Sunday, January 24, 2010

On Facebook

Apparently Facebook is the new place to announce your engagement

I've been thinking a lot about Facebook lately and social networking in general after I announced my engagement on the site in December. The flurry of congratulations from random people I have not seen in months or years was stunning. My childhood babysitter, a guy I coached baseball with for my son's team, some folks from college and high school. It all seemed a little bit odd. These are good people, all of them. And I love to see what is going on in their lives, but it did make me stop to think.

Why do people (myself included) who rarely buy birthday cards for people they see every day suddenly start posting birthday wishes for that cute girl from grade school who now lives in Montana, the wife of the guy who used to play in a band I like or the kid's teacher from 3 years ago? I get that it's convenient and way easier than a card and a stamp and writing and mailing and all, but really, why bother?

Three basic reasons, I think.

One is that Facebook helps us be the people we'd really like to be. You know the ones, the people who send cards for all the major holidays, keep up with what old friends are doing, know the ages of all their cousin's kids, make the best guacamole for parties and always seem to have great photos of the kids in the Christmas card. We can't every really be that person. He (more likely she) is a freak of nature akin to folks who can bench press cars and are 7 feet tall.

But yet, with a minimum of effort, Facebook lets us pretend to be that person, even in the most diluted way.

The second reason is that Facebook is all about helping us connect with who we used to be. It's a lot less about who we are today than who we used to be, or even who we wanted to be back then. It opens up a lot of windows into the past, where we see ourselves 15 pounds lighter with 80s hair and a goofy smile on our faces. Some of those windows are best left closed, like the ex who was kinda weird and stalkerish or the former boss who drunkenly hit on you once but never mentioned it again. Best to just click ignore on those folks.

We still seem to end up with an army of people we sorta remember from high school and people we didn't really hang out that much with in college to go with the people we don't talk to much at work, the assistant coach's wife and the contractor that did a lousy job on the door. Facebook is the way the geek from chem. Class gets to talk to the star quarterback or the hall monitor gets to chat it up with the hot cheerleader, albeit 20 years too late.

Bottom line is that it's a continuous class reunion, with all the fun chatter, awkward remembrances and naughty possibilities running 24/7 on your netbook in the living room while the kids do homework and your spouse is on the Wii Fit.

The final reason that we all say happy birthday to the jerk father of the jerk kid from the soccer team and join causes we could care less about is that Facebook easily fulfills our basic need to just belong to something, to connect with others and be somehow larger than the person in the existence we have today. It's a pretty basic human need. Facebook is the bridge club and afternoon corner tavern of this generation. None of us bowl anymore, but we all play Farmville and tell the world about our latest Bejeweled score.

And in the pale blue light of the LCD screen, that is what passes for connection and human bonding as we move into the second decade of this millennium.


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