Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Facebook Life

Social networking websites like MySpace and Facebook revolutionized communication by connecting people worldwide, organizing many specialized groups and affiliations like a massive community bulletin board that can be viewed by subscribers.
When I took a comedy class in 2006, the instructor touted MySpace as a great way for budding comics to network and alert other comics and potential fans about upcoming shows and appearances. Yet besides imbedding videos and customizing your page and increasing your friend list, it really felt limiting for me.
At my high school reunion last week, people were telling me I should get on Facebook, that it would be a great way to keep in touch with old friends. Little did they realize in that innocuous, innocent suggestion would turn into a new mania for me.
What MySpace lacked, Facebook had in abundance. It had a cleaner look, a more adult feel and resembled a networking site. You don’t go on Facebook to dazzle people with your wallpapers or imbedded tunes – you’re there to connect with others.
I joined Facebook last September, but rarely used it. The account just sat empty, unused and receiving no love.
That is until two days after the reunion, when I took the plunge and returned to Facebook. I found a few high school buddies and requested their friendship. Instant success! I posted a note on one of my friend’s message boards, something Facebook calls your “Wall”. Twenty-four hours later I had over 50 friends and was completely obsessed with Facebook for all the wrong reasons.
For the first few days, I started amassing Facebook friends. Don’t get me wrong; I want to keep in touch with my friends, but adding them to my Facebook friend’s list is only the icing on the networking cake.
The night I reconnected with Facebook, I reached out to everyone I knew, searching for their names and hoping they were members. To my surprise, many of the names I requested were already Facebook devotees, so requesting their friend status was only a mouse click away. One of the oddest things about Facebook is a verification process when you’re adding friends. Unlike Myspace, which only requires you to confirm an invite, Facebook forces you to type in two randomly generated words or numbers as a security check. Some of the combinations are bizarre like “calculation” and “Ennis” or Ferrabini” and “spelled” or “97” and “feeding”.
So there I was, adding more names every time I logged in.
Hours later, a sprinking of friends joined. I thought of more people I could add, and looked them up. People from my science fiction group, my gaming group, my co-workers at the newspaper, friends of friends and people I met only a few times. Success! After more requests, a few more joined and my friend totals edged upwards.
When I received my first few friend request, I felt honored. The more people I added, the more other people wanted my in their Facebook lives.
Sometimes you think you’d like to add someone, but they don’t want to be your friend. Facebook lets you confirm or reject them, and as with everything, rejection hurts, even if it’s from total strangers. One woman sent me a private message to my inbox that simply said, “do i even know you???”
That’s what people don’t get about Facebook: it’s a networking tool. You can use it to meet people, to chat and get to know them. I thought I knew this person when I requested her as a Facebook friend, but it turns out we were complete strangers.
Facebook users can fill out an information section that lets others know your preference for movies, interests, music, books, TV shows, where you went to school and work and whether you’re single or married or just looking for friends.
After a few days, I had over 70 friends and the total keeps climbing. I update my status, knowing all who care that I’m at work, or chilling out or going to bed. Whether they care to know this or not, Facebook provides a way to tell them.
That brings me to this final point: There’s something really quaint about Facebook. I’m connecting with people I haven’t seen or heard from since high school. Just seeing their photos and reading their stories and exchanging notes and messages is comforting, in a way. Without Facebook’s many individual pages, groups and networks, I might not know what became of them.
While not the greatest technological marvel of our age, it does allow us to reach out across the void and connect in a very human way, and there's something to be said about that. It's not a sterile, impersonal, automaton-like way technology is integrated into our lives.
It's fulfilling the human need to connect with each other, while at the same time allowing us to exchange photos of our pets.

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