Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I’m Two-Faced About Facebook

Social networking is a phenomenon that is clearly not going to go away. And Facebook – with how many registered faces now? more than 65 million? – is the biggest party in cybertown. It will get bigger, too. No doubt about it. There are no capacity issues when the party is taking place in a virtual dance hall.

I resisted signing up for a long time. The concept didn’t hold much value for me. Besides, I have enough trouble keeping up with the friendships I could be enjoying in person or over the phone. Do I need this added sense of social responsibility?

But when the prep school I attended created a Facebook community, I began to flirt with the idea of joining. Part of the draw was the fact that the prep school no longer exists, so the virtual alumnae association had no competition off-line. The dealmaker, though, occurred when I realized that – in lieu of a picture of my actual face – I could associate my profile with the cover of my novel. Anything to help market The Somebody Who.

So I joined Facebook probably a year and a half ago. And for a while, I visited somewhat regularly. I don’t regret my early activities in that most popular cyberland. Last April, I reunited with a friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years and hadn’t been in touch with for probably fifteen years. And in October, while I was in Virginia, I had lunch with one of my best buddies from elementary school and junior high. I had last seen her at my wedding, in 1987.

I’m grateful that I have found both these friends. But I also know that I probably could have found them without Facebook.

I should also mention, as long as I’m just a paragraph away from the subject of my marriage, that yes, my ex (since 1994) has a Facebook page. And yes, I’ve perused it.

This is the part of Facebook that makes me feel particularly uncomfortable. I am able to look at photographs that have nothing to do with my current life. I am able to see which friends belong to whom. I am participating in a collective surrendering of privacy, and so I am part of the problem.

But, when you think about it, the surrendering of privacy in this realm is fairly tame. There’s just not a lot of highly personal stuff revealed in most of the postings. Take, for example, some of these comments I’ve seen in the News Feed:

“It’s Friday!”

“I’m so bored.”

and (drum roll, please)

“Fixing dinner...”

About five or six months ago, I stopped visiting Facebook on a regular basis. I still occasionally (very occasionally) get a direct message from someone, and when I do, it appears in my email. I’m cool with that. And I’m even inclined to respond.

But the postings that show up on a daily basis? I don’t know that this is our greatest moment as a species.

…Chances are I already know it’s Friday.

…If you’re bored and you choose to announce it, I will likely remember what my mother used to say to me: “Katie, bored people are often boring.”

…As for your dinner? Gee, I sure hope you take pictures when it’s done!

I realize that, in sharing these comments, I might lose a few “friends.” But in the world of Facebook, I’m actually not even sure what it means anymore to have a “friend.”


wizardofwords said...

Interesting reading your blog, Katie.

I think the key point to make about the value of FB (and other forms of social media) is that I can pretty much bet that you would NOT have looked up those long-lost friends unless they had appeared before you via FB.

We are all so busy (or appear to be) that many relationships unfortunately go by the wayside, and it is often the ones with whom we can find/create/maintain a virtual connection that we will find ourselves spending in-person time with. It's just easier and faster than picking up the phone or trying to find people via other means.

Karen said...

Those are some good points about Facebook. I have recently been spending less time on it myself, but it does help when you need to give a quick shout out to a friend. I guess all this technology has its pluses and minuses. Thanks for writing about it!

gouima said...

Wow, Katie what you say is truth! I too feel as though I am surrendering privacy through the networks of social networking, a chance I am now willing to take!

How authentic is facebook? The same person who equates to being a friend may in fact be your worst enemy!

I guess it is an improtant skill to stand grounded within your own knowing and trust the good outweighs the bad; afterall, life is a huge chance!

How successful was facebook in helping achieve your book-selling objectives?

Anonymous said...

I am reluctant to gather too many friends on my own Facebook account and use it mainly for keeping in touch with those close to me, my five children and their husbands/ boyfriend/ girlfriends, my sisters and in-laws. (recent publicity makes me wonder who else sees everything!)

Great for sharing photographs and keeping tabs on my son at University.

I have been in touch with a couple of people from years back but on the whole, I think it is a phase which will simply lead to another phase. Participate or not, "it'll all be the same in a hundred years," as my grandmother used to say.(meaning, I think, what matters all this when we are dead amd gone?)That's probably not a very PC or Green thing to say nowadays!

I do remember when AOL brought in the chat rooms years ago and I could be found online at 2am chatting to someone in San Jose. That opened the doors for a three week trip to California about which I fully intend to write a book in the near future... so I have mixed views on the usefulness of these things -

I am sitting on the fence as ever hee hee!

Anonymous said...

Facebook, like cell phones, are a great idea gone bad - or batty. Truly a case of too much information thrown ata lot of people that really don't care. My life is NOT that exciting or enticing and to pretend otherwise is pompous of me. (And as for "Twitter"? Twittering is for twits...I don't need that you cut your toenails and woke up the dog.)

I'm all for going back to the ancient cave paintings of days of yore as communication.

Great article, La Gates!