A lot of my contemporaries register reservation, frustration or even contempt for the evolving world of cyberspace. For example, in one social group that I belong to, the median age is about 75. We meet monthly. A couple of the members have just given up on even email. Others struggle bravely with Google, cell phones, or even online commerce. Crashed computers, online failures, and virus problems are rife. Just a few, mostly dragged there by their middle-aged children, are registered facebook users.
I am widely known as a computer guru, but that is quite far from the truth. I really don’t have a quick answer to most problems that people have. Rather, it’s more like, me and computers, we are as close as my index and my flicking finger. Most people see computers as unpredictable. Whaa?!! I see people as unpredictable. Computers I can figure out. I like to have staring contests with computers, I hate that with people.
I digress slightly, but not really. I have been dancing with computers since Dec. 24, 1979, with the internet since around 1993. For me, even though I am now 71, the world of computers, and now, the world of cyberspace, is not scary or frustrating at all (Second Life being the only exception to that). Rather, it’s a huge and fascinating and ever developing landscape. One of the most fascinating landscapes of all for me has been the world of social networking, especially as it has been realized on facebook. I finally landed there last year after trying a couple of other systems. I have learned so much from my time on facebook that I scarcely can put it down in a blog post. Let me just focus on a couple of things about it that I find neat.
Facebook is a genuine new and rewarding bridge between the generations. I now have as friends my sister and her three sons, my brother and his daughter, an eighth cousin in Luxembourg, nieces and nephews of my dad, in-laws of my daughter, and my daugher and her spouse. One of the totally amazing facts about facebook conversations is that young people say things in front of you on facebook that you wouldn’t have a chance in hell of hearing in normal life. This is because the younger working generation uses facebook to blow off steam, talk about the frustrations of the job, share thoughts about music, plan impromptu get togethers, and just a whole range of everyday living concerns. AND if you are their friend, you get to eavesdrop on these conversations, especially if you risk making an occasional comment.
It took a while for me to get my stride in relating cross-generationally, if there is such a term. Many of the comments young people make on facebook, especially if they are living away from home in another place, probably reflect meaning and situations that you are entirely unfamiliar with. I discovered that I was prone to misinterpretation at first. In fact, my daughter and I went through kind of a problem period where we were kind of irritating each other without really fessing up. But I decided to hang in there, but with love in my heart. As with any social situation, online or other wise, hanging in there with love in your heart will pay off in the end, and will run away the people who don’t likewise share that trait. So you have to be brave, but cautious and listening, and eventually you will find the right pace. Mostly, I recognize that the best conversations are between people of my own generation, with an exception or two.
There is one other aspect of facebook that I want to share with you. It has to do with the synergy that builds up when you have more than 100 friends and half of them are actually paying attention to what you are saying. I have made a practice for the last year of trying to post one or two comments a day in the status line, the one that always prompts you with “What’s on your mind?” I try to make the comments down to earth, or thought provoking, or sharing a moment of my day, or even sadness or joy. Sometimes I don’t get any comments at all. But other times, the conversation that emerges, and between people who can be strangers to each other, is amazing. So let me just show you an example. I captured a snippet of one facebook conversation that emerged just today:
So here are these eight women tracking my casual thought. Two of them are former members of my church who moved away to separate locations years ago. Another was a good friend and the wife of a guy who went through graduate school with me. Another is my daughter. Still another is the daughter of a former colleague of mine, that became my friend when I posted a picture of her with sibs and parents from 30 years ago. And then there are two current members of my church.
But I am talking about cooking, and mostly, it’s women who talk about cooking. Forgive the stereotype, not saying that EVERY woman talks about cooking or that EVERY man doesn’t, it’s just a tendency. But doesn’t this just amaze you. All these different people, different ages, different places, different points of view, coming together to share a moment to talk about what I am cooking or what they are cooking. Or in my daughter’s case, making a joke about there being “eenies” in it, because she hated most vegetables when growing up. Certainly no zucchini for her, at least back then.
But note, if I didn’t risk and talk about these mundane facts about my life, no one would be commenting on them, and I wouldn’t be having this fabulous feeling of being connected, really connected, across space and time to these many prior and present acquaintances, friends and family members. It’s really no different than going back for coffee after church. You got to risk the awkward first attempts at conversation to begin developing a sense of the community that can come with church attendance.
I feel as if I am moving into a time when no one will be very far from anyone they want to relate to. One scenario I read about was that in the near future we will be able to walk up to any wall and say, “I want to talk to Liz Cunningham in Marietta, Ohio,” and before long, there her image will be, staring back at me from the wall I am looking at. Or how about a family room where there is a hemisphere of seats on one side and you see a hemisphere of seats from someone else’s living room on the other side? Or maybe just a webpage with realistic avatars of folks in boxes looking at each other and chatting.
In the meantime, I check my facebook a few times a day. Hey, I’ve got a busy life. I still shop, caregive, cook, eat, play the piano, read, sit in front of the fireplace. I’m not addicted to facebook. But I’m also not addicted to a world without facebook. My life always has been an open book, and now it’s an open facebook.