Postcard from Beijing… no 4
The Social Network – a film about the founders of Facebook – has flooded the capital’s DVD stores in recent weeks, and Beijingers are buying it in their droves. Ironic, really, since so many residents – both laowai and locals alike – are silent on their Facebook accounts.
The Chinese government isn’t shy about censoring the internet and subsequently sites such as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook have all found themselves blocked in the world’s most populous country. Sure there are services – step forward VPN – which can help you unblock and access Facebook, but even buying and downloading the aforementioned doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get beyond the great firewall of China!
This time last year, I – like many Beijing newbies – couldn’t have imagined living in a world without facebook. How would I cope without knowing the minutia of my friends’ lives?! Pretty well as it turns out. Fast forward 12 months and I’ve discovered that not only am I surviving without my regular Facebook fix, but I am positively thriving.
Being in Beijing, it has dawned on me that social media sites such as baby faced billionaire Mr Zuckerberg’, are a double edged sword. Certainly Facebook brings people from all over the world together, but it’s not a ‘real’ social network. Many of the people I spent an overwhelming amount of time communicating with, via a keyboard, were impulse friends – you know the ones who you become friends with on a Facebook whim, but don’t actually interact with in real life (and certainly have no desire to know what they had for breakfast or other such tedious tittle tattle). Freed from my Facebook addiction, I have made friends in Beijing, the proper way – by picking up the phone and arranging to meet up over a cup of coffee at The Bookworm (an English language lending cafe and upscale cafe that’s the hub of expat life), or a going for a drink in a hip Houhai bar. It might (initially) be harder than hiding behind a computer screen, but the forging of real life friendships is infinitely more rewarding.
Another advantage of being based in Beijing and free of Facebook, is that I’ve become much less of a PC potato. Now that I am not spending every waking minute nosily checking out pictures of peoples’ holidays or new house, torturing myself tracking my ex’s every move (who is that blonde girl he has got his arm around?) or deleting pictures that have been posted on my wall so that Mum can’t see that snap of me downing shots with the entire football team and potential employees can’t find evidence of me embracing my inner stripper and pole dancing a tad too enthusiastically at friends’ hen do’s, I have had more time to spend on other extracurricular activities. Be it attempting to master Mandarin (sadly there’s still a long way to go, grrr) or jogging around Jinshan Park before work, I am improving myself and not my Facebook page – and that’s got to be a good thing.
So take a bow Beijing, for I owe you a big thank you. By banning Facebook, you have brought me back to (real!) life.