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Social networking: surely that has to be a tautology?

26 November 2008

12:00 AM

26 November 2008

12:00 AM

Social networking: surely that has to be a tautology? Isn’t the social component implied in the overarching concept of networking? Can you have unsocial networking? Or antisocial networking? Isn’t networking itself by definition a social activity? Or is the use of the epithet ‘social’ an attempt to differentiate this form of networking from ‘professional’ networking? Facebook is a social network. And I am about to do something very antisocial on the network.

Facebook is a bit like having kids. One struggles to remember the time prior to its existence. I occasionally lean back in my chair (invariably as my wireless attempts to connect), trying to remember how I used to spend every sad hour of every sad evening of my sad life. Then the icon pops up notifying me of a ‘very good signal’ and any reflective thoughts evaporate. I throw myself into my cyber world, full of cyber events to be shared with my cyber friends. All 1,743 of them. By anyone’s reckoning, that’s a hell of a lot of friends. And the harsh reality is that I actually know so few of them; the vast majority are internet friends, virtual friends. They are no sort of friend at all. Having finally realised that I live a charade wrapped in a sham masked in deceit, I decided that extreme action was required. Friends had to be offloaded; and offloaded in a spectacular fashion. This was no time for shilly-shallying; or shally-shillying. I had to instigate a vast and sweeping gesture of Facebook change; I had to drop my Facebook Clause 4; I needed to find a Facebook Third Way. Hard decisions had to be taken. The Mandelson mindset needed to be adopted. Cutting one or two friends from the periphery would be like redesigning the interior of the Titanic. I required a dramatic night of the long (and pointy) knives. What I needed was a cull. And a cull is what I got.

Inspired by The Godfather Part III massacre scene in Atlantic City (when Joey Zasa and Don Altobello arrange the mass murder of the Mafia family heads), I conspired to cut and cull and connive to bring my friend list down to something more representative of people I actually knew. I notified potential cullees that they might be culled. Many contacted me and made compelling cases not to be culled. My cull-based updates attracted the attention of potential new Facebook friends who empathised with my desire to hone down my cybersphere of influence and wished to promulgate the principle in their own lives. The upshot is that post-cull I have gone from 1,743 friends to 1,749 friends. Possibly the least successful cull in the history of culls. I think I might have to cull it off (sorry).

The world of dating is fraught with danger. Around every corner is an irritating obstacle, some new and innovative challenge, some modern and unexpected protocol to hamper any sense of nascent romance. Assumption genuinely makes an ass out of me. I foolishly assumed that by asking a pretty young girl to join me on a Wednesday after work, for an evening of comedy performance followed by a fish-based meal at the august Scott’s of Mayfair, that I was making my intentions fairly clear. I had noted however that in the text exchange that preceded the evening I had appended a single kiss at the end of my mobile missives and she hadn’t reciprocated. I simply thought that she was being correctly guarded in the early days of our dalliance, not being seen to be too encouraging of my advances. How wrong I was. Within three minutes of her pert posterior hitting the leather of my passenger seat, I learnt all about her boyfriend, Jack. There was a part of me that wished to stop the car tout de suite, bid a fond farewell and tip the girl out on Great Pulteney Street. Or perhaps I should have sent her a text at the first set of traffic lights and informed her of the premature end of our evening?

There are few activities that fill me full of excitement and delight. The music of King Creosote; a good afternoon play on Radio 4; and cooking a meal for friends. The cooking itself, while joyous, is the means to an end, the end being a gathering of old and new friends around a slightly overpriced faux teak dining table (we have so much to thank the Swedes for…). I had concentrated on putting together exactly the right mix of guests one evening last week. The wine had been carefully chosen. The meal itself was uncontroversial enough: crab mayonnaise followed by roast hake on an oxtail broth and a cheese course (I had determinedly turned my back on pudding). The champagne flowed, the chit-chat chittered and chattered and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Until the main course was served up. One of my dear friends reminded me, as I lay the plate of roast hake in front of her, that she hadn’t eaten fish in 20 years. Oops. Bloody oops. But, womanfully, her finger forever on the pulse of social protocol, she gingerly offered herself a mouthful of the perfectly cooked, herb-crusted hake. One mouthful followed another. Having eaten half the fish, she announced that she had enjoyed it. Relief all round. The night continued into a cornucopic carnival of cheese. At the evening’s end she thanked me for forcing her to confront her fish phobia. She seemed confident that no harm would come to her and resolved to continue her reinvention as a pescatarian. Having said that, I haven’t heard from her since…

Trying on a new pair of jeans in Harvey Nichols the other day, I asked my friend Charlie if my bum looked big in the tightly cut fashion-intense denim. ‘No,’ he said, pondering carefully, his head slightly askance. ‘Your bum does not look big. It’s just that the rest of you looks a bit… small.’ The most insightful application of Einstein’s theory of relativity, I trust you’ll agree.

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