedish Underwear Models”. It currently has over 200,000 members and a number of these freaks even donated $157 to the cause. It would seem that by joining the group I also sent (inadvertently) an invitation to some people on my friends list – three of whom were courageous enough to join the worthy cause. I also joined the “Michael Mifsud for President” group in the same spirit of jest. This earned me a mention in Raphael Vassallo’s article in Maltatoday about this group. Amusingly I was listed among a list of “Local Celebrities” (sic) who are backing this virtual camapign. Were it not for the tongue-in-cheek nature of Raphael’s articles I would have begun to seriously get worried about this kind of association.
Which is why I have begun to use greater caution before joining groups – I need to protect my “public persona”. In the end Facebook turned out to be quite promising. I have met people from my St. Aloysius’ years who I would never have found otherwise. that includes Steve in Canada and Alexei in some part of the UK. Unlike other networking systems it is easier to make sure that you do not get any salacious invitations from unknown women who let off their steam by sending hot emails to their chosen victims.
Today’s Economist tells us that there is much about Facebook that is hype – at least in economic terms. It is not the first, and will not be the last, to benefit from the Social Graph. Ironically the value of the network might be lost if it increases too much in size. It would seem that social networks have better value when they are exclusive – because their value is defined by who is left out. I love this ironic twist of fate. The intrusive emotional blackmail on which Facebook thrives might be the very sword on which it commits economic hara-kiri.
In the meantime I will keep facebooking and avoiding vampire bites, zombie beatings and “likeness” assessments (I curse the day I took one of them quizzes). The interesting bit is that like most other internet phenomena (probably including blogging) it is best observed by being part of the crowd. Trust me on this one… after all Jacques René Zammit is not just some other geek on facebook… but a bona fide local celebrity.