Is the internet bringing us together or keeping us apart?

Is the internet bringing us together or keeping us farther apart?
David Beckham likes this

If ever there were a phrase that summed up the point to which the internet has brought us, it is "digital book signing".

It's a phrase that takes three analogue elements - a book, an autograph, a personal interaction with a celebrity you admire - and turns them into something quicker, cheaper and less valuable.

"It's a world first and I always like to try new things," says David Beckham awkwardly at his digital signing which has been set up through his Facebook page. He mentions the technology amid compliments on his hair, invitations to Brazil, discussion of his favourite goals, his family, his tattoos and the photos that make up his book.

Beckham is smiley, friendly and charming but even his media training and expensive tan don't hide the inelegance of the event itself. Fans pop up on a screen in front of him and he half pays attention to them, asking how they are at the same time as they ask how he is during stilted video conversations that stop and start and overlap, and end barely 30 seconds after they've begun.

David Beckham Facebook

The rest of Beckham's attention is on the iPad in his lap. The iPad screen shows the cover of his new photo-book and the hasty autograph he's scribbling on it using a stylus, glancing up to check the spelling of his foreign fans' names. He signs his own name first, then fills the "to" part in after.

It's as backwards and weird as this event which is taking place in a north London studio space that feels like a school hall. There are cameras on dollies, an expensive-looking set and Jake Humphries capering in front of a live audience begging applause. It's like a TV show, but it's not. It's like a meet and greet, but it's not. It's like a book signing, but it's not.

And that's the dichotomy of the internet really - it brings people together, literally "connects" them, and keeps them far apart all at once.

Content, content, content

But people seem keen on this virtual event - David Beckham has 30 million fans on Facebook. He was on 29 million a week ago, but Glenn Miller, who leads entertainment partnerships for Facebook across Europe, told us, "It's been a little over a week since we announced it - he gained half a million fans on his page that week."

Half a million new fans can't be wrong. Right?

Facebook hopes not - it's doing more 'entertainment partnerships' than ever before to "connect [celebrities] with their fans" and help them "get [their] content in front of [their] fans". The first UK event was with Jessie J some weeks ago, but Katy Perry, Madonna, Oprah and even President Obama have worked with Facebook in the US.

Beckham's event may be taking place live in London but it spans the globe: fans could tune in to watch the hour-long on-stage chat through Facebook from wherever they were in the world, but a select few hundred also won the chance to go to Facebook's offices in India, Brazil and New York City to get a personalised digital autograph and thirty-seconds of video chat with their idol.


"On the back end we were setting up RFID bracelets so everyone who came to the locations registered their Facebook profile with the RFID bracelet," Miller told us. "And once they registered it [at the event], it pushed out a message saying "I'm at the David Beckham digital book signing in..." whatever city they're at."

While a flurry of likes flood their notifications bar, Facebook's custom app is queuing up fans' personal details for Beckham himself to see once their turn to chat with him comes around.

News Editor (UK)

Former UK News Editor for TechRadar, it was a perpetual challenge among the TechRadar staff to send Kate (Twitter, Google+) a link to something interesting on the internet that she hasn't already seen. As TechRadar's News Editor (UK), she was constantly on the hunt for top news and intriguing stories to feed your gadget lust. Kate now enjoys life as a renowned music critic – her words can be found in the i Paper, Guardian, GQ, Metro, Evening Standard and Time Out, and she's also the author of 'Amy Winehouse', a biography of the soul star.