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(Okay so I’m joining the legions of bloggers and ‘journalists’ writing about social networking. Sorry.)

I wouldn’t say Facebook and Myspace are evil for the usually cited reason – I mean, yes, I do waste a lot of time mucking around online, but procrastination has never really bothered me. And to most people (with thicker skins and perhaps fewer neuroses?) this potential evilness wouldn’t even be an issue. But the problem I’m struggling with at the moment is this: these sites are theoretically supposed to bring me closer to my friends, but sometimes they actually makes me feel more left out.

Yet I love some aspects of them. What to do? A for and against list of course!

For 1: online community and staying connected
I am a big fan of online communities. I spend so much of my life online, it is great to be within the context of a group of friends, or like-minded people, rather than just randomly wandering through the interwebs alone. Seeing what my friends and acquaintances are into, what groups they join, what they think is funny, what minutiae makes up their lives, gives me insight into other aspects of their personalities, and allows me to keep in touch (however tenuously) with people I may never actually get around to ringing up or emailing (for all my writing, I’m a terrible correspondent, and really not good ‘catching up’ on the phone). I disagree with people who say there’s something wrong if you have more online friends than ‘offline’ friends – some friendships can start online and evolve offline, or just stay purely in the cyber realm and they are just as real as people you might meet at uni or church or a bar (in the case of the latter, I’d say possible even more real).

Against 1: Top Friends
This is a big against, and the main problem I have with Myspace. I’ve never been good with the concept of popularity. I have trouble working out what makes one popular, and once I have worked it out, I hate the game-playing and paranoia that goes along with staying at ‘the top’. So I really resent Myspace’s ‘Top Friends’ concept, where you rank your pool of friends. There is this pressure (from who, I don’t know) to work out who your top 8, 12 or 24 friends are, but worse – you then start to wonder whose Top Friends lists you make it into. You check out your close friends’ pages and wonder why you’re at number 9 instead of number 2, why you’ve been bumped down several places, or why you don’t even appear at all. Did you do something wrong? Are you not as close to that ‘friend’ as you thought you were?

It really doesn’t matter a jot in the grand scheme of things, but suddenly in the goldfish bowl of the online world, it takes on major significance.

For 2: Scrabulous
On Facebook I can play Scrabble online with friends scattered all over the globe. It’s still communicating and interacting with your friends in a way that isn’t as time-intensive as writing an email, but might be what you were doing if you were hanging out together, say, at a beach house…on holidays… I think this is great, especially now that I’m getting better at grabbing all the triple-word scores.

Against 2: the non-response
For the uninitiated, Facebook has a thing called the Wall. You can leave messages for other people that everyone else can read too. Depending on their security settings, you can sometimes read the entire conversation between two people.

But what it also means is that if you send someone a message on their wall, and they don’t reply to you, you can see that they are still replying to other people. Obviously they are still logging in to the site. Obviously they are reading their messages. But for some reason, they are not replying to yours. Why? Who knows?

For 3: discovery and rediscovery
I’ve managed to have conversations with people I am acquainted with through our various circles, but have never actually met or spoken to in the flesh. I think this is great! Then it means when I do actually meet them at, say, a conference, we already kind of know one another.

And as well as my close friends, I have also reconnected with loads of old friends. In some cases it’s great to find them again. In others, it’s more of a ‘hey!’ kind of response, not implying that we’re ever going to be close mates again but just acknowledging that we have shared history and we remember each other fondly.

Against 3: discovery and rediscovery
Then sometimes people track you down who you’d prefer never to know again. Hello, ‘ignore’ button! Still…it seems a bit harsh. Maybe only to me. Arg! This shouldn’t be a dilemma!

At least with Facebook you don’t get the sleazy Myspace pick-up messages from random guys who think you look ‘HOT’.

For/Against undecided: design
Myspace is a nightmare wrapped in a migraine. Some people manage to have classy-looking Myspace pages. Most don’t. Facebook, on the other hand, has a clean, simple design. People still manage to clutter it up with all sorts of crap, but at least it won’t cause you to fall to the floor in an epileptic fit every time the page loads.

For 4: status updates
I love Facebook status updates. I love seeing the silly things people write. It gives me a tiny glimpse into peoples’ days and mindsets and often makes me laugh.

Against 4: the Pandora’s Box effect
Sometimes, by reading Facebook’s news feed (the page that shows all your friends’ updates, so you can see what everyone’s been up to), you find yourself inadvertently learning things about people that you didn’t want to know, or seeing your ex’s name crop up and being unable to resist the urge to click on it.

For 5: Facebook apps
Timewasters galore, but some can be quite fun. I like it when people send me eggs that hatch into things. I like throwing sheep at people. Also, I have learned heaps about geography since playing with the Traveller IQ app.

Against 5: egocentricity and the resultant paranoia
This kind of ties in to Against 1. There’s been a lot of talk in the Christian blogosphere about Joshua Harris’ (a popular American pastor/writer) experience with Facebook. He is keen to stress that he isn’t against Facebook, but this was just his particular experience of it – he didn’t find it helpful because:

Without any help from the internet I’m inclined to give way too much time to evaluating myself, thinking about myself and wondering what other people think of me. If that egocentrism is a little flame, than Facebook for me is a gasoline IV feeding the fire. I need to grow in self-forgetfulness. I need to worry more about what God is thinking of me. I need to be preoccupied with what he’s written in his word, not what somebody just wrote on my “wall.”

(read the whole post here if you want)

I think I’d be inclined to agree with that, to a point. I still find Facebook a really valuable tool for keeping in touch with people, having a bit of fun, and exploring the potentials of online communities (whether serious or frivolous). I think what it comes down to is moderation, recognising what is unhelpful for me and capitalising on the good things.

So I’ve decided. I am going to close my Myspace account now. I’ll hang on to Facebook but I’ll keep reminding myself that it’s just a medium and relationships are about more than whether or not someone replies to your wall post.