Net disillusion

©David Rooney

Social network websites such as Myspace and Facebook that have come on the scene in the last few years may be hugely popular, but they are not without their dissenters. Here is a humourous view from French writer and businessman, Jacques Rosselin.*

That’s it, I’ve made up my mind, I’m hanging up on Facebook. I’m stopping tomorrow. I’m going to gain an extra half-hour of life per day, like when you stop smoking. And gain some brain time in the bargain. Why am I stopping? For one very compelling reason: the founder explained that he had lots of brilliant ideas for selling the names of members and their personal data to advertisers. One compelling reason, but also a couple of hundred thousand confused reasons, signals and subconscious alarm bells going off…

You know Facebook, right? It’s the trendiest of “social networking” websites. Initially, it looks quite appealing. And then you sign up and soon realise that it’s nothing more than personal pages with CVs and lists of friends–Internet, basically. But a few days later, you start wondering if you’re in the right place. You feel a bit like a dad disguised as a kid at a teen rave in Pamplona. Or like an intellectual trapped at a dinner at Fouquet’s. Or a young man trying to develop a serious relationship at Club Med. Maybe it’s the intrusion of all these “friends” that gives the site this numbingly adolescent flavour. It’s exasperating. All kinds of people e-mail you to ask you if you want to become their “friend”. It’s gratifying at first, but you soon understand what the word “friend” means in Facebook jargon: somebody who wants to “network” with you socially.

What gave it away was when Jean-Noël Guérini, a politician from the south, asked me to become his friend. Now I don’t know Jean-Noël Guérini and I’m sure he’s a nice enough sort, but why does he want to become my “friend”? Worse still, why does my daughter Hannah want to become my “friend”? I’m not her friend, for heaven’s sake, I’m her father! (…)

So now I must get back to Facebook to arrange my move to “Peuplade”–a neighbourhood social networking website, which will at least give me a chance to have a few drinks down the street and borrow some tools. I have to explain to the group that I’ve created “Facebook Dropouts”–how to pack up and leave. For all I know this may be impossible, like in “The Prisoner” or in the Eagles’ song “Hotel California”: “You can check out any time you like… but you can never leave!”

*Jacques Rosselin is a writer, businessman and co-founder of French political weekly, Courrier International. This article originally appeared under the title, “Pourquoi je quitte Facebook” (Why I’m quitting Facebook) in Metro (French edition), 23 November 2007. It was translated by the OECD.

©OECD Observer No 268 June 2008

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