Tuesday, 24 February 2009

you have been tagged

Yesterday a friend posted this picture on Facebook and tagged me in it. I am the one wearing the bumpy fisherman knit sweater my Mum made. We are at a friend's cottage. I am pretty sure that I was still living in Ottawa when this was taken. I left Ottawa in 1980 so this might be 30 years ago. Or more. I am not sure how it is possible for someone as young as me to be in a photo from 30 years ago. But so it goes. When I saw this picture, I felt -- well I am not sure quite what I felt. Freaked out probably sums it up in a nice, non-specific way. I have been feeling that way (a way probably better explored in a therapist's office than on this blog, for all our sakes) around Facebook quite a bit lately.

I have been on Facebook for a couple of years now. For a long time I just kind of hung around the edges. I confirmed friend requests but rarely requested. I loved reading everybody's status updates but never updated my own. I threw baked beans and smelly socks at people, sent them drinks, vibrated their hamsters, sent them more cowbell, created gardens, ran from zombies and took care of my cyberpets. I knew most of my Facebook friends in real life (IRL) and we would insult each other in Shakespearean English and then laugh about it over dinner, much to the irritation of our friends not on Facebook.

All the while, I kept reading about the power of social networking. I heard people on panels talking about the amazing opportunities for connection and work and achievement to be found on sites like Facebook. I thought, "I guess I must be doing it wrong." I decided that in order to see how social networking really works I should do more socializing and more networking.

I decided to socialize and network my ass off for six months and see where it got me. I requested friendships from people I know through my work and people whose work intersects with mine, including those I have never met IRL. I joined lots of groups, I started a discussion group, added my blogs to the blog network, posted work-related articles and links. I tried out some cyber political activism and followed some of it up with some off-net work. And so on.

The six months was up in December. I thought that those panel experts meant I could use Facebook as a tool to face, or face down, the future. I thought that I would find my choir and that we would connect, organize, activate, mobilize and transform. But that did not happen. People point to the fact that young drivers, by joining a Facebook group, got Premier McGinty to back down on some legislation as an example of the power of Facebook. I wonder if it was just that Premier McGinty does not really understand what joining a group on Facebook means. Politicians have learned to ignore and dismiss petitions, letter/email writing campaigns and IRL protests outside the halls of power. I am sure they will learn to ignore and dismiss Facebook groups too.

For me, Facebook has become more about the past than the future. I have connected with people I have not seen in decades. Yes! Decades! Again, not sure how that is possible. After the friend request, the "OMG!" and the confirmation, usually nothing much happens. Sometimes there is a flurry of catching up messages and then we tell each other about stuff that makes us laugh, listen to music, invent games to keep ourselves amused, and make wisecracks. Which is pretty much what we did together 30 years ago.

I still check into my Facebook account at the end of the day. Sometimes in the middle too. I love to see who has left me a message or made a joke at my expense. I like to play the games and follow the memes. I have re-friended some truly beloved people and am happy to know them again, even in a silly, Facebook way. Maybe this is my choir. As one of those people said in a note, "With only a couple of exceptions, I still love pretty much everyone I ever did love." Me too.

Update: An article by a real NYT journalist about being middle-aged on Facebook versus Growing Up on Facebook. "William Faulkner, I suspect, would love it — Facebook, after all, is the best evidence yet of the undead past."

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