Katy Guest: Facebook's like the real world – but better

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The Independent Online

There's nothing like an irrational fear and hatred of anything you don't understand to reassure you when you're just too busy for thinking. People in funny-looking headgear? Deport them! Men kissing other men? It's unnatural! Working women? They give you cancer! It's comic, the emotional energy that some people can find for vigorously despising the things that they don't quite have the energy to get to grips with: gays, girls, foreigners, Facebook...

It's hard to pinpoint the moment when a humble social-networking site joined the list of pantomime villains on which all the world's ills can be blamed. As usual, it was an insidious process. Only recently, FB was somewhere for students to post photographs of their friends' high jinks. Now, all of a sudden, the headlines read "Facebook predator" and "Facebook beast". We'd only just come to terms with "Facebook abuse" revelations and the "Facebook paedophiles". Nobody knows why 17-year-old Ashleigh Hall ended up dead in an isolated ditch. Nobody can imagine what made Vanessa George abuse countless children in a Plymouth nursery. Both cases are beyond the limits of normal human reasoning. In which case: what a relief to blame them on Facebook.

At this point, I should admit: my name is Katy, and I am an addict. And yes, an FB habit does bear many of the hallmarks of a classic addiction. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right? But as I keep telling the Facebook refuseniks: you're missing out! And the sad thing is that Facebook is for people just like you.

Witness this week's uproar about the adjustments made to the layout: Facebook is modernity for people who can't bear change. See how users reacted – slowly at first and then with spiralling solidarity – to a recent homophobic newspaper article: it is political engagement for those who don't have the time to engage. And watching last week's Question Time with FB switched on beside you and seeing your FB acquaintances comments and discussions ticker-taping up the page – it's like the JCR TV room in a university halls of residence, but quieter and without the Pot Noodles.

Naturally, I could have got together with friends to watch the programme, but there wouldn't have been space for the right-wing friend of a friend who challenged my preconceptions when we both commented on the same statement. Nor could I have invited the person in Bradford who had such insightful views about another friend's comment. Real life is where friends are just like you, and confirm all of your prejudices. Facebook is where "friends" contradict and astound you.

FB has other social functions, too. Just ask the freelancer who begged his extended network for a job – and one of them had just the thing. Or the new mother who posted: "I'm not coping" and was showered with practical and emotional support. Even tragic insomniacs can find solace there in Scrabble with someone in a different time zone. With Facebook, you're not alone; and if you'd like to be, you can turn it off.

There are drawbacks to an FB addiction. Switching on the "chat" function is like being at a party, where the person you want to flirt with is ignoring you. Anyone with a tendency to read things into things (English graduates; people who write for a living; people who get drunk on weeknights...) finds it a torment. You're so vain, you probably think this status update is about you. And if it's not, why not?

Here, again, lies the beauty. FB addicts are so busy overthinking our friends' cryptic status updates that we don't have any energy left for hating people. Gays, girls, people in funny headgear – you're safe around us.

Come on, Sean. Give the rest of us a chance

In some circles, the fantasy dinner-party guest list, as a topic of conversation, is second only to counting the number of people they'd have to get through before they'd ever have you on Desert Island Discs and wondering whether Kirsty would then let you have Radio 4 as your luxury item. But when journalists get together, the "person I would most like to interview" daydream takes on a tantalising frisson of reality. That's why all journalists now hate Sean Penn.

The actor is reported to be on his way to Cuba, on a break from his Hollywood career, to interview Fidel Castro for Vanity Fair. Fidel Castro, that is, whom no Western journalist has seen for years. "Why does someone like Penn think he can do this job, which isn't his job?" sniffed a pissed-off journalistic rival at the New Yorker. There's only one consolation: at least Sean Penn has never been on Desert Island Discs. That would be just too much.

MPs' laments are starting to wear a bit thin

In the language of politics, the trick is to happen upon a form of words with which no right-thinking person could disagree and then use it as a façade for a completely unrelated piece of nonsense or corruption. We must support hard-working families (©Gordon Brown). It's all the Government's fault (©The Conservative Party). Free sweets for anyone who elects me Mayor! (©Boris Johnson).

In which case, I am fighting for family values and every hard-working person's right to a work-life balance, and that's why I have decided to employ all my family and friends in my office at The Independent. My friend Chris will put in long hours as my stylist. My mum will be a world-class PA, Spanish correspondent and conflict resolution manager. I have a young niece who is very handy with a stapler. And clearly I am so terribly, desperately overworked (sob!) that otherwise I should barely see these people, so you'll understand why you, the reader, ought to pay their wages.

Unfortunately, though, I work in the private sector, in an industry in which it is, if not unheard of, at least regarded as an embarrassing anomaly that some people can give a cushy job without interview or any apparent qualifications to a person who just happens to be their partner or child. MPs may not have noticed this, but there is a recession on; we are all working long hours, if we are working at all. So, for regular hard-working families who have to conform to normal rules of employment, their "poor me" rhetoric is wearing a bit thin.

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