I am not addicted to Facebook. I merely have it up whenever the computer is turned on. Well, okay, so I do post there a bit. I am not alone.
Facebook has over a half-billion active users. There are barely twice that many personal computers in use, and Facebook stretches into smartphones. Some lament the intrusion of technology. I celebrate the growth and pervasiveness of community. The electrons and electronics helped it happen.
Life on a rural island requires resourcefulness. When the snowstorm trapped people in their homes, or at least made them decide to not drive anywhere, people got busy on Facebook with lots of posts, pictures, and shared stories. There were even a few 4WD favors as some ventured to the store for others. When we’re warned about tsunamis, notices, links, and offers of safe havens are passed along.
Facebook is not alone.
We’re surrounded by the Salish Sea, so orcas and grey whales do laps around the island, but they are elusive. Want to find the whales? Lots of locals email whale reports to one central unofficial and effective authority: the Orca Network. (Donations appreciated.) Their baby announcements are particularly well received.
Drew Kampion, penultimate surfer and sage, produces a daily set of emails that cover the island’s classes, freebies, art shows, jobs, and other innovative connections. It’s like craigslist, but much less structured, which is good for our community of free-form lifestyles. (Donations appreciated again.)
I’m even on Twitter now (@tetrimbath). Adding another network felt overwhelming, so I postponed joining until recently. Now that I’ve joined I get it. I see why and how it can help and be used.
I joined LinkedIn too, but that one doesn’t seem to be as active and useful – yet.
Of all of the titles I list in my bio, “Writer, Speaker, Teacher, Photographer, Engineer, Entrepreneur, etc.”, networker is missing unless you read between the letters of etc. Networking is not a job, but it is an occupation. It occupies my time because I enjoy people. I’m both and extrovert and an introvert. As I’ve said in other places:
If people see my extroverted side, they might not believe I need quiet time. If they see my introverted side, people might not believe that I enjoy people, public speaking and throwing parties.
I prefer to meet people in person. (Dancing is much more fun that way.) The majority of communication is non-verbal. Phone calls miss body language, but at least capture intonation and emphasis. Emails allow for revision and review, but miss human cues. Video chats probably get around a lot of that, but I haven’t tried that yet; though I remember very jittery video-conferences where I concentrated on my notes so I wouldn’t get nauseous from the electronically spastic images.
Until the telephone, almost all human communication was immediate. The other person wasn’t an abstraction. They were within arm’s reach, which encouraged manners and politeness. Hugs were encouraged. Insults didn’t initiate flame wars; instead, insults may have initiated bruises.
Technology has frequently been feared, yet with education and wisdom, it is accepted and used. Computers were invented to help with the census and artillery barrages, not free music sharing as one person adamantly asserted. Email was developed to allow academics and the military to pass along data and messages, particularly across a battle damaged network. Facebook was for dating. Blogs were a way for admins to track and record system performance issues across shifts. As for LinkedIn and Twitter, maybe they’re actually being used according to their original designs. It happens.
We are social creatures, and we live in an era when we can be aware of global problems while also be reaching out to larger communities than ever existed. I am encouraged because we’re taking tools and using them to build connections, networks populated by us, despite initial intentions.
Someone passed along a party analogy for these various media. Email is like handing a letter to a friend – who has a massive copy machine that they may or may not use. A message on Facebook is like walking up to someone and passing them a note. Posting on someone’s wall on Facebook is like walking into a party of friends and shouting something across the room. Maybe everyone will listen, many folks will probably nod and ignore it. Twitter is like buying a headline, and the number of your followers determines whether it is a headline in the New York Times or in some newsletter. And blogs are more like freelance journalism, but without the editors or paychecks.
Whatever technolgy’s intent, it is a tool that with wisdom and practice can save time and money, while improving our social lives. We are impressively connecting up, building networks, and reaching across borders. It might just be a way to find a cheap car, or to find out if it’s safe to drive out of the neighborhood, but it’s result is a wider, more pervasive society. We may see fewer people in a day, but we are less alone – and I think we are heading to a much bigger community, and a much better party. Thank you electrons. (Ben Franklin never saw this coming.)