Thursday, March 12, 2009

About Face(book)

I have 67 friends.
I’ve never been driven to actually count the number of people in my life. But Facebook is.
I kind of accidently joined the popular social networking website a few months ago when I received an email with a “friend invitation.” Intrigued, I followed the link to a relatively simple registration and, voila! I was in.
In what, though?
Things were pretty quiet for several weeks and I, frankly, even forgot I had joined. But all of a sudden, my inbox started flooding with more invitations. Many were from folks I could see every day anyway, but an equal number came from a surprising worldwide mix of old acquaintances, friends of my two sons, and a smattering of people I hardly knew at all.
I briefly felt like Sally Fields when she gave her 1985 Oscar acceptance speech:
“You like me, right now, you really like me!”
But then, after I came to my senses, I decided to see if I could understand what online “social networking” is all about. My answer to this somewhat complex question is this:
I don’t really know.
According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, “(Facebook) users can join networks organized by city, workplace, school, and region to connect and interact with other people. People can also add friends and send them messages, and update their personal profiles to notify friends about themselves.”
To me, it’s kinda like this: Imagine you are in a big room. Everybody you know is in the same room...and they’re all talking at the same time.
A key feature on Facebook is a question at the top of your homepage that asks, “What are you doing right now?”
Well, it seems the logical answer would be “sitting in front of my computer trying to think of something to say,” but nobody seems to want to offer that. Users can also share pictures, notes, and other timely bits of flotsam from their lives, plus they can comment on the items posted by their friends. If I get a new friend or join a group, that’s reported, too. The messages, etc., which are then posted on every friend’s own page, range from informative and interesting bits of news to things that I’d survive quite nicely without ever knowing.
For instance, I was delighted to hear our friend Betty (note: all names changed to protect the privacy of my 67 friends) was in labor with her and Tom’s first child. I got to see pictures of their brand-new baby and add my congratulations to a list of good wishes sent from around the world. Less compelling, to me, at least, are the on-the-spot reports I’m now receiving on the baby girl’s diaper changes. But, I guess that’s the price you pay for being in the know.
The list of things I now know about those 67 friends of mine could go on. And on. And on. And it does.
And that can be a good thing. Sometimes.
I’m interested in the significant events in people’s lives that involve their families, jobs hobbies and pets, but I’m not sure if I really care about who’s hungover, mad at their spouse, doing their laundry or struggling with the sniffles. Nor do I think it’s always the best use of time when folks sit at their computers instead of getting out and doing a little “social networking” in a real, face-to-face way (as opposed to facebook-to-facebook.) It may well be my age and attitude that makes me a full step behind a brave new world that so freely replaces genuine human interaction, with all its mysteries and misunderstandings, with cyber-talk that leaves nothing to the imagination.
Meanwhile, I’d better check my page.
I might have missed something.

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