A couple of months ago I had never heard of Facebook. Now, I place internal bets with myself at every social gathering I go to about how long it will be before someone mentions it. My boyfriend and I had a dinner party on Wednesday which managed to run to almost forty minutes (surely a record) before a fellow guest brought it up; last night my cocktail date had been going for about forty seconds before the dreaded thing reared its ugly head.
‘He’s going away this weekend with his new girlfriend!’ My friend Chloe wailed as she stormed into Soho House. ‘His new GIRLFRIEND! How can he have a new girlfriend? He only broke up with me a month ago!’
Quickly shoving my martini into her shaking hand, I asked her how on earth she had found out about this devastating development in her ex’s love life.
‘FACEBOOK!’ she exclaimed darkly. ‘He’d posted it on his WALL.’
For those sensible people who haven’t yet been sucked into the ‘social networking’ vortex that is Facebook – or rather, haven’t voluntarily co-opted themselves into a virtual Big-Brother environment where everyone can track your movements, photos and gossip – I should explain that a ‘Wall’ is an area on each person’s ‘profile’ page where comments can be posted, both by the host of the page and by their ‘friends’. Of course there are benefits from a site such as this one (or MySpace, or Bebo, or whatever – as far as I can tell there are ever proliferating numbers of these networks). It’s an incredibly easy way to keep in touch with a large number of people, share photos (6 million are downloaded every day) and invite people to events. It’s also a freakishly effective way of finding people you’ve lost touch with over the years: within a few hours of joining I was rather charmed to have ‘made friends’ with various girls from my prep school who I hadn’t seen in fifteen years.
But after a few hollow promises for coffee made on each others’ Walls which never materialised into an actual meeting, I realised there was probably a good reason we hadn’t stayed in touch. The idea that Facebook is all about ‘friendship’ is frankly laughable when you consider some of the things that go on within the site. Sobbing into her fifth cocktail last night – we’d decided that getting drunk was the only way to cope with this gross betrayal – Chloe went on to tell me about another friend. Logging onto her Facebook page as she did every morning at work, the girl was informed that her boyfriend had been ‘tagged’ in a photograph – quite standard, as Facebook knows all about our relationships and obligingly lets us know what our partners are doing. She clicked the link, as you would, and discovered a picture of him kissing another girl. Heartbreaking.
Although Facebook, founded by genius Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, was intended as a networking site for university and high school students, it’s so much more than that (go on, make ‘friends’ with Hazel Blears or Ming Campbell, I dare you!) US employers now do customary ‘Facebook checks’ on prospective employees. The Economist are said to be thrilled by the existence of a Facebook fansite with over 5,000 members. Most of the information garnered about Jeff Chevalier, Lord Browne’s former lover, was mined from his Facebook profile, including the now ubiquitous doe-eyed picture that so many newspapers carried on their front page on Wednesday.
We are living in a Facebook age, people. And if you don’t believe me, next time you go to a dinner party just start counting the minutes…