Driver’s Seat  from the Clearwater Sun, Feb. 12, 2014

Finally Facing Up to Facebook    

A week ago the Internet company, Facebook, marked its ten-year anniversary. It’s a major success story about a college student named Mark Zuckerberg who conceived an idea, put it to work in his dorm room, and now is worth more money than most Central American nations.

The idea behind Facebook was to help friends and family stay in touch. Today half the world, plus the population of several small planets, swap messages on Facebook. Most of the messages possess the intrinsic value of a rabbit sneeze, but the same thing might be said of the Internet’s other social networking entities such as Twitter, You Tube and e-mail. No harm need result, and many users of Facebook gradually discover — as they devote 10 or 15 hours a day to scrolling — that they now have a purpose in life.

I envy them. For the past few years I’ve had a Facebook page, but I’ve made the mistake of not really learning how the dadblamed system works. When I’ve dipped my toes into the mix by sending or replying to messages wafted my way, my efforts have disappeared into the void. I end up not knowing if anyone received what I sent, or (even less likely) that they gave a hoot that I tried to get in touch with them.

This includes instances in which I asked the addressee to get in touch with me by phone or by e-mail, so that we could converse, so to speak, like two rational humans instead of furnishing our private thoughts to  be read by dozens or hundreds of alleged Facebook friends, who might or might not remember who we are, or could care less. My connectivity batting average has been  mighty low, but I’ve enjoyed and appreciated those few persons who have responded.

By now I’ve had to admit that I may not be destined to be a successful social networker. Such a person, from what I can tell, emerges from the womb wearing a smile and attempting to shake hands with his/her mother, father, the doctor and all the nurses in the delivery room. He has a built-in knack for building friendships, and has a need to be in touch with as many persons as possible. As a Facebook fan, he wants to know and be known, and to share his thoughts and experiences – no matter how pedestrian.

But I could be wrong. Or half-wrong. On the opposite end of the Facebook spectrum could be persons who are shy, introverted, lacking social skills, and desperate to establish friendships, including the phony ones that can thrive — even for a short time — on Facebook. Have the professional researchers ever made an attempt to find and describe a “typical” Facebook user? If so, please let me know what was learned.

I fall somewhere between the two extremes I’ve listed above.  I enjoy meeting and knowing people, but not so much that I reach out very much to them. I value conversation, but not with certified looneys. As I scroll through Facebook’s entries, I sense that the soup du jour for most of the exchanges is at the level of superficial backyard gossip rather than the stating of deep concerns on matters of universal importance.

And that’s to be expected. After all, who would want to reveal her/his innermost feelings to a gallery of viewers many of whom, if she met them face to face, wouldn’t know her from Adam’s off ox?

Still, Facebook obviously is powerful and useful. As I begin writing this column, the networks are telling of a young woman, an Olympian speed skater, whose family will be with her in Sochi only because Facebook viewers read about the family’s need for the funds that would make their trip possible.  The word went out, and the donations came in.  Facebook indeed has wings.

Not too many years ago humans communicated by means of smoke signals, drums and carrier pigeons. Along came the U.S. mail, pony express and telegraph, followed by the telephone, wireless Morse code transmissions and voice radio. Not long thereafter society was graced with television, the computer, fax machines, the Internet and its stepchildren – e-mail, Facebook, You Tube, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m sure I’ve missed a few citations.

Each of these inventions helped to shrink the world and bring its inmates closer, along with the question “Just how close to people do I need or want to be?” Also, “Along with all this newfound intimacy, are we any wiser, happier or more loving?”  Facebook can help us answer these questions, at least for those participants who care enough to ask them.

Bob Driver is a former columnist for the Clearwater Sun. His e-mail address is

tralee71@comcast.net.

 

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