David Rodeback's Blog

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Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Saturday, June 20, 2009
Facing Facebook

I finally joined Facebook. I'm having fun and making plans. I still do not tweet, in case you're wondering.

A few weeks ago, a friend urged me to join Facebook, so I could see some pictures she posted. I think her e-mail to that effect was actually an automated message, a form letter of sorts, sent to most or all of the e-mail addresses in her address book, but that is beside the point. So is the fact that she has not yet posted any of the photos she apparently wished me to see.

Soon thereafter, I participated in an interesting discussion with some people who think a Facebook presence and proper use of the medium are essential to modern politics. I didn't know enough about Facebook to pass judgment, but their enthusiasm for Facebook didn't seem to be just a spinoff of Obama mania.

I had an hour or so to play with that weekend. It wasn't so much free time as it was time I was unmotivated to use for any of the things I really needed to do, but in any case I took the plunge: I joined Facebook. Then I set about figuring out what it is and how to use it for my own potentially nefarious purposes. By now, I think I've figured out the basic functions, and I have some sense of how to exploit Facebook's political possibilities. Veteran Facebookers may be interested to know that my friend count is up to 72, as of this morning. That's not very much if you're President Barack Obama (2061-- so few?) or Congressman Jason Chaffetz (3937), but I am neither.

I'm Having Fun So Far

One of the first things a new Facebooker (or is that Facebookie?) wants to do is find friends from high school or college or hometown or somewhere. One can also join interest groups and become a fan of . . . all sorts of things. There is space for personal and even professional profiles, and a "wall" upon which others can write.

Truth be told, now that I'm getting the hang of it, I'm having fun. I have connected or reconnected (to one degree or another) with a host of classmates from high school and two different universities, some professional contacts, a missionary companion or two, several relatives, and a few American Forkers. I've joined groups related to American Fork, my LDS mission, politics, Russian literature, and my high school. I've officially marked myself so far (with some restraint) as a fan of one Russian author, one French painter, one cancelled television series, one conservative thinktank, one musical group, and one major US city.

When I signed up as a fan of Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, I saw on his page a note, "Fyodor Dostoevsky joined Facebook." Fyodor Dostoevsky died nearly 130 years ago; is it cool or creepy that he has joined Facebook?

In commenting on one fellow's observation about the NBA finals, I've briefly debated with another commenter, whom I don't even know, about whether my dislike for the Los Angeles Lakers is a knee-jerk reaction based on my being a Utah Jazz fan. That was a silly conversation.

I've traded fun memories with a lady I haven't seen since my junior year of high school, about an English class of ordinary size that we had during our sophomore year in which she, I, and the teacher sometimes seemed to be the only sentient life forms in the classroom. We managed to entertain each other then, and the memories are enjoyable now.

What's in a (Facebook) Friend?

I probably think too much.

I've accepted invitations to be friends of people I barely remember, and some I had to look up in an old high school yearbook. I've invited dozens of people to be my Facebook friends. Most of them have accepted. I'm still waiting for a response from the old friend who more or less turned his back on me in high school when it turned out that the girl liked me a lot better than him. (I figure, most things are fair in love and war. Besides that, in the end she liked a pre-med student at BYU far better than either of us.)

. . . All of which brings me to a recurrent topic of reflection. What is a friend in Facebook? How, if at all, does a social networking friendship relate to conventional friendship in the real world? What is implied in accepting or offering Facebook friendship? What do I say about the past, present, or future, when I link myself to someone in Facebook and call him or her a friend? And should I worry what other people will think when they see who is in my list of friends?

You might think the answer to all these things is obvious, because obviously you would only link in Facebook to people who were actually your friends in reality, right? But it's not that simple.

What about the good friend from high school who hasn't seen so much as a Christmas card from me in the intervening 26 years? Do I have a right to present myself as his friend? What about the fellow student I knew, more or less, but with whom I never associated? What about the girl who was too popular to acknowledge my existence, even though I was on the basketball team and sang in the Chamber Singers? What about the fellow who was two classes behind me, who knew who I was but was more or less unknown to me, who probably is inviting anyone who attended Snake River High School during those years to be his friend? What about the people I actively disliked in high school (of which there actually were very few)?

Others probably come to different conclusions, but here's mine: I accept essentially every friend invitation, and I invite as friends even the people I knew who weren't really my friends. I don't feel that I'm devaluing the concept of friendship in doing so, or painting the past a nice, happy, horrid pinkish color. I'm actually interested in what has become of my high school classmates the quarter-century since we graduated, and I suspect that the vast majority of them have turned out fine. Yes, I include even the ones who seemed like losers or snobs in high school -- because time and experience seem to temper such things, and because, at this point, the lingering memories are nearly all good, and I'm enjoying them.

In case you're wondering, my high school graduating class was just on the north side of 100, so one tended to know virtually everyone in it, and most of the students in the past two and the next two classes, as well.

I haven't yet resolved my questions about befriending political figures. I'm fine with Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, but what about Congressman Jason Chaffetz, whom I consider a shallow, opportunistic gasbag, or my own Congressman Jim Matheson, whom I oppose on many issues? Is it okay to be Facebook friends with them, just to keep an eye on them? How is this different from Senator Hatch being friendly -- or even civil -- with Senator Edward Kennedy, which infuriates a lot of my fellow Utah Republicans? Will I be branded liberal-by-association if I befriend Matheson, or a giddy-dork-by-association if I befriend Chaffetz? How much do I care?

Class Reunion Syndrome

I was at the other end of the country, living in graduate student poverty and unable to afford a plane ticket, when it was time for my five- and ten-year high school class reunions. I've listened, but haven't hear a peep about a reunion since then. I think they didn't have them. So I've never been to high school class reunion. Maybe some of my excessive thinking about Facebook friends is rooted in that omission.

There's more to it than that, actually. I'm really not fully invested in Facebook until I have entered some information about myself, including at least one photo and a short blurb about who I am.

I don't really want a photo that looks like me, but what's the point of one that doesn't? And if I smile the wrong way, you see my crooked teeth. (Getting braces would have interfered with my trumpet playing, so I never did. Of course, I haven't played the trumpet much in the past 25 years, but the time when someone else would pay for my orthodontia is long past.) Still, I'm fairly comfortable with the practical necessity of photos. And if photos of me are not beautiful, that's okay. They actually never were. Moreover, based on a few of the photos I've seen of old friend, I don't have a lot to worry about, anyway.

This short blurb about who I am is another matter. It asks me, what has become of me? How do I account for myself? What sort of person have I become? In 50 words or less, how do I justify the air I've breathed and -- forgive the modern silliness -- half a lifetime of carbon emissions? This sort of reflection is a healthy thing for anyone, in its time and place, but when a light-hearted foray into social networking pushed me to it, it somehow surprised me.

Presumably, I'd have faced all these issues already, in some form, had I ever actually attended a class reunion. I suppose I'll post some photos sometime soon; people are asking. And I'll write the little blurb "about me" eventually, too, and maybe even list some favorite books, movies, quotations, and such.

Parting Thoughts

If you're on Facebook and want to find me, here I am. If you read my blog, I figure you rise at least to the level of Facebook friendship, if you care to propose it. Besides that, I'm obviously not too picky; you may recall that I voted for Satan (after I voted against him).

MySpace never grabbed me; I joined it only to keep an occasional eye on some offspring with a presence there. But I'm having fun with Facebook -- and that's before I start using it sometime soon for political purposes, and while a Facebook application or two of my own still exist only as a vague idea in my head.

I still don't tweet. Or twitter. Or whatever. (Best Richard Nixon voice: "I am not a twit.")

And I still blog.

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