People who aren’t participating in Facebook often put it down as trivial or superficial, a safely ignored passing fad.
They’re mostly right, but they’re missing the point.
The other day, a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I went to a gathering at a local restaurant. Its purpose was to rally in support of a fellow artist who was about to begin chemo treatments for prostate cancer. John’s prognosis is actually good, and while chemo will undoubtedly be hard on him, the mood of the gathering was rather celebratory. As was intended by its organizer, Renna, a Denver writer into collective action and shamanism. She wanted to have a gathering of the tribe that for once, wasn’t a memorial (we’ve lost several well-loved Denver artists lately). That there was a need for that was quickly apparent. I wasn’t the only one who had to apologize for not remembering the name of someone I hadn’t seen in years.
One subject that kept popping up- Facebook. Not surprising, really. The gathering had largely been organized through Facebook. It could all been accomplished by e-mail, flyers or phone tree, but it wasn’t. I’m sure there was some of all of those, but they couldn’t have created the sort of family reunion type atmosphere we instantly got. Emails are too business like, flyers too time consuming, phones too invasive for such a far flung group. Letters? forget it. Facebook was just right for turning a semi-private event into public knowledge. It’s viral, so word got passed along from friend list to friend list. It’s somewhat passive and undemanding, so one could simply rsvp regrets, or ignore it altogether. It didn’t make too much, nor too little, of John’s challenge. And it allowed Renna and his other friends to set the tone.
Even the folks who I do remember, I haven’t seen in the flesh much. A grinding day job, playing catch-up with a family or creative life, an unanticipated, but very powerful need to go to bed at 10:30- as the years go by, these things mitigate against the kind of daily contact needed to nurture the best friendships. But inexorably, Facebook had brought us back together around health care diatribes; photo sharing and You Tube video links, and now it had gotten us out of our offices and studios to compare bifocal prescriptions and gray hair, and give John a pat on the back or a hug. And, it provides enough superficial info about people you once saw on a daily or weekly basis, to allow one to dispense with the awkward small talk and get to the big talk right away. How did your last show go? How does that feel now the kids are off to school? Are you still a Downtowner? For a bunch of 40-50 somethings, just staying connected is half the battle. It is precisely because Facebook IS trivial and superficial that it is not a fad.
Facebook’s show announcements, polls and coffee-cup haikus allow you to pop in on lives long drifted from you, and even the assorted silliness provides companionable banter in a world where all too often, the only kind you hear is from the get-a-life crowd in the Broncos jerseys. And this is not to mention the more transcendent moments such as last Sunday, or the Mexican food I shared in downtown Albuquerque with my high school friend George, whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.
The terminology is stilted (“friending” ? “status” ?), and its mostly mundane content a gold mine awaiting exploitation by The Onion, but its power to create (or revive) affinities among the strivers, dreamers and street-level pundits buried in the detritus of the info age is unmatched. In the numbing triviality of the workaday world, it is almost indispensable to those who haven’t given up on the fine art and pure spontaneous joy of bending -or lending, an ear.