Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Embracing Facebook, Or, How I Learned to Love the Bomb

I've been thinking a lot lately about the Internet and mobile computing. Many declaim the fact that we are turning into a society of people that are always on, always connected. A Facebook friend recently mentioned that he had been thinking about new generations of people that would grow up this way; he wondered what that would be like, how it would change their lives to be always in touch with everyone. All.the.time. Forever.

And this thought is mentioned other places, as well. In a recent article, NY Times columnist Peggy Orenstein writes about "Growing up on Facebook", and the way that this first generation of kids 'growing up on Facebook' is changing the way people become adults. There are no hidden secrets in this process; kids now won't have a time of anonymity to become who they will be in the future. But won't it be so interesting to find out how much more people can become when they have the ability to communicate easily?

Communication = Connectedness

Isn't that the point of life? It's not how much money we have, not the fame or status we have, not the sheer numbers of virtual friends we have, but the quality of our communication and the deep connections that we make.

You can't make deep connections on the Internet, right? Ha! What did people do in the age before trains, jet planes? What did they do before they could travel and see their friends and acquaintances face-to-face on a regular basis? They wrote. Long, long letters. They wrote about their thoughts, their feelings, their politics - but they also wrote about the banal, trivial things of everyday life. How the weather was that morning. How little Johnny skinned his knee and needed a lot of comforting before he calmed down.

The only thing different about our communication today is the instantaneousness of it all. We no longer need the lengthy, one sided monologue of old-time communication.

The Quality of Communication

Shouldn't we always be listening? This is what the Internet, and therefore, places such as Facebook or Twitter allow you to do. Yes, we may not need to know that you've just ordered a pizza, or that you're bored and can't find anything to do.

Get over it. That's not really what these places are about.

You learn to skim; you laugh a bit, then move to the next. But when you learn the value of comments, whether it be on a blog post or on a twitter update, or commenting on someone's Facebook status - this is where the value begins.

I'm better at writing. I always have been. School was wonderful for me - I soaked up all that knowledge - but it was the inbetween times where I was frequently miserable. The times outside of the structure, where we met with each other, on the playground, at our lockers, waiting for the bell to ring for class to start. Adolescence can be a terrible thing; it can turn a happy-go-lucky book reading nerd into a self-conscious, painfully shy, feeling like you're going to die if anyone notices you, book reading nerd. I luckily made it through, and emerged into my life-shaping twenties. I started to become the person I always really was.

Then Came the Internet

Back in the mid-nineties, I joined my first RP community. I had friends all over the globe - Australia, England, and of course, from various United states. All of these fun, intelligent, quirky people found their voices on the Internet. And I started listening.

Almost 10 years later, along comes Facebook. I started slow. Found some professional connections, local connections. Then I found a friend from High School. Mind you, I didn't go to my 10 year reunion; why would I? I hated those people. But this Facebooking, this new way of communicating, slowly and invidiously invaded my 'new life'. I continued the listening that I had learned through roleplaying. And I learned to comment. Weeks, and then months passed, and I was commenting like mad. I was communicating. And all of a sudden, I realized that I love all these people!!

What the Internet Really Means

Living is all about the communication, the relationships. The interwebz allow you to do that - constantly.

You can be frivolous or sarcastic. You can have a blast. But you can also find help and advice. You can reach out. You can help others.

People talk about information overload; what they forget to say is that you can stop. Take a breather. Facebook will be there when you get back. The times that we are with others only makes the alone time more delicious.

The detractors of social media may not take the time to understand it, and that is a shame. What is this world if it weren't for the connections we make here?