If Facebook was real life….


Earlier this year I decided it was time to break up with my friends. All 253 of them. They had become unmanageable and intrusive. Some were too needy. Others were annoying pests. They knew too much about me and in many cases, I knew too much about them.
Did I care what magazines they were reading? I did not. Did I want to see what they looked like drunk in a bikini, straddling their boyfriend? I did not. Did I need to know that they were ‘feeling flatulent after eating too much Nachos’? Dear lord, not, not, not.
These friendships were taking up too much of my time and not adding value to my life. So I went on to Facebook and deleted them. All of them. And then? When they began to trickle back? I deleted myself.

I never meant to have so many friends. It was quite a surprise because in real life, I’m rather anti-social. I have a couple of handfuls of very close girlfriends, a few guy friends and that’s it. So how did I manage to accumulate 253 friends on Facebook? Easily and quickly.

Step one: I fell into the trap of wanting to be popular. How deeply superficial of me. By accumulating hoards of friends on a social networking site like Facebook or Myspace, you can tangibly measure your popularity in a very high school way. And the best way to do this? By lowering your standards. Dramatically.

That would be step two on the road to an unmanageable online social life. You see, there’s an enormous gap between your definition of ‘friend’ in your real life and those you collect on a social networking site.

But online, all your contacts are called ‘friend’. That’s the only way to categorise them. Not ‘Acquaintances’, not “Ex-Co-Wokers”. Not ‘People-I-Dated-For-A-Nanosecond-And-Would-Rather-Forget’. Not ‘The-Weird-Older-Brother-Of-A-Girl-I-Went-To-Primary-School-With’. Not ‘That-Woman-From-Accounts-With-Whom-I-Exchange-Stilted-Small-Talk-In-The-Office-Kitchen”. Not ‘People-I’ve-Never-Met-In-My-Life-But-Who-Saw-My-Picture-On-Someone-Else’s-Page-And-Thought-They’d-Have-A-Crack’. And certainly not ‘Parents’.

If there were a ‘Parents’ category it would be well utilised because they’ve begun crashing their kids’ online party with gay abandon. Some parents are motivated by fun, curiosity and a desire to connect with their own friends. Others have realised it’s a nifty way to spy on their kids.

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The parent-as-friend dilemma is the hot new angst on social networking sites as millions of teens and twenty-somethings realise there’s an uncomfortable line between friend and spy……

Sneaking around your teenager’s bedroom, looking in their drawers and reading their diary is so old fashioned. Why bother with that when you can let your mouse do the snooping? If you’re among your child’s Facebook or Myspace friends, you can read their messages, eavesdrop on their conversations and see their photos any time. Great for you. Awkward for them.

It’s hardly surprising that this issue has popped up. Baby boomers are the first generation of parents who like to think of themselves as their kids’ friends. Generally, the kids indulge that belief and often they feel the same way. But as cool as Mum and Dad may be, do you really want to give them unfettered access to your social life?

Those who have joined the many ‘abolish parent’ groups on Facebook certainly don’t. One such group even started a petition to Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to intervene. Zuckerberg, 24, who has often said in interviews that he loves playing Scrabulous on Facebook with his parents, is unlikely to be sympathetic.

When I deleted all my 253 Facebook friends, my parents weren’t among them. Not because I don’t consider them friends (I do) but because they’d be more likely to eat a box of hair than go onto Facebook. Had they by-passed the hair and ‘friended’ me, I would have been happy to add them. Indeed, among my 253 friends, there were a few parents of my real-life girlfriends. Again, no problem for me. But I’m not 20.

Remember when the idea of the Australia Card was flagged? Back in the eighties, the concept of having a card with – gasp – basic factual personal information on it made most Australians uneasy. Civil rights groups were apoplectic and politicians quickly dumped the idea into the large bin marked “Controversial and Unpopular Policies”.

A couple of decades later it seems rather hilarious. Any government wanting to implement such a system today would barely encounter a raised eyebrow from anyone under 40. Name, address, and tax file number? Sure! Would you like a photo of my boobs with that? How about me drunk at a party?

For Generation Net, the idea of privacy is anathema to them. The whole POINT of social networking is to share, share, share. However. There’s a difference between sharing with the world and sharing with….the ‘rents.

A girlfriend who is ‘friends’ with her teenage daughter on Facebook, recently noticed some new photos on the daughter’s page.
My friend’s mild curiosity turned to indignation when she saw the photos of her 18-year-old partying with her school friends. It wasn’t the partying that bothered her so much –more that her daughter and the other girls were wearing my friend’s clothes while drinking her wine. In her lounge room.

This did not make her happy but it did explain where her favourite Lisa Ho top, Witchery boots and Sass & Bide jacket had disappeared to. If she zoomed in, she could also identify the missing bottles of champagne and wine she’d been looking for. The next day, the daughter’s Facebook status was: “grounded”.

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