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Life in the petri dish

I wrote this piece a while ago, way before Facebook was even a twinkle in the Chief Justice's eye and I was saving it for a rainy day. Our winter may have been mild this year compared with the rest of Europe, but it definitely rained, even snowed Facebook - so here it is.

I started off hating Facebook but I've grown strangely attached to the damn thing and even though I keep threatening to dissociate myself and put a stop to this whole ridiculous life in the petri dish, I keep making new friends. How very boring and tiresome. Walking on the front or going to the gym is a whole new experience - every other word you hear is Facebook. With 400 million members to its name, I'm hardly surprised.

Making friends on Facebook is a strange phenomenon and not so different to making friends on the playground. It starts off in a very 'Do you want to be my friend' sort of way and can pretty much end in disaster and tears, when the Facebook bully decides to ditch you, throw you out in the cold and 'unfriend' you. Unfriend - the Oxford new word of 2009. So, when someone overstays their welcome or does something you don't like, you get to stop the friendship and actually let it be known that you are blocking them. Can you imagine anything more infantile and school playground?

So where before our lives were divided into seasons or school semesters, nowadays people's lives may well be defined by whether they are blocking or unblocking someone at any given time. Naturally I would never stoop to such levels of absurdity. There are many people I am 'friends' with, whom I do not consider real friends at all. Many probably I'd sooner block and who probably feel the same way about me. But that's just the price you pay for being impulsive, nonselective and part of something so utterly teenage. Blocking someone is not an option in my (face) book.

Which is why nowadays I am wary about adding new friends. Also, because when you do extend a friend request, it can easily be ignored. Just when you thought your rejection days were over, you find they've started all over again. And I was never one who took kindly to rejection. There are people who collect friends, apparently even people they don't know, or friends of friends. It's the more-the-merrier syndrome, with friends running into thousands. Apparently you're allowed a maximum of up to 5,000. I'm way off and I'd have been far happier if I had stopped at 50 and really saved it for my nearest and dearest, or for the people I met on my travels. Oh well, we live and apparently don't seem to learn.

Facebook is definitely more of a girlie thing. I appreciate that men have a right to use it. It's also a useful advertising and PR tool. But there's a limit to how much a man should use it. How can you respect a man who advertises his life non-stop and posts pictures all over the place, tagging everyone along in the process. I have a hard time understanding how women can do it, but I suppose this is the one time a woman can get away with something a man can't. In the same way that a man gets away with smoking while walking in the road, whereas when a woman does it, she invariably looks butch or cheap.

I suppose the playground equivalent of excessive exchange of Facebook information would be exchanging notepaper. Now, can you imagine a man swapping Betsy Clarke, and if he did, could you take him seriously?

Mystery is such a wonderful thing. Leaving aside for a moment the security aspect of it, it's so much more interesting not to advertise your impending plans and just disappear, take off and not let on where you've been for two whole weeks.

It's so much more attractive to keep people guessing. But to live this goldfish bowl sort of life, broadcasting your every move, it's a little bit scary and pathetic, almost as if you're petrified you'll somehow cease to exist if you don't let the world know you woke up feeling happy.

Sooner or later we're going to hear that new laws have been enacted which prohibit people from posting pictures of third parties without their prior consent. I have come to dread the words 'So and so has tagged you in a photograph'. There have been times when photos of me, which I never wanted to see again, have appeared, posted by the people who obviously snapped them and who then went on to tag them. The only way to have these photos removed is to contact the poster and ask him to remove them, which again, is not on. Because once you do that, you're acknowledging that you take Facebook seriously, and that defeats the whole purpose. So you just have to live with the photograph and hope it drowns and gets submersed in all the other useless information.

Like the virtual birthday greetings and gifts which are frequently transmitted. So and so has sent you flowers via Facebook. Same with birthday cards. Nothing beats receiving a greeting card in the mail, with the big stamp and all the wear and tear it accumulates in handling since leaving the sender. It's such an exciting thing that the virtual version leaves me cold. But then, I have always had quite a passion for the real thing so that may explain my undiluted aversion toward cyber greetings and gifts. People strive to snap the perfect Facebook photograph, one that is guaranteed to attract attention and let someone or everyone know they're having fun.

Whoopee! I couldn't be more averse to that sort of excessive display of information. But then I am not a happy, in your face sort of girl. I don't feel the need to let the world know that I am happy and having fun. I find that rather forced and unhappy.

I like to smile inside, in the same way I frequently laugh inside. And I'm pretty content with that arrangement.

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