I know that Mark Zuckerberg and his Stanford University buddies were not thinking of a nearly 66-year-old woman when they started Facebook in 2004. But, their original intentions matter not. As embarrassed as I might be to admit it, what they did when they were creating computer codes and algorithms in their dorm rooms was to satisfy pretty much every social need I can imagine having.
In just a few key strokes, I can connect with people I knew when I was 5, look at pictures of the kids of former students, bore people to death with snapshots of my recent vacation, post photos of my goofy dogs, make and develop new friendships, and share my latest writing. And, I can do all of this from the comfort of my own bed while savoring a cup of hot coffee. As if that weren’t enough, none of it even requires speaking to another human being, which is like dessert after a gourmet dinner for an introvert like me. Mind you, this is not an ad for Facebook, and I'll be the first to admit what a time sucking distraction it can be. I’m also relatively sure that Zuckerberg and his associates were really just in the right place at the right time when the whole concept came together. But no matter who got there first, the website serves a function in my life that few other things do.
Facebook takes into account my mortality, the relative shortness of life, and the fact that I’m too lazy and shy to stay connected with so many people in real life.
I’ve tried to explain this to younger friends, but teenagers and 20-somethings just roll their eyes, implying that sites like this are mostly for old grandmas like me who want to ooh and aah over photos of their grandkids from across the country. In part, that may be true, but there is something more at play for me. At my age, I want to make connections with people in my life and I want to know what’s going on with them--without having to meet for dinner or make small talk. Especially since retirement, it’s important for me to have at least a peripheral link to folks I no longer see on a daily basis.
But there is also a piece of this that only someone my age, or near my age, can fully appreciate. We have lived long and successful lives, but we all still remember that kickball field on our grammar school playground or that homecoming float we worked on for hours in high school. I probably didn’t think about high school or grammar school more than a few times in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, but today I realize that the people I knew then are part of my story. Being able to see what their gardens look like in spring, or how much their grandchildren resemble them, or the amazingly creative project that engages them is a slice of a chapter in this bigger life. At my age, I understand the value of holding on to those times a little bit, and Facebook gives me a chance to do that.
Part of the power of being able to connect with such a disparate group of people all in one place is that it also allows us to make new friends. We just spent several days in England with two lovely women who are friends of friends of ours. We met them in person once a couple of years ago, but we connected on Facebook after that and have watched each other’s lives from afar. I knew their cat Merlin when I met him last week because I’d seen his photo on Facebook several times. I’m not sure I would have felt all that comfortable visiting someone I’d only met once, were it not for a couple of years of following them via this social network. It gave us a chance to test the waters electronically and we came together already appreciating things about each other that we'd learned from our feeds.
Facebook also takes into account my mortality, the relative shortness of life, and the fact that I’m too lazy and shy to stay connected with so many people in real life. It lets me feel as if I’m engaged in the lives of way more people than I actually am, and it doesn’t force me into hours of interactions that would make me squirm if we were having to meet every time I wanted to see a picture of the new baby.
When I was 18, I had no idea how quickly my life would fly by. It lay ahead of me then like a long, lazy road that meandered here and there whenever I wanted it to. Though I’m certainly not feeling as if I’m coming to the end of the path, I’ve rounded enough significant corners to deepen my appreciation of the human beings I’ve been lucky enough to meet and know and love. Facebook isn’t a substitute for real life relationships as much as it is a short-cut to getting there. When I do have dinner with someone I haven’t seen in 40 years, we don’t have to spend hours reviewing every decade. We’ve seen the highlight reel and we can start where we are today. It’s just a tool, but it’s a useful one for someone like me.