It’s pretty easy to find people who hate Facebook. There’s the “Internet Privacy” people, the “I only have an account to see pictures of my grandkids” contingent, the “It’s stupid and I don’t know why anyone does it” group and several others. I understand all these perspectives. There are studies showing Facebook makes people sad and unresolved etiquette questions about when you unfriend an ex of a friend. And of course, Facebook can definitely be a time suck. These are all real things, and downsides of social media.
But I find in my life that there’s way more upside to social media than down.
I left for college in New England in 1996, when the internet was new and social media undreampt. (I remember one college I visited telling me I would have to use a “motor” to connect to the internet.) I had been married four years before Facebook was invented down the street. When I returned to my hometown four years later to get married, I only invited two high school friends. My class president is MIA, so there was no 5th or 10th year reunions. By the time the 5th would have happened, I was out of touch with everyone from my home town to whom I was not related.
Then Facebook happened. And in those heady early days we just friended everyone we’d ever met. The algorithms matched us to our high school classmates, and for the first time in a decade I heard the news from Morton again. Very gradually, over time, the shared experience of a tiny town began to fight back against time and distance. We began to learn about each other’s grown lives.
In my case, I was often surprised and pleased to see how happy and interesting my high school classmates had become. The kids who sat with me during Pep Band in the “rooting section”, whose portraits are next to mine on the single long hallway of the high school, have become really neat people. A Knowledge Bowl team member is a PhD biologist. My fellow D&D player is an English professor (who still loves Tolkien as much as I do!). A guy whom I remember in a school play – wearing my father’s sweater vest – is on the sidelines of a make-or-break playoff football game right now. There’s a decorated war veteran and gay right’s activist. I’ve spoken before of fellow-basketball-player Brandy Clark. There are many others besides them.
Tonight a whole bunch of us are huddled around our computers, listening to the Morton/White Pass Timberwolves playing in the Tacoma Dome. (It’s in progress, and a real nail biter!) I’m hearing places I remember from childhood, and names I once knew well rolling off the tongue of the announcer. I am feeling connected to East Lewis County right now – from my 110 year old colonial in a three hundred year old New England town.
So does Facebook paint pretty pictures of the life of others? (Absolutely – for the record, my life is not nearly as photogenic as you might think from reading this blog/following me on Facebook.) Can it be a time waster? Sure. Are there people who are either unrelentingly negative or saccharinely obnoxious? Of course. But I’m grateful for this moment of shared community: brought to me by social media.
Edited to add: Morton White Pass won!