GeekPlanetOnline’s Editor-in-chief, Matt Dillon, is a man of many passions - although most of them involve a joystick. In this semi-regular column, he shares his thoughts on life, love and the pursuit of video games (and occasionally other things).
As I postulated in a previous column, I think we're just about at the point where we can consider social media part of everyday life. From Linkedin to Facebook, there's a social media platform for just about every purpose, for every preferred method of working, for every desired experience. It's for this reason that I get incredibly irritated when people miss the point.
There's a friend of mine who appears to dislike the conventions of social media intently. He yells (or rather, POSTS IN CAPITALS) "Tweet Spam!" at every Twitter hashtag game; he's increasingly paranoid about anyone tagging anything with his name or location on Facebook (photos in particular), removing them as soon as they pop up, and he locks down his profile on pretty much every online community so that half of the time I'm fairly certain that even his own wife doesn't know that he's on there. And I'm sure there are many of you that can empathise with his stance of certain points - how many of us, for example, haven't grown suspicious of just how private our Facebook data is? - but all things considered, I'm still left with one burning question: why the hell does he keep signing up for these services?
Seriously, who joins Twitter and then directly complains when their friends take part in platform conventions like Follow Friday? Who signs up to Facebook purely for a passive experience? Who creates an Xbox Live gold profile and then doesn't play online? What kind of idiot does this? And yet, almost paradoxically (and most definitely hypocritically!), I complain about emergent social networking behaviour too. We all do, in fact, which begs the question of just why we bother.
Take Facebook groups, for example. I HATE those. I say this, of course, with the absolute cast iron balls of someone who's started a few in his time, but in my defence those are usually gags that expire naturally and then float away into cyberspace*. By and large it's not those groups which bug me (although the fact that someone can now add you to a group without your consent or knowledge, only for you to be bombarded with spam mail every time anyone so much as farts in its direction? That really grates.) - it's the others. You know the ones. "My sister says that if I get 10,000 likes She'll name her baby Spartacus!". "Get your boobs out for breast cancer!". "Dave Probert for Prime Minister!"**. Sorry, folks, it's time for the harsh truth: a Facebook group never changed a damn thing. Nobody is going to name their baby after a dimple-chinned gladiator. Flashing your breasts only increases awareness of your breasts. And nobody besides me wants our Blake-chasing Editor ruling the country (sorry Dave!). These are pointless conventions, idiotic distractions: a complete waste of everybody's time, successful only in making a couple of dozen people feel that maybe, just maybe, their opinion counts for something in the world.
But the difference between my friend and I is that I don't complain aloud***. Of course I don't. If I find a Facebook buddy irritating, I hide their feed. If I find them supremely irritating I block them. There are things that I can do to limit the annoyance factor of platform tropes without throwing a hissy fit, and the reason I do things this way is because I accept the nature of the service that I sign up for. I recognise and accept the nature of the beast, because if I didn't I'd simply stop using it. For example, there are a number of my contemporaries who have fallen victim to cyber-stalking - an invasion of privacy perpetrated by fans of their podcast/blog. The reason that this has happened to them and not me is because they add people they don't know to their social networking lists, whilst I don't - Facebook is for people I actually know and trust, not random strangers. I get approached by podcast listeners from time to time trying to add me to their buddy list, and the answer is always the same: a polite but firm refusal, and a suggestion that they follow me on Twitter instead. The alternative is closing my Facebook profile and walking away from it. If I want to use the service, I have to accept its foibles.
I appreciate that this column may appear exceptionally contradictory given the subject of my last one, but I do believe that there is a difference - one is a case of politeness, the other a case of belligerence. You have to learn, appreciate and accept the purpose of the various social networking communities before you take part in them, and I do practice what I preach: whenever I'm feeling weirded out or irritated by someone's behaviour in one of these communities I chat with Dave about it, sounding out my issues and hearing his always-practical responses. Frankly I'm often in the wrong, and once I've calmed down I recognise that and get on with my business (both literally and figuratively). The important thing, again, is to accept what these platforms are, and Twitter in particular is a worldwide network of people in all walks of life chatting, sharing and opining. People are going to have fun with the medium. People are going to approach others they feel they have a connection with. People are going to crack jokes, rage, laugh, complain, play games, repeat (or retweet) interesting things they've heard and share the things that give them joy. We all do it in real life; social media just lets us do it with more people. And that, frankly, makes it wonderful. Let's not complain when it's used for precisely what it was invented for.
*Okay, it's not much of an excuse. I promise I'll stop.
**Actually, I really should start that one.
***Yes, yes. I know.