• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Bill Ralston commits Facebook suicide

Experience the joys of social-network oblivion.

Having successfully infuriated a small herd of socially concerned folk with my recent criticism of the “Occupy” movement as a pack of spaced-out ­whiners who sound just as greedy as those they despise, I’m moving on to alienate many more.

This week I committed Facebook suicide. I clicked around the settings on my page, discovered the cyber equivalent of a cyanide pill and took it. Facebook really doesn’t like letting you go. Numerous warnings and pleadings appeared, and even after I flicked the switch for social-network oblivion an email popped up in my Gmail account letting me know I had 14 days to recant and come back.

What do people see in Facebook? Most of the comments consist of unconscionable babble, trite bumper-sticker platitudes and shameless self-promotion. Admittedly, it’s my fault for being a digital slut and stupidly accepting the “friendship” of anyone who asked. I had about 2700 by the time I pulled the plug. I had foolishly thought it would be interesting to glimpse the lives and thoughts of the widest possible selection of people. It’s not.

Almost everyone I wanted to hear from I could phone or email; the remaining 99% (if I can use that now-pejorative term) were largely best ignored. My decision to quit Facebook came when some lithe young woman posted on my “Wall” a picture of herself half-naked on the toilet, and someone else put up a picture of a fully clothed Peter Dunne. I think the Dunne photo was the more offensive of the two, but enough was enough. It was time to go.

I had already deleted the Facebook application on my iPhone because of its annoying habit of messaging me every time someone dumped on my page or replied to something I’d said. Worse, it would send me messages on “friends’” movements, saying such things as “Ida Dunmovin is at Sale St Bar”. Why would I need to know that? It just made me thirsty and somewhat annoyed that they were out having fun when I was not.

Someone recently sent me an email on the iPhone tracker application. You install it and link up with the iPhones of friends and family so you always know where they are. “Uncle Harry is in the public urinals on Ponsonby Rd.” Not again.

My wife already has an uncanny ability to locate me anywhere, and my children are old enough now that I have a horror of finding out where they might be and what they are up to. The other salient point is, why would you need an iPhone tracker system when the device is, in fact, a phone and you could simply call people to find out where they are?

It would be handy if your phone was stolen and you wanted to find where it was, but having located it through the tracker system – and bearing in mind the police have better things to do – do you seriously think you’d storm the criminal’s house and demand your phone back? Claim it on insurance and buy a new one.

Another social-media site I’m putting on a warning is LinkedIn, a kind of business version of Facebook where you have “contacts” rather than “friends”, and people can use their network of “contacts” to further their commercial interests. The “Occupy” movement would hate it, and I’m trending in that direction, too.

I have accumulated several hundred “contacts”, but in 12 months I’ve received only one genuine business enquiry. I have received a message from Bono about some famine in Somalia and a note from a chap asking if I wanted to book former US vice-president Al Gore for a speech when he came through Asia last month, but neither of these notifications really improved my business.

Too many computer applications are now pointlessly intrusive. For years I’ve been driven mad by the “Chat” component on my Gmail account. I’d be staring at the page when suddenly up would pop a little box in the corner and someone, somewhere, would be asking me questions. Bugger off! I’m busy reading my emails. If you want to chat, send me an email, for god’s sake! Finally, I found something to click to turn off “Chat”. It only took me four years to work that one out.

Twitter is currently surviving my purge because there are always a few witty one-liners and an occasionally interesting “link”. However, thanks to the fervour of the election campaign, I note the tenor of the conversations has become more boringly doctrinaire and acerbic.

No one solicits junk mail in their letter box, so why lay yourself open to it online? My best advice is “De-Occupy Cyberspace”.