Sunday, March 01, 2009

Social Networking, What is it For

The fastest growing group on Facebook is Gen X--those 35 to 45 finding high school friends. Twittering has become a subject of conversation as Karl Rove begins Twittering and senators were seen frantically texting as the President entered for his address.

I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and I blog. I also have a MySpace page, but I never really enjoyed MySpace. If you weren't promoting music there didn't seem to be much point to being there. The apps were hard to find and use (to me) and finding friends harder. I keep the page only because I'm following some celebrities there. Most of them are also on Facebook, so eventually I won't need the MySpace page. Facebook is terribly user friendly--it recommends friends, organizations, fandoms for you to join. Your friends tiny updates are brought directly to you as are the updates of the celebrities you follow. It's not terribly customizable, but other than that, apps are painless. Virtually point and click.

Twitter is new. To tell the truth I only joined Twitter because the app. is easier on my G1 than the Facebook app. I can link them through those fun apps and updates on one go on the other. The only problem is that Facebook always has one's name, as in "Novel is..." You can change the verb, but not the name. Twitter can be anything one wants. People write Haikus, other poetry, whole stories--140 characters at a time. There are contests for the best 140 character stories. Or stories that are serialized in these one or two sentences. And that's characters, not words or letters. Double spacing is a waste.

The mad pundits say that Twitter and Facebook will replace blogging, and it may, but I think people will still want the longer form. Many people use Twitter to update people on their blogs. As in Novel just posted a new blog. Then a link. And conveniently, one can make the link short to not use up those valuable 140 characters. I follow famous funny people and a few friends. Some people follow thousands of people, or drop in and out of conversations. This flowing stream of thoughts, ideas, trivia, mundanity. Some posts are just hilarious--Neil Gaiman always writes funny little thoughts. Most people post links to other things. And then the hope is to be "re-twittered," have people link to your Tweets.

One can agonize about the "right" way to use these new mediums (or to use them at all, of course) but there is no "right" way. It's being learned and developed each step of the way. Since I use my real name there, connecting with old friends has been ... strange and sometimes deeply enhancing. I have found people who were my best friends in elementary school. Who moved away and lost touch. I have become closer to peple with whom I was only casually aquainted. Of course, I have also been friended by people with whom I was barely friends, some I actively disliked. At first, as people generally do, I accepted every friending. But around Christmas I started unfriending people and ignoring requests from some people. Someone described it as a form of class reunion. The hearty, "Wow, how are you, you look great, what have you been up to..." followed by a, "I'm going to the bar now," or "Hey, I need to go say hi to so and so..." One is "friended" but that doesn't mean that one cares. Even worse is the friending by people one does not remember at all. The name sounds familiar and one peers at the tiny picture that one is given trying to de-age them 20, 25 years and guess who they might have been.

One friend posts cryptic messages like this, "Jason is apropos of nothing." What's funny is things for which I expect comments seldom get them, and other throw away things will get many. Most of my college friends are professors, no surprise, and nearly all friends from childhood and college have children. My high school boyfriend, who is not on Facebook, but a mutual friend is, is married with several children and is a doting father. When I heard that I was reminded of The Airborne Toxic Event lyric, "They tell me that/you're married now/well, my dear, I fear/I cannhot understand how." It seems so alien to the person I knew, but 20 years change us all.

I did not have children. I did not become a professor and I did not go to New York to act. As in most things, I veer between depression at my life choices, brought home by others actions, and the enrichment at refinding friends. It is a study, for anyone who wants to, of how we do and do not become the people we meant to be, or thought we would be. How life changes and disrupts the best laid plans, for better and worse. The thing that can never be explained to one at 18 or 20. Some people are divorced, but less than one might think.

Of course, just like a class reunion, one is hardly going to go on and say, "My marriage collapsed in a bitter divorce, I'm living paycheck to paycheck and I don't know what to do." We boost our elevator speech, and gloss over bits and we know that others are doing it too.

Speaking of elevator speeches, Linked In is the serious cousin. The one where you don't post pictures of oneself at parties with a drink in hand. You post your resume and list work accomplishments, and try to connect with as many people as possible in the "networking" sense.

If you Yahoo my name, my Linked In comes up first. Which is a good thing. The weird thing about Linked In for me right now, is trying to use it to find a job while not alerting my current employers (who are on Linked In).

So what does all of this mean--what does it add up too. Too much distraction, too much information. Well, you can always walk away for a short time. Some people join and then don't seem to check back in for months. Others seem to spend every minute finding friends and sending apps. I probably fall somewher in the middle. One Monday morning I sTwittered that I hadn't Twittered all weekend and the world hadn't ended. And a friend wrote back, "how do you know?
For instance, I can let you know that I am at the animal hospital right now with my cat. It is possible that I will get. Instantaneous messages about that. Again, though, what is it for. To be continued...

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