I’ve been clean for nine months, off the social networking grid. Residing in a Facebook free Shangri La has been revelatory, but it’s not workable. I reached this conclusion whilst in conversation with a girl a week or so ago. I had met her on a couple of occasions and she mentioned that she had tried to track me down online. I told her about my abstinence, to which she replied ‘you’re a freak’. It was said in jest (I think), but this exchange marked a tipping point – it was time to relapse.
I initially de-Facebooked because it made me feel remote, which isn’t really the idea of the service. I have now twigged that my overly inclusive approach was to blame. According to my vital pre-mutiny stats I had accrued seven hundred ‘friends’ (This was a ludicrous claim – I’m too strange to entertain twenty). As a result, my feed was littered with pictures of irrelevant dogs and picnics. Processing this indiscriminate mass of content was more trouble than it was worth, so I bolted.
Recently I’ve been forced to question the wisdom of this decision. My social situation has reached a nadir; I am well and truly out of the loop. I make weekly Friday afternoon calls to disappointed friends asking them to read through their events lists, like a confused grandfather who just wants to party. People are starting to call me out on my Luddite behaviour, cruelly asking if I still consult the Yellow Pages.
My hand has been forced, I can’t deal with the public shaming - it’s time to re-join the billion strong digital mosh pit. However, in order to enhance my experience I have developed a set of rules. In my correct opinion, this Decalogue can serve to make the digital world a better place.
1. Thou shalt not click into the abyss.
If you find yourself scrolling through the profile pictures of a middle-aged ‘realtor’ in Michigan you’re in too deep. Exploring the deepest recesses of the digital world is not time well spent. Learning that Karen Edwards, someone you share no friends with, competed in ‘Tough Mudder’ in Kettering last week will never be a useful piece of information for you, not ever. No mutual friends should be taken as a warning sign – you’ve reached a point of no return, best to call it a night.
2. Thou shalt not talk politics.
Facebook was initially set up to rank hotness, not political theory. It remains a good platform for vacuous stuff. A post lamenting the steady privatisation of the NHS is likely to be sandwiched by a status explaining that Tequila was a ‘bad idea’ and a video of Kanye West walking into a lamppost. Logging in to talk politics is a bit like going to a gabber rave to discuss nomenclature in Dickens. So you would be best advised to leave your sanctimonious spiel at the door.
3. Thou shalt not bombard users with baby pictures.
Don’t get me wrong, the miracle of childbirth is truly a wonderful thing, but for the benefit of the digital community spare us from the sixteenth consecutive picture of your sprog. Nobody wants their newsfeed to look like a crèche, or to feel like they’re scrolling through an adoption section on Ebay. I appreciate that the urge to share the most profound of all human experiences online must be strong, but go easy. Get some of these photos developed at your local Boots and show your parents.
4. Thou shalt not covet babes on Facebook.
I have developed a simple trick to make this goal attainable. Every time you find yourself ogling a profile picture, imagine that you are viewing the photo through a telescope trained on the subject’s bedroom window. This will help you realise what a creep you are, and it will force you to approach them IRL.
5. Thou shalt not interpret likes as a valid currency for human worth.
A simple observation can help to put this commandment in perspective. Crazed Badger Activist and ex Blue Crooner Lee Ryan recently posted a photo of a new tattoo on the bridge of his foot. It read ‘Art Ting’ in a Comic Sans font and garnered 777 likes. The value of an approving mouse click is therefore questionable. So don’t beat yourself up if your blurred picture of a Shetland pony on Camber Sands only achieved one ‘like’ from your uncool aunt.
6. Thou shalt not social media carpet bomb.
Refrain from linking Facebook to your Twitter and Instagram accounts. Your latte art doesn’t need to be viewed on two platforms and your quip about the X Factor can stay on Twitter. Nobody wants to feel like they’re trapped in a lift with you.
7. Thou shalt exercise restraint with selfies.
Feel free to selfie sparingly in strange locations – I can vibe with that. But an incessant flow of selfies shot in front of a dimly lit beige wall is saddening, it looks like a cry for help, ‘remember me guys? I’m still here, in my front room.’ No one needs to be kept apprised of your existence on this planet on a daily basis so just tone it down a bit, yeah?
8. Thou shalt not hold Facebook up as a mirror to reality.
The place is littered with dream job updates, pictures of idyllic lakes and saccharine digital PDAs from nauseating couples. Facebook is an airbrushed arena, fine-tuned to trumpet these nuggets of self-promotion. There’s nothing like a concentrated stream of human PR to induce self-doubt, but it’s an edited reality. I’m sure other people trip up the stairs on the bus and tell hot girls they have ‘nice arms’ (that may just be me), but they don’t ‘share’ these experiences. Digesting every piece of information with this in mind will make online life easier.
9. Thou shalt not allow Facebook to inform your opinions of new people.
Don’t psychoanalyse people’s Facebook profile pages. Resist the temptation to trawl through the 2,143 available photos. Someone that ‘liked’ the film Cool Runnings four years ago isn’t necessarily a bad person. Root your opinions in real life. The most interesting people you will meet will probably have little time for FB. Maintaining a virtual persona will not be a priority for these folk, as they will have twigged that the bigger fun lies elsewhere (IRL).
10. Thou shalt conduct regular friend list purges.
I have a prevailing memory of reading a lot of updates from a user called Steve Flower. Steve was a painter decorator with several Maori tattoos. I met in him South East Asia several years ago. Riding an elephant with Steve was a fun experience, there’s no denying that, but accepting Steve’s friend request was an error in judgement. He was a very prominent member of my newsfeed, mainly using Facebook to report on ‘naughty benders’ in Sidcup. I’m fairly sure people like Steve were part of the reason why I found Facebook a confusing place. To combat this, the answer is simple – conduct comprehensive purges with regularity.
So there you have it, the fruits of my personal revelation at Mount Sinai – a code of ethics that promises to transform the lives of the hashtag generation. Safely inscribed in HTML online. All that remains is for you to go forth and share…