On becoming increasingly worried I am becoming addicted to Facebook, I began to investigate why I incessantly clicked on my smartphone for messages and comments I knew weren’t there. It made no sense for me to continually log in for updates when I had checked 14 seconds earlier. Alas I continue to tap away at my glass pane for salvation and while I might have a case of undiagnosed OCD, I suspect something more profound is controlling my urges. By clicking compulsively I am sub-consciously longing to be rewarded by some form of human attention.
Social networking is highly addictive and one of the dangers of this artificial world is that feeds into a particularly modern form of estrangement. Never before has society been so well connected yet the bite-sized nature of the internet often leaves me feeling empty.
More so I find myself longing for when people wrote or described their experiences rather than just upload photographs. Writing is never static and can be magically conjured up in a letter, email, blog or an even an instantaneous conversation with a likeminded friend. The danger with the transient nature of modern communications is that any prose will be lost at the time of delivery and there will never be an effective method of preserving your electric thoughts.
When I found myself on holiday in St Ives last year, I had to endure the trauma of my phone dying and being without the internet for three days. Suddenly I had to physically buy a newspaper to satisfy my hunger for stories, news and articles. Once my compulsion could no longer be satisfied, I relaxed and began to enjoy my immediate surroundings and forgot about the trivia electronically stored in my pocket.
On returning home to London and logged into Tweetdeck, I was enormously deflated by how utterly inane some of the messages were. Violent streams of spam, link repetition and empty RIP tributes to dead actors, whom the majority of tweeters had probably never heard of until Gabriel blew his horn.
What I fear the most about the proliferation of social networking is the uniformity of taste on applications such as Facebook, Twitter and the truly awful Foursquare. When the majority of people use the same websites, it ruins a romantic idea, of there being a sense of depth or continuity with previous generations.
As while there are tremendous benefits in the evolution of technology, I also think it will be responsible for the end of a specific type of geographical culture. The world is getting smaller and mass production is getting so big. If everyone orbits the same ubiquitous super brands then we are in serious danger of becoming the same.
While discovering new technologies can be exciting and rewarding, I find the lack of originality of the people using these applications to be very unimaginative. When I ceased to have internet access in St Ives, I began to compose my own thoughts, explored the world with virgin eyes and documented my thoughts with a pen.
Then I began to remember the works of Laurie Lee and Patrick Leigh Fermour and how their travel journeys painted new landscapes and people in such a vivid and beautiful way. They were genuinely living their experiences rather than inanely reporting them.
The medium isn’t the only message and while I don’t want to reject new technology, I feel there is some value in disconnecting from the emptiness which pervades social networking. Living in a world where everyone is their own personal marketing assistant, I find myself immersed in this digital matrix. But like junk food on the high street, I recognise it’s not always good for me. Switching off might well be preferable to refreshing an overpriced glass screen and hoping to see a red digit on Facebook.