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Facing up to Facebook
April 1, 2009 - Rick Chatenever
Facebook has been all over the news lately. Coverage ranges from the business pages marveling at its growth rate of a million new users — a day — to this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, which graded Facebook’s new home page (it got a D).
Everyone’s trying to figure out what Facebook’s all about. Or, even, just what it is. It’s like this thing among us. Or, maybe, all things to all people.
It’s usually described in terms of social networking or cyber communities, concepts that didn’t exist a few years ago. Some people use it to connect far-flung branches of their family genealogies. Others use it to announce where their rock band will be playing next Friday. It spawns political protests and movements, not to mention, rants. It recently provided key evidence in solving a robbery.
Now that people my age have discovered it and are crowding in on the kids, it may morph into a cyberspace knitting circle.
For the time being, it’s your guarantee of those elusive 15 minutes of fame. It’s celebrity, as a do-it-yourself project. It’s your personal People Magazine. You provide your own paparazzi.
I got to Facebook a few months ago after hearing simultaneously from my daughter in Montana and my nephew in California, “Some woman is trying to find you.”
She put my name into the friend finder, and got their names instead. “Cyber stalking,” explained a teckkie friend. So I signed up (it’s ridiculously easy) to get the relatives out of harm’s way.
Turns out, the person the woman was looking for was a 12-year-old kid from her ballroom dancing class that she remembered from 50 years ago. No kidding. It’s like those high-school reunion Web sites, offering the promise of the life you might have had — instead of the one you got — if only you had made other choices. If only …
Funny thing was, once I signed on, I started hearing from all these people wanting to be my Friend. The other funny thing was, a lot of them already were my friends.
“This is a little embarrassing,” wrote one. “But it’s a good way of staying in touch, it’s fun … and it becomes addictive.”
Being a newbie, I turned to my daughter for tips about Facebook etiquette. Do you automatically say yes to everyone who wants to be your Friend? Is it rude to say no, or ignore them? Are there manners in cyberspace?
I’ve tried it both ways. And have discovered that when you just say yes, you’re going to get a lot — and by that I mean, a lot — of information.
Turns out, a Friend isn’t necessarily a friend.
When you log in on Facebook, the first thing it asks is, “What’s on your mind?” It used to ask, “What are you doing right now?”
I always leave that part blank, but some Friends answer the question, every time. They obviously assume someone cares. They answer in great, intimate, sometimes inane and occasionally embarrassing detail. None of my Friends has actually answered, “Right now, I’m going to the bathroom” — at least not literally.
Which causes other Friends to wonder whether Facebook might have had its origins an ancient Greek mythology, when Narcissus first said, “Hey, who’s the handsome dude in the pool?”
Partly it’s a generational thing. People of a certain age don’t worry that those photos of all the fun they had last Friday can indeed be held against them at some future job interview. Which causes people of another age to ask, “O Modesty, where art thou?” The trade-off — some might call it the price you pay —for celebrity after all, is privacy.
Lately, my Facebook page has been making me feel like a wallflower at what was supposed to be my own party.
It’s all about loneliness, my cynical ol’ daddy ventured. It’s about desperately wanting to connect, even though as Drew Barrymore recently observed in “He’s Just Not That Into You,” it also provides one more avenue for getting rejected.
Whatever it’s all about, there’s probably some correlation between all these stories in the news about Facebook, and all those other stories about newspapers going under.
But no time to think about that now. I’ve got something else to do. Like my friend said, it gets addictive.
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org
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