Monday, August 22, 2011

Facebook: Main Street, USA

Most of the world is on Facebook. If they aren't it is usually a conscious decision to be gauche or non-conformist or because they don't like computers. I haven't met anyone that is not on Facebook because they don't know it is there.

We like Facebook because we can see old friends, frequently chat with those we wouldn't normally, and stalk people we hated in high school and watch delightedly as their pictures show an increasing girth.

My main purpose on Facebook is the quick check-in. I can, with a few minutes time, see how my Great Uncle is feeling, see what is on sale at Target, and see my niece's school pictures. It is a fast way to get information, and it is so satisfying/addicting that I have to tell myself NOT to check it every time I walk past the computer.

I'm sure that you, like me, have heard many a bitter conversation on the evils of social networking and how they take the personal touch out of communication. Where are the lengthy phone conversations of yesteryear? When was the last time you wrote a real letter that contained throwaway thoughts like "I think I will lose my mind if I have to find a healthy/fun/inexpensive/exciting school lunch that requires no heating/refrigeration/assembly and contains no fresh fruit/veg/peanut/tree nut/questionable meat."

We've heard the disdain from those who feel above the world of social networking. No, they proudly proclaim, of the Facebooking world for communication purposes, we will have none! Give me a quill and sealing wax and I will spit upon the hooligans of this century.

I get it. I really do. I think it is quite sad that we say Happy Birthday to our Grandmother on Facebook and then forget to call her, because mentally it has already been done. We should call, with a phone, the Grandmother who loves us. Add it on Facebook, send an e-card, whatever else. But you should opt for the most personal form of communication that is available to you.

I live in the same town as my parents. I should visit them in person when possible, phone when it isn't, text or email for little last minute notes when I know they are asleep or otherwise engaged. A phone call wouldn't be appropriate for all of our communication. I have the ability to see them in the flesh, and so I should take that opportunity. I don't live near my sister, however, and the phone is the best we can do on most days. I use it whenever possible, as it is the most personal I can be at such a distance. I do email her and send her Facebook comments such as 'you look really old and insane in that picture'. But I like to hear her voice, listen for the notes of strain or the familiar laugh.

Social networking is both a plus and a negative in the form of commuication. However, I am pro-Facebook because it provides something that is otherwise not available to the average American in 2011.

In times past, gossip was shared on Main Street. Maybe in your town it was called Maple Street or Lee Circle. Regardless of the name, it was the center of business and leisure, and the natural meeting place. On Main Street, you can watch as the lady who cuts your hair meets her fiancee as he steps off the bus. When they walk to the cafe, she with tears in her eyes and no longer wearing a ring, you know Something is Going On. On the other side of the street, three boys are planting a toad in their grandmother's purse while she talks to the produce man about squash. When they can't walk normally tomorrow, you'll already know why. Your Great Aunt Effie walks by, smooshes you with her gigantic bosom and smacks a kiss on your face as she nearly kills you with her noxious perfume. She tells you to come see the roses that just bloomed in her back yard and please return her iced tea pitcher.

Little things, insignificant things. But are they?

Main Street, and the idea that it represents, is lost to our spread-out, worn-thin, isolated culture. We are often proud of the fact that we know a lot about a little, instead of a little about a lot.

Doctors are more specific in their studies: they know every cell of your colon but have no idea how your eyes work. This means greater care for your colon, but overall you take up the slack by visiting 100 doctors just to ensure that your body is working normally. Each doctor represents a different part of the body, and few seem to know how the other parts work in harmony. Again, it overall represents a huge step forward for medicine that I applaud. But it says something about the way we all work.

We are isolated. We became isolated in order to become more efficient. I'd say we are a mostly efficient people, in that we like to do things as quickly as possible with the most successful outcome available. But we have created a huge gap of knowledge that is only starting to become apparent.

Do I need to know what Uncle Ollie thinks about the election. No? Yes? Do I care that he went on vacation with his family and had a great time? Should it matter that he reads some of my favorite books?

I would say that no, it doesn't really matter if I know that my niece made cookies with her mom. It doesn't cause a ripple in the universe if I am unaware that my cousin took a really cool picture of a railroad track. My life will continue regardless. Does it matter to me that it is raining in Atascadero? Should I be interested in what my high school best friend is doing or who he is in love with this week?

No, it doesn't matter. But yes, it really does.

I can continue in my isolation, which includes friends and entertainment, education and experience. But without Main Street, my life is limited to the ideas and opinions of those whom I have chosen to spend time with. My life is far less rich, subtle, and gratifying. I feel more alone, even amongst the friends who give me the personal commuication that is essential to a good life.

If you have Main Street, or Facebook, you have a greater framework. I wouldn't have counted my dad's sisters as my friends before. I love them, they are part of my family and heritage, but I see them once in awhile and my life doesn't really include them. Now I can tell Neva that her son's wedding was beautiful, and Debbie that her grandkids are getting big. We didn't have this relationship before, and now that I have it, I wouldn't want to give it up.

I've realized just how large a group of people stand behind, beside, and with me. I am not a 'self-made (wo)man' who is untouched or unaltered by the people in my life. This framework is important, because it supports us. We don't have to work on it all the time to keep it in good working order. Just a check-in once in a while, a bit of rust there that needs some tending. Without a good healthy framework, your collapse is ever so much greater. We need to know we aren't alone and that we are supported by many hands that mostly remain unseen. Nobody wants to stand on Main Street alone.

It really isn't of great importance if I know what Someone ate for breakfast. Sometimes, Someone needs to lay off the persistent updates. But knowing that Someone had a coffee at Starbucks on Camelback reminds you that the Someone is still part of your life. This might be the most personal communication you get from them, at least during this season. But you shouldn't forget the people in your life, no matter how small their influence. It reminds you that Starbucks on Camelback is still there, where you sat in high school and learned to love overstuffed cafe chairs. It reminds you that life goes on there without you, which is oddly comforting. It reminds you, and me, that life is bigger than ourselves and our experiences. It is the collective exchange of thoughts and tears, cups of coffee, engagements that are now back on, and all those mundane details we can't seem to get enough of.

So, what's on your mind? : Weather on Main Street is warm and sunny, and a very nice place to be. I hope to catch you there.


ReflectionsByPj said...

I absolutely love this post! What a fun way, unique way, of looking at facebook.

Colleen said...

I have often thought that Facebook is like walking down a hallway where you can overhear various conversations, stop and participate in one if you wish, or start your own conversation with whomever may want to chat. I, too, have developed some relationships with relatives who were previously little more than strangers with a common ancestor. I like your analogy of Main Street.