It's hard to put my finger on exactly why (though here goes!), but in the last six months I seem to have lost all interest in Facebook.
I can vividly remember its early appeal, although I did take time to be persuaded. Hilariously, there's even an early post on this blog (HERE) when I was complaining about people nagging me to join, and wondering what all the fuss is about. Back in those pre-smartphone, pre-social media days, my response to invites was invariably: "Why? I've got everyone's number in my phone."
The catalyst, for me, was moving abroad. Leaving the UK at the end of 2006 had dramatic implications for the ease of maintaining contact with people, and it was here that Facebook - for me, at least - came into its own. It was never about close friends - those, you can still e-mail or speak to directly. Rather, it was about the other friends, the larger circle of acquaintances, the people that you probably wouldn't directly contact on a regular basis but that you'd still be upset to lose contact with completely. For keeping them on-radar, it was brilliant.
And that was pretty much the pattern for the next 5-6 years. Photo albums to show where I'd been, paragraphs to let people know what I was thinking about, cross-postings from here to let people know what films I'd seen. I suppose I was always a "send" rather than a "receive" kind of user, but besides letting me inform others of what I was up to, I could also keep abreast of friends when they were doing something interesting.
In a broader context, I guess this is what made social media so enthralling in its early days - it represented the true democratisation of celebrity. In the late 90s we'd had fly-on-the-wall docusoaps (Airport, The Cruise) which followed normal people going about their work. Normal people became celebrities, simply for doing their jobs. But if you weren't working in a job chosen for the docusoap treatment, your luck was out. Then came full-blown reality TV in the 00s (Big Brother, Survivor), which, to put it unkindly, followed abnormal people (exhibitionists, extroverts, and assorted freaks) in contrived, often claustrophobic, situations. Now anyone could become a celebrity, and for simply doing anything in an attention-grabbing manner. But many of the celebrities created from this route were, to put it mildly, hard to relate to. Social media, however, allowed literally anybody to broadcast their life - and if it was interesting, then it might find an audience.
Things feel a lot different now, though it's hard to say what precipitated the change. Smartphones? The quality of cameras on smartphones? Or simply social media's ubiquity? But sometime around 2-3 years ago, it felt like a lot of the fun went out of social media. It started to feel as though any relevant signals were getting drowned out in a lot of noise. It started to feel as though everyone was shouting.
So what do we get now? Single pictures instead of albums. Tweets instead of thoughts. And, more often than not, borrowed content - a shared picture or tweet with the admission of the moment, "This says it better than I ever could".
Maybe it's not the case that the signals got lost, maybe they simply got chopped up into bitesize bits? But accessing Facebook nowadays is a bit like sitting next to a hyperactive kid wielding a TV zapper - a welter of images, single sentences, hashtags, video clips, but nothing that lasts longer than about 7 seconds. And don't forget the reams and reams of adverts customised to "your" preferences.
The nature of the content has changed too. We've lost our innocence. At some point the penny dropped that you don't have to be honest about your postings. If everyone else is apparently having a great time, then why not pretend you are too? (There's a very funny but naturally quite depressing video on this topic here.) Humble-bragging ("I've never been so tired in my life, but it was worth it to see the looks on those kids' faces!") and self-aggrandising promotion are the orders of the day.
Perhaps, though, we're finally arriving at the natural end-point. In books and films dealing with cyberspace before the internet came along, the online world was always depicted as being radically different from reality (think Neuromancer, The Lawnmower Man). Some kind of digitally-created landscape was the substrate in which people interacted - much as is still the case for online role-playing games like World of Warcraft.
But it turns out that cyberspace actually looks a lot like the real world. So much alike, so similar to a mirror (or a camera?) held up to a person's day-to-day existence, that we can easily kid ourselves that the two things are one and the same. But they're not. We shouldn't forget that our Facebook profiles are, in a sense, no more real than an avatar in Warcraft, but a lot easier to confuse.
This could be an admission of age, as much as anything. I've heard that young people, the generation who have or are growing up with touch screens and social media, are already savvy enough to differentiate their online profiles and personas from their public, "real" ones. Maybe that's what I should do. But for now, I've lost interest. I'm stepping back.