Wednesday, July 23, 2008

It don't make sense to me

These days a lot of people are filling up column space with benighted "think pieces" about social networking online and What It's Doing to Society and Why the Kids are So Into It and so on, and they usually turn out to have not very much to say, and probably a week's experience with having a profile of their own (which they set up right after they pitched the idea to an editor -- "Say, my kids spend a lot of time on this thing called 'the Facebook,' and I thought maybe I'd see what that's all about"). I always read stuff like this, and then at the end I'm annoyed because I didn't gain much insight, or entertainment, from reading it, and it took up time I could have spent messing around on Facebook. I like that article's intro, but it lost me after the first paragraph, because it stops describing anything I've ever experienced. This one, also from the NYT (your source for bemused "What will they think of next?" trend journalism), is a little bit better, but in the end they all leave me feeling cold, and a little bit condescended to.

If you have had the same experience, I'd like to call your attention to the latest entry at Jason Robert Brown's blog: "The Perils of an Online Life." It helps that he starts out with something concrete to say -- namely, if you're my Facebook Friend but I don't actually know you, don't be surprised/offended if you get axed. But from there he spins out a really entertaining and even insightful-without-being-smug essay on the social networking experience, and the repercussions of Facebook's user-base expanding, age-wise, both up and down. (I linked once to a post he wrote about his particular brand of fame -- that's good background for this one.) I can remember when I was one of the oldest people on Facebook -- which started just after I graduated from college, and was then limited to college students. But now I'm very comfortably in the middle, and all the newbies are older than I am! Anyway, JRB says:
It should be obvious to the reader that I do not in fact have five thousand friends. I don't actually think I could cobble together the names of five thousand people I've met in my entire life. Five thousand is a lot of people. And I don't even like people. No, a Friend is someone who comes upon or searches out my Facebook account and asks to be linked to it. I don't really know what benefits accrue from this. I myself have asked to be several people's Facebook Friend, and all that it gets me is the opportunity to see whether they spend more time jerking around on Facebook than I do (the answer is no, with the possible exception of Deborah Abramson). So what you're really getting with a Facebook Friendship is a sort of approved association with someone; if you're a fan of Jason Robert Brown, becoming my Facebook Friend confers some kind of status upon you, I guess. You're not just a fan, you're not a stalker or a groupie, you're... well, you're a Friend. It's all very meta and Web 2.0 and new-media and of course the kids in my cast of "13" could explain it far better than I just did. Regardless, I am grateful for the fact that anyone desires that association, and clearly it is not an uncommon desire or my account wouldn't have maxed out. So there's the news: I'm popular for the first time in my life, and the Facebook Gestapo wants to stop me before I go too far and TAKE OVER THE WORLD.
I'm not worried about getting cut, because I'm not a "Friend" of JRB in the first place; I have a relatively strict people-I-actually-know policy on my "Friends" list. Of course, I actually have sort of met Mr. Brown, ahem, ahem... But I'm not one to claim "Friend"-ship with someone of whom I'm really just a fan, and now that I have the opportunity to be a "Fan" on Facebook, it just seems a little too dorky to actually make the request. So as of this writing I am a "Friend" only of people I actually know, and a "Fan" of no one and nothing. But that could change. The culture moves fast.

Meanwhile, in case you're curious: Like everyone else, I too have abandoned Friendster, even though it was a follow-up Friendster message that got my husband and me back in touch after our first meeting. (Six weeks after!) Armed only with my first name -- not even the correct spelling! -- and a few details about something I'd written, he put Google to work and ended up Friendster-mailing me. So I guess you could say we owe our marriage to Friendster, and I am grateful and all, but you have to stay with the times. As for MySpace, I totally agree with JRB's assessment. In fact, a while back he explained that he does not have a page there because "it looks like a 13-year-old girl's sleepover party threw up," or something equally lovely, and every time I log in I think of that image. I do have a profile there, but only because I use it to keep track of a few friends who have not yet made the switch to Facebook. Maybe now that Facebook has suddenly moved everything around (What the hell, Facebook?!), they'll make the switch and allow me to put my MySpace page out of its misery?

Speaking of Jason Robert Brown, I've finally gotten around to buying and listening to his album Wearing Someone Else's Clothes, and if you're a JRB fan you should probably already have it. All the super songwriting and intelligently confessional lyrics you've come to expect, plus lots of hammy piano-playing and a fun "Last Five Years" outtake. There's a song about his brother, "Nothing in Common," always makes me a little teary. I bet it will do the same for you.

And speaking of my husband (and his awesome online research skills): Happy Birthday!

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