The Antisocial Network

Over Sharing Under Caring. Words by Stephen Grant

If I come across a bit bitter and miserable today, I apologise. In my defence, like many comedians, I can be a bit of a misanthrope.

There’s this belief that funny people must have a dark side – to balance out the humour. That’s not the reason. There’s no psychological dysfunction, it’s just that our quirks are always on show, and we have 23 hours of the day free to think about things.

This is the problem. Most ‘normal’ people’s lives give them too much to do to put time aside to dwell on how miserable things probably are.

It wasn’t that long ago that people with too much time on their hands took up hobbies that suppressed or focused the madness, like DIY or gardening.

Regrettably, those people now have access to social networks, so instead, they bury their friends in a tidal wave of endless over sharing.

Regrettably, I have tons of friends. While that statement sounds at best, boastful, and at worst, ungrateful, this is not the case on Facebook.

For the best part of a decade, I ended each show by asking people to add me, and as a result, I have almost 5000 ‘friends’. My status feed is a constant drip-drip-drip of bromidic detritus; it’s digital Chinese water torture.

Dawkinites might like to revel in this fact as proof there is no higher entity. As we are oft told of God’s omniscience – knowing where we are and what we are doing at all times, we have to imagine him sat in front of a teleprinter churning out every status update of everyone ever.

No being – supreme or otherwise – could survive that for more than 5 minutes, let alone eternity. By the time he received his 200th invite to play Candy Crush Saga even Gandhi would have thrown himself onto a spike.

I assure you, having thousands of friends is not a boast. I’m sure I’m not alone here; many people collected friends in the early days like they were a numerical indication of popularity, not realising that if you are the kind of person who believes popularity can be accurately measured on a bar graph, then popularity will only ever be a distant dream.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m no hermit. I like my friends. I like having friends. But friendships are organic relationships that phase in and out; people lose touch, have children, move away, and become excruciatingly dull.

And social networks don’t allow for this; friends stay friends long after they really aren’t. Add to that the fact that I’m awash with people who I should never have added in the first place, and I’m regularly being informed about people I don’t know and their lives. It’s like ringing an elderly parent.

An hour a day, wading through a deluge of overexcited insignificance. Half of these people I now despise. Yeats said “There are no strangers, just friends I haven’t met yet”. Thanks to Facebook, I now have friends I haven’t met – and don’t ever want to meet.

“Just unfriend them”, you say. But you’re forgetting the fact that you are likely to be contacted and asked why you did it. It’s the only time you secretly wish your friends to be worse people.

“You slept with my boyfriend” or “you trashed my room” – fine. Unfriend. It’s expected. But, “your constant pictures of your cat are doing my head in”? Best of luck justifying that.

Is there a solution? Probably not, but I’ve found one that works for me. Now: I add everyone who asks me, and then if they commit what I consider to be a social networking crime, they get deleted.

I’ve laid out the rules on my Facebook page – you can search for them if you like. I’ve already managed to get the numbers down to 2800, and it’s still falling.

The only problem is there are three categories I can’t unfriend; my partner, my family, and any crackpot near-the-edge individuals who might not mentally cope with any ostracism. And currently that’s just under 2800.