Unlike so many dependencies — drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, even chocolate — my addiction is not detrimental to my physical health. But, it is insidious, contaminating and has virally inserted itself into aspects of my life for five or so years. Mental? Yes. This addiction hinders my work life, distracts me from conversation, frustrates my girlfriend, my friends and my parents and attaches an otherwise unprecedented level of attention to my self-image.

If like me, you are so enticed by its different faces, its many forms, its plethora of dealers, as with any other addiction you are inhumanely termed a ‘user’. You will ‘use’, according to the manufacturers, every day or two. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Facebook, the curse and blessing of our generation, was abandoned by 100,000 users in May, in Britain alone. We are accurately defined as the Facebook generation; and as with any other generation, this brings both merit and complication, as well as trial and tribulation.

Asked by a friend a few weeks ago whether I thought ‘The Social Network’ would die out as with every other fashion — its legacy one day to be merely a ‘retro/vintage’ gimmick — I dismissed such an apparently ridiculous question. I was, perhaps, in denial. While Zuckerburg the geek of our Time, wants a billion ‘users’ worldwide, the West is starting to question, in comparatively small but significant numbers the value of such a device; or at least the value of social networking in its current place. Norway, Russia, the UK and the US are all proceeding to slowly give up, deactivating and deleting: some destroying all evidence of their online habit. While we are the most addicted, proportionally, of all Europeans, we are out-shadowed by our cross-Atlantic friends who, according to Inside Facebook — the origin of these data — saw 6 million users over the same period get their final click, at least for the immediate future.

Unsurprisingly, the news was eagerly dismissed by Facebook who contested that they “are very pleased with [their] growth and the way people are engaged” with the site. Mere blips in the Western world should not be ignored even when the ambassador of our age, our histories and our image is experiencing steady net growth. In June, Techcrunch’s Jared Newman speculated that the 3/4 a billion mark may have been recently crossed; an outburst in Mexico, India, Brazil and Indonesia with more to come from China, Japan and other countries in the Far East.

The question of whether Facebook is destined for world domination is at the moment unanswerable. Murmurings in the West are rumoured to be caused by a number of factors summed up well by Ged Carroll, an advertiser and blogger who cites a relatively less enthusiastic male audience, a lack of innovation, an abundance of notifications, competition from Twitter and more recently Google+, and critically many businesses’ deep-rooted disinterest. He states: “The vast majority of marketing campaigns don’t use Facebook well.” With a projected worth in 2012 of $100 billion, does this matter?

Somewhat. Many analysts look at the company from a corporate perspective, statistically defining its footprint and life but it is more significant as ‘users’ to assess the network’s future from a personal perspective. With the average ‘user’ logging on every other day, it engulfs our personal time, and as a consequence must be held responsible for reports that have emerged from the scientific community. In February 2009, Baroness Susan Greenfield, acclaimed Oxford neuroscientist, stated that “as a consequence” of social networking “the mid twenty-first century mind might also be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity”. In many ways, Facebook has come to define who we are – as a sort of Encyclopaedia for the human world – but it is now more startlingly beginning to define how we are. It is reassuring therefore, that Brits and other Westerners are starting to consider the implications of a medium which is beginning to establish society to the same extent that it is eating into it.

“What’s on your mind?”

Thanks for asking.

Oscar Williams

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