I stumbled across a particularly striking map of the world this week – much more stylish than its Ordinance Survey ancestors; continents formed by the crossover of thin neon lines buzzing between borders, like electricity against a dramatic background of pitch black. But among all this I noticed something – huge chunks of China and Africa, missing. Russia and Canada; gone. This is the world according to Facebook.
The etchings across the page in electric blue represent pairs of friends amongst the social network’s 500 million users. The map’s designer, Facebook intern Paul Butler, said, “What really struck me… was knowing that the lines didn’t represent coasts or rivers or political borders, but real human relationships.”
I’d like to think Facebook is trying to establish itself as the new unofficial ambassador for the global village theory, but I think it’s more likely that its users are becoming increasingly misled about what a “real” relationship actually is.
Now before you assume that I have happily lived under a rock since the beginning of the social networking era, this is one for the record: I have Facebook. To not have Facebook would make me the odd one out in my own generation. But a truth that I’ve acknowledged since first stepping into cyber world is this; a thousand friends do not a popular person make.
I am now in the socially acceptable realm of the 300’s. And whilst I can vouch for Facebook’s ability to transcend the world’s borders – having used it myself to keep in touch with a number of genuine friends in India – I can’t help but wonder about the others. The so-called relationships we claim to have with those we only see by chance on occasional nights out, and probably don’t even speak to then.
And as for meeting new people – I never used to get asked for my surname on a night out. Nameless faces have added me who haven’t struck up conversation when we’ve crossed paths in real life. Why? Is it possible we need this online life-line? Do our social lives, now, really stem from the social network? Think about it…
If you haven’t got the courage to talk to that friend-of-a-friend you thought was quite endearing the other night – you can look them up,‘chat.’ They might take a fancy to you when you look your best in your profile picture and sound witty in your status updates – this is the new first impression. But how do we know they’ll still ‘like’ us in the morning..? We don’t.
All we know is that the people that will aren’t the ones we’ll fall out with over something that happened on Facebook, nor are they the people that say to us screen to screen what really needs to be said face to face.
That’s why I love those couples who refuse to make their relationship ‘Facebook official.’ They quietly revolt in the same way that forward-thinking lovers did, back when you were going against nature by not getting married – by not allowing a social formality to define their relationship, and not needing it to show how they really feel about one another. To these kinds of people, Facebook is a tiny, insignificant detail and maybe that’s the way it should be. Because the only way I think Facebook can legitimately claim to have anything to do with our “real human relationships” is by proving to us that the ones worth having will never need to rely on a good internet connection.