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To Be or Not To Be…on Facebook?

Julie is going to write about Facebook today.Julie is starting her article this way in order to explain to everyone that it is not normal to write about oneself in the third person, as one is prompted to do on Facebook. Julie once had a tennis coach who taught entire lessons in the third person. “Watch Pat hit the ball!” the pro would say. Julie would start scanning all the courts for someone hitting the ball, thereby missing her own teacher as he served. The lessons confused Julie and she never really learned how to play tennis well as a result.

Julie has lots of things to say about Facebook. *****Phew. That’s about as much as I can take of myself in the third person. I am a bit concerned that, if you are unfamiliar with Facebook, the above exercise just went over your head. You didn’t get it. You didn’t think it was funny. And then I thought, well, then too bad for you. Facebook has over 175 million users, so even if you aren’t a member, you should really be up to date on these things. It’s a phenomenon of ginormous proportions. According to recent statistics, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is their 35-54 year old segment, which grew at a rate of 172.9% in the first half of 2008 and then doubled to a growth rate of 276.4% by January of 09. That kind of rapid acceleration has to be worth something. I fit in (the low end of) that demographic. So naturally, I had to take a look. After some coaxing through the form of an online tutorial from my high school friend Sarah, I joined Facebook this past January. I did so for a number of reasons. One: I am always looking for a good topic for this column, and I thought Facebook might give me some solid nuggets. Stories are always on my mind. Two: after my high school reunion, Facebook quickly became the natural meeting place for old friends. The irony of this isn’t lost on me. I had lived just fine without any knowledge of these people for the past 20 years. Now I know strange and somewhat intimate details of their everyday lives, sometimes every day of their lives. When someone from my high school class is making soup in California, or scores an 8 out of 10 on a Brady Bunch trivia quiz, I hear about it. Snow on the first day of Spring? I can tell you that no one was happy about that. Where to go to get the best Sweedish meatballs? Ikea. That one came with pictures posted next to the comments so I could see how good those meatballs tasted. I’m not sure that’s fair, actually. “Mmmm…I’m eating something awesome right now.” What’s missing? “And you aren’t. Hahaha.” Actually, I like Facebook best when there is a hint of Schaedenfreud involved. A friend in Vermont is having a hard time getting her kids to fall asleep? I am on the verge of writing back: sucks to be you right now! Another friend tried making homemade hamantashen and now her kitchen is a mess and the pastries look disgusting? I tell her I’ve been there, done that. Now I buy them at the bakery. I also like having a leg up on local gossip. The other day my mom called to tell me that an old friend of mine was getting married. I practically yawned in her face. “Mom, that news is, like, so last month! She’s been having trouble finding just the right green for the bridesmaids’ dresses.” “How do you know all of that? She lives halfway around the world!” “She and I are friends on Facebook. Duh!” was my unkind response. “And, did you know that she’s been to 47 of the 50 United States?” My husband Brett did not want me to join Facebook. He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to compete with all that social noise, and that somehow, once I entered the portal, I would be lost to him forever. “You don’t trust me?” I asked him point blank one evening. “You think I won’t write my dissertation anymore, or remember to get the kids from school, or write my articles for the paper, or pretend to go to the gym like I always do if I join Facebook?” “I’m not saying that, exactly….” He looked sheepish. “Okay. I am saying that. I think you will succumb.” “Dude: it’s not a cult.” I rolled my eyes. “Get over yourself. I’ll be just fine.” Brett continued. “My real fear is that you’ll become one of those people who talks about Facebook with people who aren’t on Facebook and don’t care about Facebook. Like me. The only way I’ll be able to reach you is virtually.” Now, it is true that Facebook is the ultimate timesuck. It’s like an online college dorm, with people pranking each other and knocking on each others’ doors to chat about bs while in their pj’s. The best thing about college was that, no matter the time of day, there was always someone around to hang out with. And in some ways, Facebook is like that. It is an amazing tool for social networking in a technocratic world, and it’s available 24/7. But I have to say that, for me at least, it’s not quite like going into a room filled with actual people and calling out, “Hey! Is anyone in here up for some beer pong?” Maybe it’s just a function of my age. When I was growing up, friends had to call me at home if they wanted to reach me, and I had to do the same to get in touch with them. I remember being so nervous about getting a boy’s parents on the phone that I actually had to write out a little script for myself about what to say if one of them answered. (And then I needed a second script of what to talk about with that boy.) Nowadays, kids seem to skip this step in the social equation. I have a friend who is the mother of two teenagers, and she’s amazed by how quiet her home is, even with tons of socializing going on. “No one ever calls the house,” she said recently. “I have a hard time keeping track of who my kids are texting on their phones and chatting to online. I’m really not the gatekeeper to their interactions, the way my parents were to mine. It’s weird.” Is this new form of communication superior to good old casual hanging out? Brett and I decided to imagine what it would be like to bring the Facebook format of socializing to life. “Okay, so we are out to dinner with Kate and Dave. Go!” I prompted Brett. “So, Dave,” Brett began, pretending to be talking to a good friend of his. “If you were a shoe, what kind of shoe would you be?” “Hey, Kate,” I began, turning to the empty space to my left. “Can I challenge you to a game of word twist, perhaps?” “He’s a loafer.” “She said she’d prefer Scrabble.” “Hmm.” Suddenly, we missed our friends. We wanted to see them in real life. So I got on Facebook and sent Kate a message. Wanna come over for dinner? Bring the kids. Let’s be noisy! ******* Julie is having actual dinner with actual friends on Sunday. She is actually, really and truly very excited. Julie might even tweet about it on Twitter.

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