Beware the bunny boilers
So help me! In a strained attempt to be positive about something, I defended social networking sites. 'Everyone uses the Web, so why should the people you meet via online social networking be any weirder or nastier than the people you bump into in society? They might just be a touch more adventurous and smart,' I said.
From my hi-tech hovel, I have fooled around on social networking sites such as meetup.com a lot. Let's just say, the results have been mixed ...
On one hand, social networking sites and software have been incredibly helpful, kick-starting friendships. In fact, just about my whole 'real-world' social system stems from adventures in cyberspace. Embarking on the digital path is a great quick fix for loneliness.
On the other hand, digital mingling is a nightmare. It has put me in touch with some of the most charmless individuals I've ever met - vipers and wackos I do not want to hear from, whether they want to recruit me for salsa, fancy dress or skydiving. Sure, when I first started exploring, all was dandy. It seemed like the most alarming person I would encounter was a bearded bloke with a penchant for nude cycling, a tendency to spit as he spoke and a habit of draining your drink when you disappeared for a leak. But he was, I think, just an eccentric; anyway he got the boot from the organiser for refusing to pay a subscription.
If you're thinking of signing up for an online social life, beware the corporate drones rather than beard-touting mavericks with a fondness for nudism. They are the ones, I have found, who are liable to subject you to strange and biting texts and e-mails if you cross their path.
Sure, we all quarrel with others. It's natural because we're so closely connected with chimps, which are not nice creatures; indeed they tear each other apart with more than words. But when I socialise, I only want to make and meet friends instead of a ragtag army of outcasts and bunny boilers. Conventionally, you acquire friends via osmosis - one at the gym, another at the pottery class and so on. That approach enables you to sound out prospects and see who you click with. It's painfully slow but comparatively safe.
Social networking software instantly ropes you into a mob among which every member has the opportunity to contact you. Unless you instantly adopt a killjoy attitude and block, you automatically forfeit a measure of privacy. Soon, your e-mail address is doing the rounds via party invites and the like; your mobile number becomes common knowledge, too. Which is fine until, inevitably, one day you find you are exposed to the scrutiny of somebody you do not want to know: be it somebody who's just disturbingly odd or an outright stalker. So think twice before you sign up to MySpace, Friendster or whatever. Maybe Snubster might be a better bet.
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