New York magazine ran an interesting cover story recently on Facebook, but it was the letter column response to it that made me want to make some kind of public statement about my experience with Facebook. The response ran 50/50 pro/con, with the con side, espressed thusly: "Facebook pimps friendship to lonely populations of captive screen-heads ... How are we supposed to form meaningful relationships with people when we only connect online?" The pro folks called that "such an old-person take on Facebook ... Facebook is whatever you make of it."
First, I must admit to being one of the much-discussed over-40 users (hell, who am I kidding, I'm an over-50 user) who have been adopting Facebook in exponentially increasing numbers lately. I have no doubt that if I was 18, my take on all this might be different. But I got sucked into Facebook for two reasons: 1) my current job, library cataloger, is one that has taken me away from contact with the public. It's my first office cubicle job, and after many years of working in retail and teaching, I thought I'd like the relative isolation, but oddly, I've discovered I miss some of the hustle and bustle of humanity; 2) my partner and I don't have a lot of "real-life" friends whom we see regularly. We have a "Games Night" group that we get together with once a month, and a couple who, for no particular reason that I know of, we see much less of than we used to, lives diverging and all, I guess.
So one might think I'm one of those lonely screen-heads using online social networking to pretend I have a life. I don't think that's quite accurate. First of all, just because Facebook contacts are called "friends" doesn't mean that I really think of most of them as friends. Some are friends, people I know and like. Some are folks I've met online in one way or another, in e-mail groups or Usenet groups of the past. The most interesting potential here is getting back in touch with people from my past, and I have done some of that. But after the initial flurry of catching-up communication, contact dies down. Out of a dozen such people who are current Facebook friends, only 3 or 4 are still actively in contact with me; most of them seem not to be posting much of anything on Facebook at all.
The other way I've used Facebook (and Twitter, which is a whole other blog post) is to attempt to make contact with people who have similar interests (libraries, cataloging, old movies, pop music). I've realized this is an attempt to make my Facebook page something very much like one of the old Usenet groups I got so wrapped up in back in the '90s. The problem is that, unless all my contacts actually "friend" each other, they don't see each other's posts, so it's not like an online social group at all. And, of course, few of these people have taken my bait and begun any kind of active exchange. This has been a disappointment to me, but I have to face the fact that, just as gay people have little in common with each other except being gay, librarians have little in common with each other except our occupation. I do have fun during the work day (during the very few moments when I actually allow myself to be distracted by Facebook--insert knowing emoticon here) reading others' posts and chatting occaisonally, mostly with people in the very building in which I work, some of whom I consider "real-life" friends, which I guess brings me back to the beginning...
While I'm sure there are people who have Facebook "friends" rather than real-life friends, I suspect most people in my age range use it for networking, or for having fun, or for instant messaging, or for sharing photos, or just expressing themselves. The one thing I do every workday on Facebook is post a list of the songs I hear on the way into work in the morning (and when I think of it, I do the same thing when I get home in the evening). I love pop music and I love my iPod, packed with thousands of songs, and I love having it set on "alphabetical" play by title, which is in essence like having it on random shuffle. I never know what I'm going to hear next, and I am usually surprised and delighted by the outcome. Most of my Facebook friends probably think my iPod lists are crazy or stupid or annoying, but at least a few have told me they enjoy seeing them, and at any rate, I'm gonna keep doing it because expressing myself even if no one is listening is my third reason for using Facebook (and blogging).
The New York article is interesting, and I may have a part 2 to this post coming soon.