The Ryan Lambie Column: The mystery of social networking

Ryan doesn't get on with Twitter or Facebook. Or Taito's Alpine Ski...

Mr Ryan Lambie's amazing joypad.

I don’t understand Twitter. Unable to work out why it was so popular, I joined the micro-blogging site last Wednesday, and a week on, I’m still trying to work out why it’s so popular.

It’s not for the want of trying. I sent a first tweet about fruit (‘Mandarins!’), and a second one about free sandwiches. And then, unable to fathom the point of the exercise, I got bored and stopped.

As far as I can tell, there are three reasons to send tweets: you want to post jokes about Molly Sugden (God rest her soul); you have a product or piece of writing you’d like to plug; or you’re the sort of person that is obsessed with documenting every waking moment of your life.

Personally, I don’t fit into any of these categories. I have no new jokes to tell (about deceased minor celebrities or otherwise) nor products to sell. I wasn’t particularly interested to hear that Stephen Fry found himself trapped in a lift shaft, and I’m pretty certain nobody cares whether I’m about to cook a paella, watch re-runs of Falcon Crest or do the hoovering.

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And then there’s the subject of ‘followers’. Jesus had disciples, and like Him, Twitter users have followers. I currently have five followers, who all seem more interested in advertising their mucky webcam sites or dodgy jewellery than commenting on my observations about sandwiches or single word descriptions of fruit. Only one of them – an old school friend – is a person I’ve ever met, and he lives about five hundred miles away in Scotland.

Like Facebook, Twitter seems to tap into a newfound obsession with indirect communication, endless lists of ‘friends’ whom we went to school with decades ago and added but never speak to, and complete strangers whom we’ve never met. Finding and adding friends seems to tap into some latent hunter-gatherer instinct in us, like a slightly grown-up version of Pokemon (‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’).

Admittedly, Facebook is a useful and occasionally amusing way of keeping in touch with people, but there are times when I begin to wonder whether I’m actually interacting with other human beings. Who’s to say that Facebook – or Twitter, or MySpace, or any other social networking site – isn’t just some super intelligent computer mainframe that merely pretends to be human?

When I send and receive messages from, say, Bernard Cheeseman or Zak McHackensack – hypothetical old school friends I probably haven’t seen in decades – who’s to say that it’s even them? Their pictures look familiar, but could be computer-generated, as could their comments, which all have a kind of identikit feel to them anyway.

How difficult would it be to write a computer program that sends you a greeting on your birthday, adds a ‘LOL’ comment if your status ends in an exclamation mark, or adds ‘LMAO’ if it ends in two exclamation marks? That adds status updates of its own, taken randomly from a database of generic sentence fragments (‘Just got back from photocopier convention in Lea-on-Sea. Brilliant!’)?

It could be some sort of Matrix-like conspiracy to keep us all at our computers, swapping Barbapapas, updating our statuses (‘I’m trimming my fingernailz’), commenting on other statuses (‘I was just about to trim mine RAOFLMAO’), or playing futile quizzes (‘name the fat celebrities’) instead of, I don’t know, going to the pub and interacting directly with real flesh-and-blood people.

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At the very least, it’s socialising as video game, where normal companionship becomes digitised and flattened into a two-dimensional and oddly compulsive hobby.

I know this is meant to be a games blog, and that a rant about social networking is a rather tenuous link to the subject in hand, so I’ll get back on topic.

I played Taito’s Alpine Ski (coin-op, 1981) for the first time ever yesterday. It was absolutely rubbish.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.