There I was sipping hot chocolate in my local branch of a certain American coffee shop (it's the only one with WiFi on my high street) and there they were at the next table – a group of pre-teenagers killing time on the way home from school.
Given that I had gone to the café to get a few hours' work done away from the high-pitched squeals of my toddler, it was slightly annoying to be distracted by the high pitched squeals of these girls, but at least I didn't have to get down on the ground and pretend to chase them.
What made my heart sink was what they were doing: taking photos of each other with their phones in order to, guess what, post them on Facebook.
Now these were not natural shots. They may have been young but these ladies were practised in the art of the flattering angle. Lips were pouted or opened in outrageous laughter, chins were thrust provocatively downwards or arrogantly upwards and arms were flung around one another.
All in all the aim seemed to be to look as though they were having just the BEST time EVER.
In between this never-ending photo shoot there seemed to be little time for anything else – not least, conversation. These kids were so focused on how to make "us in Starbucks" look fun to their Facebook friends that they were forgetting to actually have fun while actually in Starbucks with their actual friends.
At the risk of sounding pretentious, it was the triumph of their virtual lives over their actual lives. I realise this makes me sound like an aging techno-phobic curmudgeon, which possibly I am (as well as someone who doesn't much like joining in, as those of my friends who are on Facebook like telling me) but this worries me.
Where is the freedom to not be having just the best time? To actually be feeling a bit miserable and confused and, well, adolescent? Or, perhaps more importantly, to be having a bad hair day (well I guess at least this generation have Frizz Ease...)?
Of course children and young people aren't picking this stuff up from thin air. They see the importance adults place on the virtual world and can't help but mimic us. How many of us parents aren't keeping one eye on our iPhones or Blackberries when we are supposed to be playing with junior?
Social networking is probably a good thing in many ways. It certainly has not replaced real relationships and in many cases it probably enhances them. What I think is unhealthy is the way such sites encourage people to announce their every move to an invisible army of 'friends' or 'followers', as though life is meaningless without this validation. It's no longer enough just to experience whatever it is there and then: you have to be seen to be experiencing it, preferably positively, and with pictures.
A couple of weeks ago I became possibly the last person on earth to join Twitter. The speed of it literally left my head spinning. How will I ever keep up? I wondered. And how can I turn my life into a series of witty updates? I've hardly looked at it since.
Is real life suffering at the hands of this virtual keeping up of appearances? Or is it just me?
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