This will be my last post regarding Facebook, at least for the time being. I promise.
In the meantime, here is some background.
Pretend it is 2002 again. Yes, that is seven years ago. What were you doing? Who were you friends with? What were they doing? Me, I was joining Friendster. You probably never heard of Friendster. It was Facebook’s grandmother’s love child. A co-worker, whom I held in high esteem, turned me on to this website in which I could be “friends” with all of my “friends” on Friendster. It truly was a novel idea. I could post comments, invite other friends to join and have a little network all my own—my own Friendster world that included my friends from far and near. We all would reconnect online in this virtual community and relive college or high school or last night’s emptying of bottles of vodka. It was a great idea. I was fully on board.
I had perhaps 50 friends—at the most—in my Friendster network. The network itself was cool in that it showed how different friends or non-friends were linked together through other people. A true outing of the chain that links us all together. I went through my email address book and urged everyone I knew to join Friendster. This new thing would revolutionize the way we socialized and kept in touch.
Soon, another friend urged me to check out her MySpace profile. I distinctly remember thinking that this MySpace website was nowhere near as interesting as Friendster, and there was no need for me to be involved in the MySpace experience. After all, she was my only friend on MySpace. The crowd remained lodged at Friendster. I did join MySpace that day, however, just to keep abreast of what this one friends was up to. (I have always been distractingly interested in my friends’ happenings.) Plus, I was a copy editor, the more screen breaks I could get from the daily drudge of potential newspaper articles was welcoming.
So, now I had an active profile on Friendster and another not-so-active profile on MySpace. Yet, I had few friends who were truly interested in also being active participants in the online friend world that went beyond instant messaging on MSN and Yahoo! Instant Messanger, so soon, my activity waned. I became comfortable with standard modes of keeping in contact with friends and relatives: email, telephone, personal visits, and even snail mail. I felt good about this. I felt in touch. We won’t even have to mention my brief association with Flickr.
Then, twin babies and a move to Iowa came along. At the same time a maelstrom of technological change swept over the nation, and my head was buried in the sand. It no longer became enough to email or talk on the phone. You now had to send text messages through your cell phone. You also had to post short video clips on YouTube to get any notice. But I was delayed and distracted by diapers and spit up and Baby Einstein and sleepless nights. My social interaction became null and void.
And when I started graduate school in the fall of 2007 I was confronted with a new reality. Facebook.
I didn’t even know what Facebook was at first. I sort of understood it to be something along the lines of MySpace, but I thought everyone was on MySpace. How many social networking sites does the world need anyway? A few weeks of scholarly research later, I discovered that Facebook really had grabbed ahold of the market. It had a history—and a following. It was so popular that presidential candidates were using it to get their messages out to the people. The politicos had tapped into this communication medium in a way that actually made sense to people because this was how people were communicating with each other.
I was shocked. I could not believe that in my absence from the living world everyone had gravitated to Facebook. Why had they not just latched on to MySpace or Friendster? Why had they waited so long? Why Facebook, and why can’t we just go back to talking on the phone and emailing? Life was complcated enough!
It seems strange now, thinking back, that I felt such hostility toward a silly website (to which I am now, I admit, addicted). But I was indeed being forced to shift my mode of communication—to conform to others’ preference with which I was not comfortable. And then the peer pressure began. “Why are you not on Facebook?” “Won’t you just join Facebook? Then we can just keep in touch.” “Everybody is on it, you should get on it, too.”
I resisted for more than a year. I tossed the invitations out like moldy bread. I told everyone, and myself, that I had issued a boycott against Facebook, not just to the site itself, but to what it stood for. I wanted real communication. Real intereaction. Realness. Not virtual, cyberspace blather that clogged the fiber optic cable running underneath the Pacific Ocean. The truth, as it turned out, was I missed my friends. I missed my network, and I was more than perturbed that people had not joined up during the Friendster era, or even the MySpace era. That they had collectively jumped on the Facebook bandwagon and taken it for the proverbial ride through the park without me. And, not only that, but in order to be kept in the loop I needed to join. There would be no other way in which I could be intimately involved in my friends’ lives without joining Facebook. What an outrage!
But then I succumbed. I joined. It’s old news by now, and I have recovered from the initial shock of it. I have accepted my fate. My redemption is the recovery of relationships with friends, some of whom I have not seen or spoken to in 15 years. It’s an interesting undertaking, and there’s much less responsiblity that goes into it now than I had during the Friendster years. I am no longer the pusher, I am a joiner, or perhaps a follower. And, while I would still rather catch up on the last 15 years with that girl from high school over a beer or a cup of coffee, I will take what I can get. And that is Facebook.