Face time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2012, 12:00am

Hi, my name is Amy and I am a Facebook addict. I wish Facebook had never existed, that I had never joined. I wish that I could forever delete my profile and never log on again. I wish Mark Zuckerberg had become a lawyer or doctor like other Harvard kids. But, let's be realistic, it's not going to happen.

Before Facebook, I was a print junkie. I religiously read and collected copies of The New Yorker and Reader's Digest. Those were the days when people still read - I mean really read, not just browsed status updates and news feeds, and counted how many 'pokes' they received.

Nostalgia is to be expected since I came of age during a time of word processors and land lines. Back then, reading was not a chore, but entertainment. In those pre-Facebook days, my friends and I made up stories, skipped rocks and rope, rode bikes, painted and sold lemonade.

We as a society owned less, ate less, weighed less and, in many ways, worried less. The world moved slower but I don't feel I missed out on anything, especially friendships. I mean face-to-face friendships where you would meet a friend at a mall and catch up over a coffee. And, over coffee, you'd be focused on your friends and what they were saying instead of snapping pictures of the food with your smartphone and changing your status updates.

One can argue that technology and social media networks have made communication easier. This is true in the same way that the microwave liberated many a housewife. Ease and access to information can be a wonderful thing, but, depending on the attitude and behaviour of the users, there's also a flipside. While many wonderful technologies have surfaced in my lifetime, some habits now associated with them are making communication harder.

As the frenzy over Facebook's anticipated debut on the stock market exchange came and went, here is the reality of what Facebook has wrought upon us as a society. Many young people admit to spending several hours online every day, not to read newspapers, write e-mails to friends and family, or collect information for a project, but to check Facebook, Twitter and play games.

True, this is a personal choice. Just as it can be used positively, the internet can also be a platform for gossip, a playing field for comparison games, and, as my 89-year-old grandmother says, a 'time sucker'.

In the end, the person who stands to gain the most from Facebook is Zuckerberg. His brilliance is not in the technology itself but in understanding that people crave the basics of being liked, being respected, being appreciated and being listened to. Facebook gives people the facade that those are being achieved, but it is really eating away at the fabric of relationships, brain cells and time.

I admire the rare friend who has turned a cold shoulder to Facebook. So why don't I do the same? Because I'm still hopelessly hooked. I once tried to delete my account and a wonderful thing happened, albeit briefly. Several friends reached out to me to ask what happened. 'Are you okay, your posts have disappeared,' a friend texted me. 'Call me and let's talk, let's get coffee sometime.' The response was a slant of sun amidst the landscape of pokes and likes. My friend and I connected, finally.

Amy Wu is an American-born Chinese writer and commentator now living in Hong Kong




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