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September 24, 2007

Harry Phibbs asks, are we all wasting our time on Facebook?

Posted by Harry Phibbs

Harry Phibbs asks one of the most pressing questions of our time - Is Facebook a complete waste of time?

In the old days people used to waste time sending emails to each other about how bored they were feeling, how hung over, what plans they had to go drinking at the weekend, etc. Now a more efficient method of time wasting has been invented called Facebook, the social networking site. You register on the site and then it asks if it can look through your email addresses and tell you which of them are already registered so you can invite them to become a "friend".

If they accept then you can look at each others pages where you can write things about what you are doing. You can also see activity reports of your friends on your own page when you switch it on. Many off those who might feel that setting up websites about themselves was undesirable - to much trouble, to brashly vain, too exposed to the whole world - have jumped at the chance to put information about themselves on their Facebook page. Religion, politics, where they work, where they are from, photographs of themselves having a wacky time at parties. Favourite songs, books, etc. A telling detail is often whether or not they are in a relationship. So this would give an opportunity for an old friend, perhaps old squeeze, to try and revive the relationship or to be warned off the embarrassment of attempting to do so.

Some companies are blocking Facebook because of the addictive nature of it for a workforce staring at computer screens all day is such that they believe productivity to be taking a hit. When typing an email to someone it is far from obvious to a casual observer whether it is business or personal. But if they are on the Facebook site sending messages almost by definition it is not for work but for pursuit of friendship or hobby.

Within the law (which after all is pretty restrictive these days) it is up to employers to set the rules they choose and if the staff don't like them to work for someone else. However I am not sure companies banning Facebook from office terminals are being sensible. They seem to be falling in the trap of measuring inputs rather than outputs.

There is all this nonsense talked about hard work as if it was the key to success. Sometimes I even hear billionaires say they achieved their wealth through hard work. Well, of course, hard work is usually necessary but there are millions of us who work hard but don't become millionaires. We get this preoccupation with hard work both from Conservatives who like the Protestant work ethic/Victorian values aspect and from the Left who talk about the "leisured class" and still keep a quaint, old fashioned sneeking regard for the labour theory of value.

Suppose someone works for six hours and day and spends a couple of hours on Facebook but makes more money for the company than someone else who works eight hours a day. Should the company really drive the Facebook addict away? Would that really maximise the profits for the shareholders? What if there was a lull and there was no work to do for an hour or so? What if a stint on Facebook made the employee more happy and motivated but denying access made the employee bored or frustrated because he was itching to see if some girl he had "poked" had responded?

Poked, by the way is a way of saying "Hello" to somebody without actually inviting them to become a friend. The etiquette is complicated but if in the initial stages of the online relationship you "poke" someone then they can poke back politely and if you don't register as friends with access to each others pages of news and personal profile no great offence is caused. On the other hand inviting someone to become a friend and them refusing is an awkward business the next time you bump into each other.

But if a liberal view is taken that Facebook is not necessarily damaging to the working environment, what does it do for friendship? Certainly it does make it much easier to keep in touch with those who are only vaguely friends - for example someone you went to college or school with or shared an office with or met on holiday but haven't actually seen for over a year.

My concern is whether the natural state should be to allow friendship to thrive or wither organically and that Facebook provides a kind of life support system. Even for those friends who you do regularly meet it is the equivalent of getting Christmas presents early. "I'm dieing to hear all your news", old friends say when they arrange to meet. How can they say when they've already seen the headlines on each others Facebook pages?

Facebook will also prove - indeed is already proving - important politically. Facebook has groups as well as individuals. I joined Facebook because of the emergence of a group called Save the Anglesea Arms, a pub legendary for its magnificent food. It is situated in the Ravenscourt Park Ward of Hammersmith and Fulham which is the ward I represent as a local councillor. Several concerned local residents had put messages on the Facebook page of this group protesting about an application for onerous additional licensing restrictions.

So single issue causes are going to find it easier to mobilise support than ever before.

Harry Phibbs is a journalist and a Conservative Councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham.

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One tip I picked up from facebook and that was to not add a photo till you had some friends to your name.

The second tip was have a name that lots of people have so with your lack of photo they cant tell you have no friends....yet!

Third, if you can't change your name pretend to be Rod Stewart with his photo and once you have loads of friends ask admin if they'd change your name to your real name as you have by deed poll.

But to sum up, I know a guy who has loads of facebook mates but noone to have a tipple with on a friday after work as they are all old mates from school who live all over the world now.
Isn't a wife, a dog and an old man who drinks and listens and is always there in your local enough?
Maybe it's just me then.

Posted by: sue law at September 26, 2007 03:06 AM

There are some elementary spelling mistakes in this article.

Posted by: Peter Pedant at February 6, 2011 01:06 PM
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