Sonntag, 19. September 2010

My home is my facebook

I like....

How do you judge how popular someone is? It used to be by counting the number of cards hung up around the house when you visited them at Christmas. This worked well in theory, except many people kept on bringing the same cards out every year, stringing them up so thickly until you could hardly see anyone across the room. Besides, it always made me wince when I compared this awful British tradition with the tasteful way Germans decorate their homes at Christmas.

Nowadays of course we measure a person’s popularity by how many friends they have on Facebook. But I’ve been wondering recently what actually took us all there in the first place?

I joined FB as a low-cost way of keeping in touch with family and friends back in England. A place for exchanging horror stories about travelling home with Ryan Air and swapping chocolate fudge cake recipes.

But I haven’t really been doing any of that. I currently have 22 friends, compared with my most popular virtual friend, Chris from Down Under, who boasts 643 followers (heck, that’s almost half the population of Australia). I’m also friends with two expats living in Germany, and three back in the UK. But most of my FB friends live here in Bavaria, and some just down the road.

Before Facebook one of the most popular networking sites was “Friends United”. Its purpose was for old school “mates” to link up and exchange playground memories. Millions of mates – myself included –  paid a 5-pound annual subscription, before realising we’d been duped. Why pay for something you can get free? When Facebook arrived we deserted en masse. And that’s where an amazing 70% of all Brits now hang out – both at home and work.

Two million German teenagers also hang out there, with roughly 70% in each class I taught last semester confessing to “facebooking” daily. Some of my best lessons are on the pros and cons of social networking. Recently I showed the documentary “Facehooked” and asked if pupils ever worry about megaphoning so much about their lives to the world at large. Most students seem aware of the risks involved, but regard these as a fair trade-off for so many benefits.

Facebook is of course miles ahead of all its rivals. And unlike those very early social networks it’s no longer about searching for long-lost friends, all asking the same questions like “How are you?” (–OK, thanks), “Any kids yet?” (–No, but we’re practising) “So what do YOU do in life?” (–Well, personally, I just get on and live).

And Facebook lets us not only make friends, it also help us keep them. “What are you doing RIGHT NOW?” sounds so much cooler than “How are you?”.  And there are so many FB tools which I’m still dying to try out: I’ve never actually “poked” (“Freund(in) Anschupsen!”) anyone and one of these days I’d just love send some soul a virtual bouquet of flowers.

Facebook can be addictive – like when you log on at bedtime with the sole purpose of wishing all your friends goodnight. And should you ever feel insomnia creeping in then just scrolling through the oh-so predictable comments to every goodnight announcement will help stave away any boredom. It’s the networkers’ equivalent of my favourite childhood programme “The Waltons”, which finished every single time with the words “Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Mary Ellen, Goodnight Elisabeth….”

I just wonder how long Facebook will reign supreme before something more “techy” takes over. Will it be replaced by a neckband with a built-in microphone that allows us to record our every thought 24/7? Imagine it beaming our innermost feelings onto a cyberspace station, and feeding Big-Brotherly highlights to subscribers. Wow.

Sorry, I’m starting to get carried away. You'll find me back on earth next week, once again enthusing about the joys of living in rural Bavaria. And if not then please do me a favour. Log onto Facebook and gently poke me.

You never know, if I’m in the right mood I might even poke you back.

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