(This is the Online column, written for The Southland Times)
During a chat about the perils of Facebook this week, a workmate reminded me of the old saying that compares houseguests and fish, but I reckon the internet has given Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote even more oomph.
The United States founding father and inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals said that both fish and visitors stink after three days but I suspect that if @bennyF happened to be around today he would extend his range of things that stink to the pleasingly alliterative families, friends and Facebook. And perhaps he would shrink that timeline, too, because three days is a tad generous when it comes to smug status updates, drama queen moves and pointless hashtagging.
It’s a strange old world we now live in, where social networking via Facebook and Twitter means we know a whole lot of stuff about almost total strangers and even more about our nearest and dearest. And that can make things more than a little uncomfortable.
There’s that person you followed or friended because you met them at a friend’s party or they made an interesting comment on a friend’s Facebook or Twitter feed: suddenly you are getting all their updates and know the intimate details about their life that should really be saved for those who know them well. One person who friended me after a chance meeting via a mutual friend-of-a-friend and a cold beer shared with the world every angry word between her and her then-partner, the perils of menstrual cramps, a three-week battle with thrush, an ongoing comparison of the best home cures for constipation for those following the Atkins diet, her brother’s relationship woes, her thoughts on the pedigree of the aforementioned brother’s “cheating slapper of a girlfriend” and the financial crisis facing one of her colleagues. Until she popped up on Facebook, I didn’t even know her last name or where she worked, but after hitting that little button to accept her friend request I knew far more than I ever wanted to about her life, and the lives of those around her.
After just a couple of weeks, I quietly deleted and blocked her and hope to never run across her again.
But perhaps even worse that the over-sharing semi-stranger is the over-sharing family members. It’s easy enough to block someone you don’t really know but when family members are littering your feed with drivel you’d rather not have to read, it can be a lot more awkward. It’s all about attention seeking, from their I’m at the gym/my child is a genius updates to the endless photographs of every boring, mundane meal they stuff into their gobs, or those cryptic “life is so hard” posts designed to have everyone asking in their very best pretend-concerned-online-voice: oh, are you OK 🙁
I don’t care about your latest sweaty efforts at the gym, I don’t care that you believe your child is some sort of prodigy (besides, my cat is a genius and furry, that’s even better), and I certainly don’t care about your Sunday roast. Sure, if you’ve been to an awesome new restaurant, share your thoughts. Or if you’ve just had an amazing degustation menu, show us all a photo or three. But if you’ve just dished up meat and two veg? No one needs to see that.
And if you ever feel compelled to make one of those drama queens posts telling the world how hard things are for you, then when a concerned friend or followers asks if you’re OK you reply with “I don’t want to talk about it”, be prepared to be unfriended. You aren’t Greta Garbo and you really aren’t that interesting.