Facebook… destroys culture

18Nov06

I’ve picked up a very fun book, Watching the English by Kate Fox, which discusses English etiquette from a humorous (and nationally introspective) point of view. Thus far I’ve found it an enjoyable diversion as well as a useful guidebook.

One particular section has to do with the English sense of privacy, where personal information is a bit more reserved than, say, an American might be accustomed to. It is considered inappropriate, for example, to introduce oneself with one’s name (e.g. “Hi, I’m Flip. What’s your name?”). Rather, one should first develop a bit of a conversation on neutral topics… usually the weather. (And even then there are unspoken rules about what one may or may not say about the weather.)

Occupation or marital status, similarly, have to be deduced by an understood ‘guessing game’ in which subtle questions and hints are dropped in the context of a neutral conversation.

This led me to question the role of The Facebook in UK universities. (Yes, it’s spread here like the Starbucks contagion.) The Facebook is a way to sidestep English conversational etiquette by providing access to personal information without requiring personal interaction. I’ve witnessed the creepiness of Facebook fanatics as an undergrad; all manner of stalking, obsession/compulsion, and (somewhat ironically) isolation stemming from the fact that a whole database of people’s photos, marital status, and personal information is available at the click of a mouse.

I wonder, then, whether this will produce a noticable perturbation to the behavior of English Facebook users versus their non-Facebook, conversational-etiquette-observing counterparts. Perhaps it is the case that, however subtly, Americans are exporting their own cultural norms where such Facebook infomation is readily accessible in everyday conversation.

(For what it’s worth, I would mourn the loss of English reserve, which I’m growing rather attached to. I find myself increasingly squeamish when one of my American-educated neighbors feels compelled to share her day’s worth of gossip with the rest of us. At any rate, I am not a part of The Facebook and am rather suspicious of its effect on the way teenagers interact.)



2 Responses to “Facebook… destroys culture”

  1. 1 robert

    As a UK follower of your adventures (this being done in a non-obesessive and wholly reserved manner, of course) I was, ’til now, quite unaware of the Facebook phenomenon. I can only say that it appears to be quite horrid, beyond reality TV in fact. Culture – what culture? I’m afraid the damage has already been done (the inter-personal counterpart of global warming, where everyone drowns in a tsunami of intimate irrelevancies and unpardonable intrusions.) Adopting an unfashionably reserved demeanour, undertaking detailed and devious calculations, and posing as your own Aloysius, you might just escape, scrambling onto the higher ground of English eccentricity.

  2. 2 timeczar

    Hello,
    I just happened across your blog.

    Your statement, “I find myself increasingly squeamish when one of my American-educated neighbors feels compelled to share her day’s worth of gossip with the rest of us,” made me smile. I’m an American and American-educated, and I can say with certainty that ad-nauseum over-sharing of personal information is not considered culturally welcome in the US, either, although there are many who do it, anyway!



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