Ailsa Cameron: Farewell Facebook, goodbye Bebo...

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The Independent Online

After a long soggy summer, the nation's teenagers are about to return to school, and you might think that the only thing saving us from full-blown depression would be seeing our friends again. But thanks to Bebo, MySpace and others, it seems like we haven't been away from each other at all. So are these sites just a cutting-edge way for teenagers to socialise? Or is there something manipulative going on?

I've had countless accounts on all manner of different websites. Just like any other self-respecting teenager. I say "all manner"; what I mean is that they've got different names, but in fact they're pretty much the same: great ways of frittering your life away without any actual human contact.

There are only a few things that differentiate these sites. MySpace is for the slightly more technologically advanced; you have to enter codes. It also appeals to "arty" types: black-eyeliner clad kids taking pictures of themselves with cheery captions such as "I cry blood". Bebo is for the technologically inept. With Bebo you get a list of nice pictures for your background ("skins") and you just have to click. Click to upload pictures, click to add that hilarious Jackass clip of some guy sucking his own kidney out through a straw; and clicky click click, you're done. Facebook is simply for the dull.

Out of the succession of sites I've had a profile on, Bebo lasted the longest. I eradicated my MySpace after I realised I was slowly killing myself through subjecting my brain to hours on end of typing in code after code to put interactive fridge magnets and chalkboards on my page; all to gain the primitive delight of "friends", who commented on how "wicked" they were, engaging in mindless commenting to-and-fro, in a vain attempt to catch up with everyone else's 3,000-pages worth of comments.

My Bebo account had a weak start too. It has a more direct form of showcasing what an unpopular loser you are. The profile view counter. You do everything in your power to lure punters to your page; blogs, crude YouTube videos, amusing drawings on your "whiteboard". And alas, no luck. You have 26 views while everyone else has 2,087.

I began to add and upload photographs obsessively, add rubbish interactive "pets" that you and your Bebo visitors can "feed", and comment to everyone and anyone. I consciously tried not to visit the pages of those friends who had a ridiculous number of profile views, convinced that I was embarking on some righteous crusade against the superficial emptiness of popularity. Obviously, I was kidding myself.

Finally, after undergoing arduous hours of excruciating small-talk via the wonders of the web, I was at an acceptable number of profile views. I felt relieved. But not for long. The "Luv" counter was introduced. Another one of those inane counters that reduced me to some sort of self-seeking moron. "Bebo hates me," I thought. The "Luv" counter works in much the same way as the profile views counter. The difference is that you seem even more of an undesirable when you have none. People can opt, when they comment, to give you "Luv". Hurray! But, there's a catch. You can only give one "Luv" a day.

So the cycle began again. The race to get the most "Luv". It was just a picture of a heart with a number beside it, and yet it was so much more. After two days, one of my close friends had a Luv count of 11. Eleven. Eleven people actually loved her. She'd had time to give two Luvs, yet 11 people had given her theirs. At least nine people had given her Luv without receiving it back. Perhaps even in the knowledge that they would not get it back.

Shuddering like an addict searching for a fix, I scrolled feverishly down her page of comments to find out who was willing to offer her this Luv. "Ha!" I blurted out when I discovered it was just a bunch of besotted boys from a couple of years below. At least mine were from people I actually liked. "If only people could see it was quality rather than quantity," I sighed. She may have won in the popularity count; something only the small-minded were caught up in, but my Luv was deep and meaningful.

Some while later, in the Bebo real-life continuum, my mum informed me of something she had heard from her friend about me. I had used a swearword on Bebo. I felt violated. A group of parents had spent happy hours scrutinising the actions of known youths on Bebo and reporting back to their mothers. All of which was probably an excuse for an unwholesome, neurotic interest in adolescent life; like it's some sort of Hollyoaks episode.

And it was then that it dawned on me. I hated social networking websites. They appeal to teenagers, yet they embody everything most of us secretly hate. The constant opportunities for scrutiny, the exposure of vulnerabilities, the fear of ridicule, having to be nice to awful people. So I've deleted my profile for good. I'll no longer be emotionally dependent on some dehumanising counter. I've registered with the adult world, where everyone is self-motivated and never praise-hungry, emotionally insecure or bitter.

Oh... what's this? Friends Reunited?

The writer is a year 11 pupil at a comprehensive school in Wiltshire