Just when you thought that Facebook couldn't get any more cutting-edge (hello, Farmville) came the news this week that the Queen had logged on. "Huzzah!" said the Daily Mail (I'm paraphrasing), "the Queen's acquisition of over 150,000 Facebook 'likes' in a day proves that she is totally hip and relevant!" Which is exactly what you thought when your mum joined Facebook, isn't it?
There's much to admire about our Queen; her stoicism and leadership over her many decades of reign (and, indeed, even when she was merely a princess) has meant a great deal to the nation, particularly during times of trouble, whether on an international scale (she was great during the second world war, you hear) or on a slightly smaller one (all the things her family has done that sell newspapers).
But while we still regard the Queen as a very admirable lady - the nation's mum, after a fashion - the fact of the matter is that our national passion for the Royal Family has been reduced. In part, we've lost interest because of their naughty behaviour, but in greater part it's because of social mobility. Britain has shifted from being a nation in which being born to the manor was an essential ticket to success, to one in which aspiration and achievement have changed. Yes, class and wealth still play a significant role in the outcome of many of our lives, but in mutated forms: education and networking are great indicators of success than divine right, and joining the aristocracy is no longer a goal for anyone but a handful of people who seem, to most of us, a little bit odd.
The real, dirty joy of Facebook is not that it lets us keep in touch with the friends we really care about. Learning important knowledge about the lives of your inner circle via a status update is downright insulting. No: what is really great about Facebook in the ability it gives us to make stealthy visits into the lives of people we're not (or no longer) close to. To catch private glimpses of their personal lives and (most particularly) to make wild assumptions: that guy she is with must be her boyfriend. That status update is a cryptic message to his ex. "It's complicated" means that she must have cheated on him.
But as evidenced by the shift in tabloid splashes to celebrity-driven content, we don't care much about Royal subtexts any more, not since the passing of Diana made it apparent that being in the Royal Family was neither as glamorous nor as fun as we might have hoped. Unlike, say, that girl we went to primary school whose life, as evidenced by her holiday photos and glossy hair, still seems better than ours, we don't want to be them. Sure, the papers will continue their half-hearted speculation on whether William and Kate will get married this year or next year or never, but the public will continue to react with a collective national 'meh'.
Being able to see what the members of the monarchy are up to on their walkabouts around Middle England with the ease of a click is not going to return them to the forefront of most hearts and minds. Especially not the hearts and minds of the many anti-monarchists who signed up to access the page so that they could write disparaging comments on it - the royal equivalent of when the girl who bullied you at college extended the hand of Facebook friendship only to write bitchy remarks on your wedding photos.
Which explains, perhaps, why the Queen's Facebook following is actually proportionally rather small. Googling "Queen on Facebook" revealed at last count (Thursday morning) "The British Monarchy" page had just over 213,000 fans - a tiny drop in the ocean of the estimated 20 million of her British subjects who use Facebook. But it also revealed that Queen, the defunct classic rock band, had 5.7 million fans - equivalent to a quarter of the Facebooking Brits. A sign of the times? One thinks so.