Archive for February, 2009

Fazed by Facebook

About six weeks ago I got a page on Facebook.  The impetus was that I successfully attempted to reconnect with an old friend so I could send his family a Christmas letter.  He responded to my initial email with a brief update on his family and an encouragement to keep in touch with him via Facebook, as that’s how he keeps in touch with friends these days.

That made perfect sense.  When you have a family of your own, you really don’t have the time or inclination to individually keep up with all your old friends.  Yet you do want to know how they’re doing and keep up with the big milestones and highlights in their lives.  Basically, you want the Christmas letter.

With that in mind, I registered with Facebook and promptly invited him to be my friend.  I noticed a mutual friend on his profile, so I invited her as well.  Within days, not only did those two confirm they knew me, but a number of other friends from college who I hadn’t spoken to in years found me and invited me to be their Facebook friend.

At first I was thrilled.  From one web site I’d get to reconnect and catch up with quite a few people I’d lost touch with.

But that’s not quite how it turned out, at least not so far.  I’ve actually found it rather difficult to navigate around Facebook, and it seems as if every time I check my page, the buttons are in different places.  Then it seems as if the template is deliberately designed to be uninformative.  You have this prominent comment box where you can type in what you’re doing right now in forty words or less.  You read a lot of “Had a rough day at work,” “about to spend some time alone with my wife,” “my kids have the sniffles,” “my headache is gone,” or “my husband is getting over his giardia.”  With the exception of the last one (that friend and her husband are missionaries somewhere in rural Asia), I didn’t feel as if I really learned anything new about anyone.

Facebook has this way of equalizing all your relationships, and it’s something I haven’t adapted to.  I have friends in town (not Facebook friends) who I see and talk to regularly, like once or twice a week.  When I call up one of those friends, we often do talk about very mundane, daily life matters.  Maybe I’m calling a friend to arrange some babysitting, or I’m wanting to get together for coffee, or I noticed she seemed a bit down when I saw her that morning.  Catching up is a matter of what happened in her life in the last few days, and usually about the most exciting thing is that her kids got the sniffles or have a fever.  Aah the dilema of do I take them to the doctor or let it run its course?

When I speak to a friend who lives far away, and who I don’t talk to as often, the conversation is very different.  I want to know what happened in her life since I talked to her last.  What were the big events, big insights, areas of personal or spiritual growth?  Is she dating anyone?  Is his wife expecting?  Did she graduate from college, or is that next year?  Did he make a major life decision or change jobs?  A few daily things get thrown into the conversation but that’s not the primary focus.  We’re not talking about what happened in the past few days, but rather the past few months or years.  Very different conversation.

On Facebook, no matter who the friend is or what your actual relationship is, the “conversation” and information gathered follows the path of a friend that you interract with on a daily basis.  What you learn by visiting a friend’s page is what they were doing in the last twenty-four hours, with very little detail.

It was the weirdest experience for me to check a few friends’ pages who I used to be close to but hadn’t spoken to in several years.  I learned a bit about their day at work but not anything about where they were working or what it entailed.  I saw pictures of their children but couldn’t find any mention of the children’s names.  I saw comments posted by their local friends about scheduling or rescheduling an appointment.  It actually felt like I was eavesdropping, only I’d been invited to eavesdrop.

One time I took my girls to the park and got into a conversation with a guy who was pushing his child on the swing.  We talked a bit about what our respective spouses did at work and balancing the whole parenting/work thing.  In the course of the conversation he mentioned that his wife would be finishing her workday in about an hour and that he’d be taking his kids home soon to fix some dinner.

Suddenly this woman walked right up to him.  He put his arm around her and very sweetly asked her how her day had gone.  Then he turned to me and introduced me to his friend.  I remember thinking:  “Yuck, he’s having an affair right in front of me at the park!”  OK, I don’t know that for sure, but there’s something really intimate about asking someone how their day went.  It implies that you know them well and that you have a sense of context because you knew how their yesterday had gone and you’ll be asking about their tomorrow as well.  It’s the sort of thing I ask my husband when he gets home from work.  It’s the sort of thing I don’t ask most other people.

On Facebook, I feel as if I’m that woman walking up to every single Facebook friend indiscriminately and asking them how their day went.  There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that; it just feels out of place to me.  And then I don’t really learn anything because I don’t have the relationship with them to have any context in which to understand what they are telling me about their day–not in the single sentences Facebook seems to prefer.

So I have mixed feelings about my first foray into the internet based social networking world.  I definitely like the idea of reconnecting with old friends.  But it seems I have different expectations about what it means to reconnect.  I don’t want to act as if I now know them intimately again, because I don’t.  I want to acknowledge the long gap in the relationship and reconnect in the way good old friends would outside of the internet.

I want the Christmas letter, and Facebook is more about sticky notes tacked to the fridge.


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