A colleague of mine, a very technically savvy guy, a gentleman some years younger than myself, told me last week that he did not have, nor had he ever had, a Facebook account. Even though his own wife, his 75 year old mother, and his two teenage daughters, all had Facebook accounts, he was resistant, and when I pressed him for why he’d never opted for an account, he told me he didn’t have time for such foolishness. What I wanted to say was, why is your time so much more valuable than that of your wife, your mother and your very own offspring, but before I could say that, he was gone, leaving me standing in the proverbial dust contemplating my own relationship with social media, Facebook in particular.
Having been a semi-faithful user of Facebook, almost from the start, I confess to having a love/hate relationship with it. Actually, love/hate is far too strong of a term to attribute to an online social networking service – maybe “like/don’t care so much for it” is better. Best not to give too much power to the relatively insignificant. In any event, for those readers who happen to have come of age after Al Gore laid down the information superhighway, let me briefly outline the way life was for us before we all became so interconnected.
During our elementary/high school/college years, and on into the work world, we made friends (or we tried to make friends). Sometimes we made friends that we stayed in touch with for the remainder of our adult lives, and in some cases we even married our friends, but in many cases, we lost touch with them. Upon parting with our friends, we would exchange telephone numbers and addresses, and say to one another that we would write and call, but lots of times that never ever happened. Life became hectic. People moved, and telephone numbers changed. Sometimes a letter to an old friend would be returned as undeliverable, or a call to an old friend would be made to a disconnected telephone.
As years ground on, with no word from our old friends, we would reminisce about them over coffee, or cocktails. We would think about so-and-so, and we would wonder if she ever made it into medical school, or if he ever wrote that novel, or if she ever opened that organic restaurant in the Catskills, or if he/she had really ever married that guy/girl that he/she dumped us for…
We would wonder such things, and occasionally we would find out the answers. Sometimes, we would get a card around the holidays from an old friend who had somehow unearthed our address. Or, perhaps late at night, we would get a call from the truck stop up on the Interstate. An old friend, having recognized the exit for our town had pulled off the road, and after finding our number in the local telephone directory (the one that was bolted and chained to the phone booth), had called us and we’d chatted for fifteen or twenty minutes about old times until he/she ran out of change.
Old Friends From Out Of The Blue (OFFOOTB), that’s what I called them. And on the flip side of it, we too were OFFOOTB to others, dropping in and out of old friends lives sporadically and when we did so, we were always on our best behavior, always wanting to put our best foot forward.
In those days, the following conversation would NEVER have occurred:
Phone rings. I answer.
“It’s me, Ralph. Ralph Thornwhistle.”
“Oh, hi,” I say, trying to remember if I owe anybody named Ralph any money.
“You remember me, right? From Mr. Bricker’s 3rd period biology class – 10th grade.”
“Oh hi Ralph. What’s it been, 42, 43 years now?”
“More like 45 old pal. Hey – do you want to hear the top ten reasons why Obamacare sucks…”
Ok, so maybe my example is a little extreme, but similar encounters seem to happen often online. I mention it here to illustrate how I am starting to view Facebook – I now know far too much about people that I’d almost forgotten about. And it’s not that I don’t care about maintaining contact with friends and family scattered afar, because I do. If there is one thing that Facebook, as well as other social media like Twitter and LinkedIn are doing very well, it is changing the entire dynamic of how we interact with each other on a long term basis. And if I had, in fact, stayed in contact with (fictitious) Ralph Thornwhistle for the past 45 years, I probably would not be as put off by his political views as I would be if they were suddenly dropped on me from out of nowhere, after accepting him as a Facebook friend. If he and I had kept up with each other over the years, maybe we would be friends in spite of our differences (always the best), or perhaps not.
Marriage counselors, family therapists, as well as pastors, priests, rabbis and anyone else who is in the business of listening to peoples marital woes report a surge in infidelity brought on by people who have hooked up with old lovers thanks to Facebook. And I suppose there is something to that, as it is hard to hook up with those we can’t locate, and Facebook has changed that. I know of two marriages that ended due to cheating spouses who ‘found ex-lovers’ on Facebook. Personally, I feel it is unfair to blame an online social networking service for marital discord. After all, people tempted to cheat have been doing so for…maybe 10,000 years.
But sometimes I do find that I would rather have just remembered some friends the way that I remember them, and not as I find them today. I also imagine that some of them feel the same about me.