From the Vault: The Facebook Phenomenon

I first found out about facebook when I was leading a group of students on an educational tour of England, Ireland and Wales in 2008. The youngsters kept taking pictures and telling each other to “tag me in it,” and I could only imagine a classic game of tag. Yet, no one was hitting anyone else, so I had to ask the question that made them all laugh at me. “What are you talking about?” That’s how I found out about facebook, and how I found out that I wasn’t as cool as I thought I was. So, in the interest of setting out to be cool (and so I could see their amazingly awesome pictures as well) I immediately set up a facebook page from an internet cafe right there outside of Dublin. I haven’t looked back since.

I “like” it.

From that day on, I admit that I have gotten addicted to the social networking site for all the wrong reasons. Well, maybe the word “wrong” isn’t exactly what I mean. What I mean is that I love the site because it has given me a forum to share my views with a vast number of people. Facebook showed me just how vain I am, and I know I’m not alone in that realization. Of course I also enjoy reconnecting with people I thought were gone from my life forever. The best example of that one is my best friend from elementary school finding me in the ether, we caught up, and he invited me to be in his wedding. The worst example is a fellow I thought I knew from church who kept sending me pornographic links. Eek. He was “unfriended” rather quickly.

There are five different ways I accumulated the “friends” I have on the site. 1) People who know me from school. There are the random folks from elementary school who interested me by remembering who I was. Funnily enough, they all “friended” me even though we weren’t all exactly friends back then. Then there’s the most interesting bunch, the acquaintances I had in high school. I am still constantly shocked at how many of those folk actually remember who I am. My memory of high school didn’t include anyone I would have considered a friend back then, so that makes me feel the best. Not only do they remember me, but they remember me fondly. Who knew? The college “friends” are few, though, because I honestly didn’t put down any roots in college. 2) Work colleagues. At first I said no to everyone from work who “friend” requested me because I felt like it was kind of weird. I mean, we work together. But then someone from one of my previous jobs friended me and I accepted. That started a landslide and I weeded them out or accepted them based on whether or not I wanted to find out more about them. Inversely, I realize that they’ve found out a lot more about me than they wanted to know. Ha ha. 3) Family members. This group is definitely an interesting one. I have so many long-lost relatives (brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins) and they are all over the place, so facebook became a way to get in touch and to keep in touch. 4) Former students. One of the biggest questions I get from the seniors as they’re about to graduate is, “Now that we’re not your students anymore, would you finally accept my friend request?” Generally I accept about half of those requests, depending on whether or not I had an actual rapport with the student in school. I guess if I were paying attention to my “number” of friends and cared about getting it as high as possible, I would accept all of them. But I don’t care, so some of their requests go unaccepted. 5) Last, but not least, I have accumulated a lot of “friends” through YoVille. I can’t stand FarmVille because I’m a city boy and I’m not going to sit there and watch crops grow like a lunatic, but I definitely needed neighbors on YoVille and those original strangers are now mostly new friends. Strange how that happens.

Even stranger still are the connections between these people. First, of course, there are connections that pre-date me that I know nothing about until a later time. Those are always fascinating. But then there are the connections that happen just because of me and those are just surreal. One time a work colleague of mine and a former elementary school classmate of mine got into this huge argument over one of my status updates. It was so weird to see those two ladies get into this fiery debate when they would never have even known each other existed if it weren’t for them “sharing” my friendship at different times in my life.

The facebook phenomenon exists because we feed it with our words, with our photographs, with our need to see and be seen by others. It feeds us with its acceptance of our faults, with its soap-box platform that it is more than willing to let us use, and with its vast storage warehouse for our vacuous witticisms and birthday wishes. I admit that I love it for some things and I hate it for others. Now I feel like I’m being mean when I don’t accept a friend request, and yet I know I shouldn’t. If they aren’t real friends, why should I listen when facebook tells me I should be their “friend”? Oh, and I don’t play YoVille anymore. Too many freaks on there.


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