08 September, 2009

The problem with social networking

Each day, millions of people, especially in the 'developed' countries - interact, share and 'socialize' online. Social networking is the phenomenon of the 21st century. The social network preferred - depends on where one lives: Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tribe.net, and now Twitter are the most used by Americans; Facebook and Nexopia are most preferred by Canadians. Central and South Americans seem to go for Orkut, which is now a part of Google, and Hi5. The Europeans most preferred social networking services seem to be: Bebo, Badoo, XING, StudiVZ, Decayenne, Tagged and Skyrock; while Asians prefer - Friendster - one of the first social networking service; Mixi - mainly used by the Japanese, Multiply, Orkut, Wretch, Cyworld and Xiaonei now Renren - the last two popular with the Chinese.

Reportedly, the first social networking service, online, was SixDegrees.com which was launched in 1997 but, due to it not being much used and being unprofitable, it was closed 3 years later. SixDegrees failed, because, then , in the late 90s, very few people ever bothered or had time with socializing online. It was not until early this century, when Friendster, Myspace and then Facebook were launched - that social networking online - exploded, globally, and made many of its founders very wealthy people; and the sites, are now some of the most used on the Net.

Facebook, in a way, is an imitation of SixDegrees.com, but for some reason that is hard to explain - of the hundreds of the online social networking services launched each year, it has become the most successful and the most talked about. It has invaded homes, schools, campuses and places of work. It has become such a phenomenon that, it's now one of the most visited sites on the Web and one of the most dominant forces on the Net; and at times, it is such a threat that some countries bar it during elections or crisis. Facebook, launched in 2004, instantly made its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, a college dropout, a very rich man and, in his early 20s, the youngest billionaire in the world.

Here in Hadhramout there are a few, small local social networking services which are mainly used by young people - men, in particular; but very few people here socialize online. Most people simply have never heard of or do not know of the phenomenon. Personally, I believe we are much better off socializing in the real sense of the word, rather than doing it in the frigid artificial form which is online.

It's not that I haven't tried social networking. I have. And I didn't and have never liked it. I first tried Myspace but within a few days, found it a waste of time and was totally discouraged; then I joined Tagworld when it was just launched - and found it even more of a waste of time than Myspace; I had a go at LinkedIn, and as useful as it seems, I got fed up with it too - LinkedIn is more suitable for professionals, especially the young. And then through an 'invitation', I joined Orkut before it became a part of Google - but, it too failed to interest me. One day, in 2005, by accident, I joined the social networking site: Care2. And through it, I did find noble causes to support and fight for; and I did find too, a few very good friends. I was so active on the site, for a year or two, that I, without choosing to, became a host of two groups in the 'community'. But, even with its many noble, great causes; and many very smart, well informed members - I still became frustrated, and for years now, very rarely visit the site.

Last - in 2007, through reading much about it and the prompting of friends, I joined Facebook. I was instantly depressed: Facebook isn't much different to Myspace or Orkut or Tagworld - which, all I had tried and instantly stopped using. It is very similar to these three, except for a few changes and variations here and there. Still, I decided to give it a try and my time. The more I used Facebook and the more I got used to it, the more I felt I was wasting my time with it. I didn't find any real, meaningful purpose of using it, except to communicate with others, or as they say - to 'connect'. But, to communicate with who? With ghosts? Very much unlike Care2, where I felt that I had truly 'connected' with others, even if I hadn't met them in person, Facebook felt just as cold and as meaningless as the other social networking services I had tried. More frustrating, Facebook can take a long time to load and to navigate from page to page. Worst, some people - friends and relatives - whom I meet regularly, decided to be 'friends' with me on the site. That decided me: some thing had to be very wrong if I was 'connecting' and 'socializing' with people whom I meet often, some - every day - on a networking site. In less than two months, I stopped using Facebook.

Recently, I discovered one of my daughters using Facebook and I realized that she was spending too much time on the site. I asked her, what real good use or purpose did it serve. She didn't have a good answer except to say that 'it' passed her time. I realized too, that most if not all those whom she was communicating with, were her college mates; people whom she regularly met. After a few weeks of watching her, I realized that she was 'addicted' to the site; she had become very detached too, from real people - even from family members. She was spending too much time there, just wasting precious moments that she could have used to spend in other worthy ways. I decided to have a long talk with her, and she agreed that the site was useless and she actually didn't need to use it. She has stopped using it and she says she is much happier now. Happier and real, in that, she now communicates and socializes with people in a normal, meaningful way rather than through the screen of a computer.

There are better ways of 'connecting' or communicating online; emailing is the best and the most realistic way. And there are much better ways of using computers and the Net. Reading, learning and increasing one's knowledge is best. Not social networking. Not Facebook and such sites, and their cold, frigid and sterile form; and their time consuming and wasteful ways.

Image from: JCMC