“You’ve Got Friends”—Looking Back on Facebook, 2008

First there was MySpace, appealing to the junior high and high school crowd, and eventually appalling to many parents. Then came Facebook. More mature, and yet somehow safer, Facebook instantly became the venue of preference for college and university students. Until we reach a certain age, we are all fated to assimilate to some degree the technologies of the present. I haven’t reached that age yet, and I candidly acknowledge that my penchant for accommodation is pretty healthy. Still, I have to be convinced of the value of the latest “technological advance” before adding it to my repertoire, which, ironically, becomes more cumbersome with each “improvement.”

In 2008, I succumbed once again to the blandishments of technoverture (i.e., overtures perpetrated by novel technologies). Among them, Facebook. How did this happen?

First, I attended a Web 2.0 faculty workshop at my university. Facebook aficionados extolled its virtues. The single greatest revelation of the occasion was that our students are off email and on Facebook. Why? Because Facebook is better. It turns out that email served the primary value of social networking, until Facebook came along. Then it was bye, bye email. Facebook is a much more powerful tool for social networking. Students knew, of course, that few of their profs were in the loop. It didn’t concern them that by migrating to Facebook, they were effectively unreachable for academic purposes.

This may cause teaching faculty mild consternation. But it shouldn’t. I discovered that my students, and especially my most recent former students, welcomed my presence on Facebook—as opposed to thinking I had invaded their space. My policy on this is evolving, along with the general acceptation and utility of Facebook, but for the time being I don’t initiate Facebook invites to students. I don’t want them ever feeling obligated to regard me, even in the increasingly benign Facebook sense, as a “Friend.” As it happens, the largest constituency of my Friends List is students and former students who have sent me invites.

Second, my older daughter, who is a university student, made a convincing appeal to go on Facebook. She was, I’m proud to say, the first to send me a Facebook Friend Invite.

Once signing on to Facebook, a large question remained: What do I do with it (or on it)? My first impulse was to search for family members, especially my younger sisters (24 years younger) who were most likely to have accounts, and see if they would have me as friends. This initial act was rewarded in a most unexpected way. I found another “Geivett” with a familiar first name, the name of a cousin I hadn’t seen in over twenty years. With moderate trepidation (how could I be sure?), I posted her a note to confirm my suspicion that this was in fact my cousin. She replied instantly and enthusiastically (this is Facebook, after all). Yes, one and the same. We arranged to have lunch on my next visit to Seattle, only a few weeks hence. Since then we’ve seen each other twice. Within a few weeks she’ll be visiting us in southern California.

Facebook is a powerful tool for reconnecting people who otherwise would not be able to find each other. For me, this alone is worth the cost of Facebook. And Facebook does exact a cost. Here are three areas where the cost is especially dramatic:

  1. Time. Facebook, for its true enthusiasts, is a time-sucker. The distinctive sucking sound can be heard at its most voluminous on college and university campuses, where Facebook addiction is more rampant than alcohol addiction—which, come to think of it, is good news.
  2. Fantasy. Facebook fuels fantasies of certain kinds. Possibly greatest is the fantasy of intimacy with one’s Friends. I’m a firm believer that “being there” is till better than “the next best thing to being there.” And while Facebook beats out the telephone as “the next best thing,” it ain’t the same thing. Whatever it’s supposed to mean for Facebook to be “bookish,” one thing is certain, the interpersonal contact Facebook mediates isn’t “face-to-face.” Following hard on the heals of this fantasy is another—the fantasy of finding and fanning old flames. This form of intimacy-chasing is encouraged by Facebook. How many users have punched the search engine with names of former lovers and crushes hoping, with vanity, to reconnect? Our emotional lives are suggestible, susceptible, and, yes, sordid enough without the support of new social networking tools. On the other hand, the positive potential of Facebook, even in the arena of quiet desperation, isn’t completely negligible.
  3. Information Management. Maybe “life management” is more apt here. Facebook has a growing inventory of applications. Some of these promise to put vital, or at least interesting, information in your hands, and with greater convenience. This is one of the advertised  advantages of “Groups,” for example. “Information overload,” a phrase of relatively recent vintage, has already long been clichéd. Clichéd or not, the burden it names is very real and is here to stay. Do we really need more information and information sources? Maybe what we need is less information. But that’s because of the burden information management imposes on general life management. Facebook doesn’t perform all the tricks a techno-society requires to remain organized, and, more to the point, hip. So it actually adds to the burden of keeping up. I already had three email accounts before Facebook. In effect, Facebook brings the tally to four. (OK, honesty requires that I mention my LinkedIn account, as well. But this adds proof to my point.) Maybe someday we’ll learn that the proper telos of technology is human flourishing, and discover that no technology is the best technology.

Yes, there’s a price to be paid for the Facebook frenzy. Used in moderation, however, it serves us well who cling to fantasies of intimacy in the midst of an information hurricane . . . as long as there’s enough time for other things that matter.

Copyright © 2008 by Doug Geivett

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Related Post: Geivett’s Glossary

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

One Response to “You’ve Got Friends”—Looking Back on Facebook, 2008

  1. Rich Bordner says:

    Hmmmm….I keep hearing about Facebook, but I have yet to join. I’m still on Myspace. I get the feeling, though, that that automatically earns me the reputation as the “old guy at the dance club,” and it doesn’t matter if that title is deserved or not.

    I’m just gonna have to get off my but and log on to FB.

    Like

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