A Brief Unauthorized Personal History of Facebook – What’s it to You?
I would have said I first heard about Facebook late in the last century, say 1996 – it seems that long ago. But I refreshed my memory with a startling fact – it was 2004 when it got started at Harvard University by that hoodie fellow and some “friends”. Thanks to the “Social Network” movie everyone knows his name, so I won’t mention it here. Besides, I did say this is a personal history.
I heard about it reading The New Times in print or online. College kids were using Facebook to communicate with each other, and I thought, “Yeah? What’s wrong with email?” I’d been using email since the mid 80′s. It worked for me -what ‘s the deal?
I figured it out eventually, – like – if you want to party or find out who’s having a party Faceboook would be quicker than sending emails to individuals. Okay. But being a person who always thinks of the down side, I also thought, “Yeah, but what if you don’t want “everybody” to know.? Apparently that is not so important anymore.
The next thing I knew, Facebook was spreading downwards to younger kids, and younger and younger.
So much so, I learned via the New York Times online site, some parents were joining Facebook as well – only partly to see what their kids were up to. Didn’t like that at all, but it was out of control. I mean, out of control! Wikipedia says that as of July 2011, Facebook had more than 800 million active users, and according to a report on ConsumersReports.org on May 2011, there were 7.5 million children under 13 with accounts, (I know some of them personally) – violating the site’s terms.
Now it’s not just people, it’s businesses, corporations, communications networks, The New York Times itself – every where you go on line and everything you hear on the radio or on television – everywhere, you hear, “And come visit us on Facebook.”
I will deal with this last statement immediately: I cannot imagine why on earth I would want to visit “them” on Facebook. Maybe I’m missing something, but I suspect most companies, most for-profit industries, most all of them would really want to sell me something, and I don’t want to go there.
In fact, after being a registered member of Facebook for a while, I am now contemplating giving it up. Contemplation deserves a full inquiry, right? So why did I join Facebook in the first place, why have I stayed (almost to the point of addiction), and why leave?
When I click on Facebook to see what’s new with my nearest and dearest, most of whom are not near enough to hug, I land on my “News Feed” page where I do indeed find some news about people I love, people who are my “friends” because they agreed to “friend me”. There are old friends, new friends, real friends to share with. Or perhaps the possibilities. I haven’t experienced a whole lot of that. And I also treasure being able to “get to know” some members of my extended family, some of whom I have never met in person even though they are “close”. “Close” simply isn’t what it used to be when families stayed in the same place and everyone attended the weddings, celebrated the births, and mourned the deaths together.
But mostly what has kept me on Facebook has been the very great pleasure of tuning in to see that my grand kids are having a great time at camp or are thrilled with their new job or they are meeting their friends (no quotes) for fun. And yet, it is distinctly uncomfortable to know that they really truly do not have me in mind when they post this information.
Somehow it reminds me of that decade of my life on the farm on Prince Edward Island where we experienced the “party line”, the telephone that is, not politics. We might go to the phone to make a call and come upon a conversation already in progress. Or we might be involved in a conversation ourselves when a neighbor would pick up the phone to inquire, “Line pizzy?” Sometimes we might all pick up the phone at once, not sure whether that ring was two short ones and a long one, or one long one and a short,or a short and then a long?
On Facebook, it seems to me, one never knows – “Hey, are you talking to me?”
On the “News Feed” recently, a “friend” enquired if anyone (I presumed that meant me but I wasn’t all that sure) had any background in a certain area because that person had a question to ask. There were several responses, all of them indicating that there didn’t seem to be anyone out there with the information requested. (The question had not yet been asked.) It was something I did have background in, but somehow I knew the person did not really have “me” in mind. Mind you, it was not a personal issue – it was actually quite general. Something like, say, has anyone out there ever used Ivory Soap? Should I or shouldn’t I announce my availability? I pondered. And finally I sent a simple response: “Me” I wrote. “Ask”.
The person never did ask or mention the topic again. In fact, the next “status” post, several days later, indicated that person was seriously considering quitting Facebook.
Yes, I took it personally. Can’t help it. I thought, “Hmmnn! Facebook is kinda like a bulletin board you pass in the hall where people you know are posting all kinds of personal observations, questions, plans, and procedures. You scan it as you go by and see – “Oh, there’s something from…….” a friend, perhaps a relative. You stop to check it out….and you get the creepy feeling it is not meant for your eyes…and you are embarrassed.
Well, maybe not you – but I am. It’s not the nature of the message that embarrasses me – I don’t mind that bulletin boards have changed from places where you announce you are looking for someone to share an apartment or to share car expenses on a trip to New York or Toronto to a place where you can express how tired and depressed you are, how sick you are with the flu, or anything even more personal than that. As a psychotherapist I’m certainly not offended by expressions of feeling. But…then what?
Facebook was invented for college kids by college kids. Their territory has been invaded by the rest of us, younger and older, private and corporate. And yet there are those who “own” it. And they are all younger than I am.
With “friends” who are relatives, close or distant, sometimes the measure is not merely geographical. sometimes the distance in age speaks louder than any other. Some, for example, very close to middle age will complain, after a day of vigorous exercise, that they “feel like an 80 year old”, and I restrain myself from commenting that on my recent 81st birthday I walked 20 minutes to the pool, did 40 laps (1000 metres), walked 25 minutes to the hair salon and then 20 minutes home, and then went out to dinner, and I felt fine.
So what am I doing on Facebook? Am I leaving? Am I staying? Just checking for news about my loved ones who are too busy to call or write. That bulletin board is there for all the world to see. Don’t tell me to keep my eyes straight forward and mind my own business. Not in this world!
©Elaine A. Zimbel 2011
I don’t have thousands of “friends” on Facebook. I don’t have a single one I don’t know personally although there are some great distances in age, more important perhaps than those in geography.
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