It turns out that you don’t cease to exist without a Facebook account. If Facebook were to crash tomorrow, your heart would continue pumping blood. You can live with or without a daily notification. Don’t believe me? I have living proof: I know a man without a Facebook account.
Alistair (real name withheld) is a second year Economics student. He loves to run and he plays a lot of football. His favorite kind of music is hip-hop. In most ways, Alistair is your run-of-the-mill university student – except for the fact that he has never set up a Facebook account. I decided to meet up with him and find out about his life without the ubiquitous status update.
I couldn’t help but starting with the obvious question: “Why have you never signed up to Facebook?’ ‘I’ve never really had a reason to,’ was his startlingly simple response. I found this hard to believe. I felt sure that he would have a major reason for not using the social necessity network, but the longer I talked to him the more he convinced me that he really didn’t need the website. I asked him how he keeps up with the house parties and gatherings that fill up the typical student’s calendar. He explained that his solution was to – gasp – physically talk to someone, ‘My girlfriend and I have the same group of friends, so I just ask her what’s going on and she usually knows’. Did he ever feel like he missed out on the messaging, wall posts and hilarious frapes that Facebook offers its users? Not really. “I kind of live with my friends because I’m either at my flat with my housemates or I’m round at my girlfriend’s [house], and my best friend’s always round my girlfriend’s ‘cause he goes out with one of her housemates.”
It makes sense – why bother with Facebook chat when you can just talk to your friends face to face? He isn’t the type of person who feels the need to know the entire town of St Andrews, he made clear that he’d “definitely prefer to have a small group of friends [he] really gets on with than to know a lot of people but not know them very well.” With that approach Alistair just doesn’t need a Facebook account to connect with “friends.”
When I brought up the idea of using Facebook to ask his classmates course-related questions he seemed confused – was I really asking if he thought Facebook would make him a better student? “I’m organised with my study so I usually know what’s going on,” he told me, “but if I don’t know I can just text a friend from class or look it up online on the uni website.” It’s hard to argue with his logic. The University Website seems like a better place to look up academic questions than the adopted home of the Lolcat.
We can pretend that Facebook is an absolute necessity for our social lives or our academic work, but Alistair is a living, breathing contradiction of that claim. He is a normal guy who goes about his life without Facebook and suffers no great inconvenience. The truth is that Facebook is only an absolute necessity for keeping in the know about what our very extended list of friends are up to. Our news feed tells us about every event that we, our friends, and our friends of friends are attending. It lets us know what every vague acquaintance we added during fresher’s week does with their weekends. I asked Alistair if he’d consider joining Facebook for the chance to be ‘in the loop’ like Facebookers were, ‘To be honest’ he casually replied, “I don’t really care about the loop.” I suppose the real question is, why do we?
I can still remember the first day I got a Facebook. After interminable discussions with my reluctant parents, I signed up with an embarrassing pre-teen email address and gained access to complex online universe of Facebook. Back then, Facebook was a newly emerging technology that facilitated both the public display of your photos and interests and connection with people of your age group. Features like “bumper stickers,” and multiplayer games – we all remember Farmville – attracted young teens with too much time on our hands. When we were younger, the world of Facebook existed merely for our entertainment.
Since then, the nature of Facebook has changed dramatically. The incredibly popular online phenomenon, once utilized for mere frivolity, has become an necessity in our lives. Facebook has become integral for for keeping appointments, catching up with friends, and getting involved in events at university, especially in St Andrews.
Facebook is invaluable for those who come abroad for university. Going to college outside of your native country is no longer a death sentence for friendships and relationships back home – one can maintain an active dialogue with peers and family members both through Facebook messaging and sharing photographs. However, Facebook is not merely a tool for international students, or even Brits keeping in touch with friends a few miles away. It has important immediate applications as well, within the context of the university.
The prospect of arriving, fresh-faced and anonymous, at a new university can be daunting. My anxiety was mollified, however, by the ability to quickly connect with people through Facebook during the first few days of university. “Friending” someone not only gives you access to all of their profile information, but more importantly enables you to contact them later on. You can now ask someone for help on an assignment, ask them if they want to order food with you at midnight, or merely tag them in a photo with you to remind them of a good time that you shared. Facebook provides an initial gateway that facilitates interaction and is conducive to future friendships. Facebook allows you to, in a sense, get the best of both worlds: make new friends, but keep the old.
Facebook has also become increasingly important in managing one’s daily life. Freshers, especially, often become overwhelmed with all of the societies they’ve signed up for and struggle to manage the balance between extracurricular activities and academics. Joining Facebook groups for various societies on campus is imperative for remembering meeting times and places as well as other important information pertaining to the function of the society. It’s a forum for organization, the scope of which reaches far enough to comfortably encompass your life and sort it for you. This brilliant website, begun as a mere forum for social interaction, has grown into a necessary complement to the life of the socially inclined individual.
Some claim that Facebook creates anti-social tendencies, and keeps one staring at a computer screen rather than venturing out to engage in real world interactions. However, Facebook is the most efficient tool for meeting people in person – Societies publicize events and socials through Facebook, since it is such a widely used platform and therefore people are more likely to see the event and attend. As one of many students taking a multiplicity of classes here you cannot always count on word of mouth to hear about an upcoming house party or a chocolate tasting on Tuesday night. Facebook allows you to interact – in person and online – with more people than ever before. It makes sure you don’t miss out on all the opportunities life – and St Andrews – has to offer.