Every where you look these days, so-called “social media” is present. Every news broadcast is Twittering, most newspapers have Facebook pages and even entertainers (maybe most especially entertainers) use every electronic means at their fingertips to stay connected to their fans. Political candidates are even announcing their intentions via social media.
In the spirit of total disclosure, I must tell you, I am on Facebook. It began rather innocently: the granddaughters, all seven of them, each have a Facebook page and I thought it was an easy, and very modern way (read “not grandma-ish”) to keep up with what they were doing. I could see current pictures of their many activities, maybe glimpse some of their friends and even chat, however briefly, with them as they went about their busy lives.
And it worked for maybe 20 minutes. Then the sisters showed up one at a time, and their kids, too, so I became friends with them and the nieces and nephews. Next it was a couple of cousins I’ve not talked with in 10 years or so, and a classmate of one of my kids who used to spend lots of time at our house.
I’m sure you have, someplace, seen the genealogical chart that tells you how many ancestors you had: two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents and so on, doubling each generation until at 10 generations back you have more than 1,000 direct blood ancestors. Well, Facebook is just like that. And it happens so quickly. One day someone says “be my friend,” and by the time you say “sure, why not?” a dozen others have joined the queue. I am now “friends” with former students, distant relatives who found me through other distant relatives, local people who belong to some of the same organizations I do, former classmates and some of their kids, a former sister-in-law (who’s been divorced from the brother-in-law for 20 years) and when I check today, probably some work colleagues (when we worked) and someone I met on a trip that I’ll never see again, ever.
I mostly “lurk” which is akin to listening in on a party line. Mom called it “rubbering,” probably short for “rubber-neck” because it was done surreptitiously, or so we liked to believe. It was a great way to learn all the neighborhood news and maybe a little gossip without appearing too nosy.
Lurking on Facebook is like that. I log-on, then don’t post anything, just read what everyone has had to say for a day or two. I do share a few things, like meeting announcements and clever sayings. Once in awhile I make an observation or comment on something someone else said … but usually I’m just there.
I don’t need a pet, because one friend who is owned by two Bichon Friese dogs and a couple of cats, keeps me entertained with their doings, plus I don’t need to let them out at night, find the doggy bowl, or clean the cat box.
Another friend raises chickens, so I enjoy the ups and downs of that undertaking without the trauma of losing one or the work of cleaning chicken pens.
Given a diverse enough acquaintance pool, one could live a very exciting life, albeit vicariously.
I’m afraid that is what our society is coming to. No one interacts face to face anymore. Besides texting friends, you can bank online, borrow books for your electronic reader from the library online, and purchase just about anything you want from some virtual store. “Face-to face” now means tagging someone on your phone or computer and “Skyping.” Soon our schools will have to add a class on how to talk to others to ready students to live with a roommate (or spouse) when they leave home.
That is not to say that it’s all bad. I have received birthday greetings from people I’d never receive a card from and got a big HELLO from a classmate I’d not heard from or of for a number of years. When brother Jim was ill, my niece made a private page and “joined” all the sisters so she could give one report a day and we all got it at the same time. She named it “Grumpy old Jim’s Health News” and while it served the purpose beautifully it also lightened the worry as she sent a picture or two of his recovery and anecdotes about “getting well.”
Road reports are a common post during the winter and warnings about suspicious people in the neighborhood. Meeting announcements or changes in schedules and even shout-outs to doers of good deeds are often part of someone’s status.
But learning the protocol is demanding. If you don’t want everyone in the world privy to your innermost feelings, you need to know how to code your page so only “friends” see it, and then you need to choose between “close friends” or “family” and on and on … but the biggest thing to remember is that anything you put out there is floating in the ether forever and eventually available to anyone who cares to look for it.
I think that’s why I mostly rubber.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.