Christmas and New Year and the general festivities therein mean one very special thing to me - it is the time when everyone gets the hell out of our beloved capital and comes back to where they grew up. All the presents in the world could make up for seeing old friends and, let's face it, scores of acquantainces who knew us back when we still strived to be older and not younger.
Anyway, what was creepily strange this year was that everyone knew what everyone else was doing already. Facebook had got rid of the necessary yet dull start of every conversation between old friends, school chums and colleagues. There was no need to ask "how's the career/lovelife/house" of the guy who sat next to me on the school bus becuase each day I get a very handy little alert to tell me.
So, that should be fantastic - no more dull small talk and inane questions to get past in order to get to the really juicy bits of someone elses life. Should be brilliant and enable witty banter from the off. But it doesn't - it actually makes things harder and leaves anyone with particularly British sensibilities in a very difficult place.
For example, being fully aware that the person standing opposite you has just come out of a rather messy engagement fully broadcast on Facebook, complete with public wall postings of humiliation is great for the inner gossip in us all but, when confronted with said unfortunate individual, you clam up. Where do you start? You either avoid at all lengths anything vaguely to do with the matters of the heart and leave a gaping rather dirty white elephant in the conversation, fully aware that both members of the conversation know exactly what you're NOT saying... Or you mention the affair, as tactfully and carefully as you can, and in doing so come across as a rather sinister stalker who is watching this poor persons every move with great entertainment then find yourself promptly, and unsuprisingly, removed from their "friends" list the following day.
Worse still, is those people you'd rather never see ever again, know things about you that you'd really rather they didn't. Not always big dirty secrets as of course we keep them off our virtual profiles but just the humdrum facts that you can't escape. Half forgotten blasts from the past that you absent mindedly added to your list of friends have the upper hand in the game of "who's doing best". They know that your Porsche is more a Mazda, your mansion more a cottage and that as much as you know he's the one, your Brad is more a Barry. They know it all already and however happy you genuinely are with your life, not being able to tell the one person who made your life a misery then tiny white lie that you're obscenely successful and great is frankly, no fun.
The caveat, of course, is that it is just this very kind of person that also has a perfect profile filled with images of them skiing and partying and meeting famous people so the reverse is not applicable. They are painfully aware that you will of course have had a good look for the flaws on their own profiles and found absolutely none (I swear there are professional Facebook Butlers out there for this).
Polite society does not have rules for this kind of situation because polite society was never intended to let the rather one-way, voyeuristic, social past-time of gossiping to become a two way or even subjectively voluntary relationship...and that is precisely what Facebook has done. However, it's definitely not something that I shall be giving up for New Year because the annual awkward acquaintance brag off is definitely worth losing every once in a while. I'd rather have a Mazda anyway...