Falling flat on my Facebook

The early perils of the indispensible social website.  From Dec 2007 Northword magazine


Falling flat on my facebook

By: Russell Bowers

Most days I try to be an optimist. I really do. And when I’m being a pessimist, I’m prepared to be proven wrong—anytime, anywhere. And I often am.

But I do feel I’m a realist, and if I’m going to live in a rainforest, I can’t gripe about the rain. A season’s pass to the Canucks is useless to me, and I know that. I don’t live in the centre of things, and if I want what the centre has to offer, I have to move to it. IT will not move to me.

In my attempts to reach out to an outside world, I cheerfully go on road trips, be they professional or personal. But the latest resource for those of us who live in these scattered and far-flung communities is Facebook.

I probably don’t need to explain this for most of you, but for the benefit of those neophytes (who I know are still out there), here’s a short explanation: Facebook is a webpage where you can interact online with friends by playing games, filling out surveys, e-mailing, instant messaging and, of course, “poking” people to get their attention.

It keeps track of whether Allana likes dark or milk chocolate, when Wallace got back from his walk in Central Park, how my friend Grainne feels about her dog, or how annoyed Chris is with just about anyone. You know—earth-shattering stuff like that.

According to Facebook, I have 193 friends, a fact that I, more than anyone, find astonishing. Frankly, I didn’t even realize I know 193 people, much less be friends with them all.

Facebook’s definition of the word “friend” is, at best, a loose one. To say that the 190-some-odd people I am “friends” with on Facebook are all actually my friends in real life—in the way most of us understand that concept—is a stretch. But Facebook doesn’t have categories for “Acquaintances,” “Admired From Afar,” or even “Complete Utter Strangers.” There’s only one thing for us all to be on Facebook: friends.

Now, you never know how people will come into and out of your life. There are people with whom I was thick as thieves once, and now it’s been years since we’ve spoken. Then there are some I passed in a hallway at work early in my career, and now they’re close confidants. Still others are in that nebulous circle of folks I know whose ultimate fate may never enlarge beyond what they are now.

One of the curious side-effects of Facebook is The Reunion. Somehow, folks from my distant past are all finding each other, and me. In some cases it’s awkward. Here we are, two people who hardly spoke to each other when we sat side by side in a classroom, who re-connect on a website and suddenly it’s “Old Home Week,” reminiscing-aplenty. I’m not knocking this because it’s such a pleasant surprise that someone from so long ago still wants to contact me. However, the tenuous connection usually runs a short course.

Using Facebook to keep in touch with people who live miles and provinces away makes all kinds of sense. But I have Facebook friends who live ten minutes away, and I spend tons of time “poking” them. They live next door! What the heck is wrong with us? Sure, I can look out over beautiful Tuck Inlet and the Prince Rupert skyline while I poke various and sundry…but really, what happened to just going out and talking to people? Or at the very least, pick up a phone. Reminisce over this sort of thing and the kids under 16 will think you’re an old fuddy-duddy, or whatever word 16-year-olds abbreviate and text to one another.

I’d love to linger longer, but I have to log on and see if anyone has written on my SuperWall.