Amazon Vine(tm) Review
These days, it is increasingly hard to escape Facebook, whether or not one is actually signed up to it or not. Even the main news stories carry occasional stories about Facebook, most of them negative. Yet Facebook can also be a force for good, although the good stories don't generally make the headlines. This book is the first serious study that I've read about Facebook. It illustrates the impact through twelve short stories, averaging about twelve pages each, each focusing on an individual, their use of Facebook and how it affected their lives. A thirteenth short story focuses on a food that has its own Facebook fan page.
The thirteen stories are all from Trinidad, a former British colony in the Caribbean whose inhabitants have (it seems) taken Facebook to their hearts. While one may argue about the choice of Trinidad as a research base, it does allow the author to add interest to the book by telling us about various aspects of Trinidad, its people, their life and culture. That said, if you really want to learn about Trinidad, there are plenty of other books devoted to the subject. While Trinidad is very different in many ways from any major industrialized country you care to name, there are enough similarities to make it a viable research base. People still have the same basic needs even though they may express them in different ways.
The first story here focuses on a marriage that might have been in trouble anyway, but Facebook usage destroyed it. Some of the detail may be Trinidadian, but the basic story could easily be British or American. On a more positive note, a man who becomes wheelchair-bound discovers Facebook and finds that he can still communicate with the outside world. I was already aware of the contributions that disabled people make to the internet via blogs; the story here merely confirms that the internet is a godsend to such people.
Another of the stories focuses on one man's devotion to Farmville, one of those addictive games that Facebook is noted for. I didn't get into Farmville, but I spent a lot of time on Zoo World (not mentioned in this book) and eventually suspended my Facebook account to get away from it for a while. That was in January 2011, and I am in no hurry to return. Among other things, I didn't like the way the rules were continually changed, so what had once been fun gradually became irritating. I get the impression that Farmville is a bit like that too, but perhaps not as bad.
Perhaps the scariest story among the twelve is the one about the church that embraced first the internet and later Facebook. They decided that God created the internet, so it was up to the church to use it to spread the word. More interesting to me is the story about the businessman who is worried about the breaking down of the boundaries between business and pleasure. Although it doesn't say so in the book, Facebook doesn't allow us to have more than one account each. There is clearly a need to be able to have separate accounts for different purposes. There are ways round this, either by using privacy setting or by setting up accounts with fake names and addresses, but it would be better to allow openly separate accounts. It's not like Amazon where there are good reasons to disallow multiple accounts.
Following the thirteen short stories, there is an analysis. All of it is opinion and some of it a bit heavy going at times, but this is a serious academic study so is to be expected. I don't agree with it all but in any case, Facebook is still less than a decade old.
One problem I have is that the research looks at Facebook and at real life, but almost completely ignores other internet activity. It is as if the researcher selected people who use the internet only (or mostly) to access Facebook. Some people who use Facebook not only use it as an extension of their real life, but also use it as an extension of their other internet activities.. We can expect better research when Facebook has further matured, but this book offers a good starting point.
It is easy to find fault with this book, but it is also easy to see why some people love it. I am therefore not surprised that it has attracted very divergent opinions regarding its worthiness. I hope that this review tells you enough to help you decide whether this book is for you or not. I loved some of the stories and liked the others, but the analysis was less appealing while the avoidance of the other internet activities was also a negative for me. So it's something of a mixed bag that ends up with three stars, but looked as if it might be better than that based on the early chapters.