When it comes to computers and digital technology, I almost always find myself ahead of the curve relative to my immediate friends. I bought my first Mac in 1989. A year later, I bought my first modem, and yet another world seemed to open up.
Before any of us had access to the internet (much less the Web), I was dialing into local bulletin board systems put up by tech hobbyists who, for whatever reason, would spend all kinds of money on systems and extra phone lines to let people spout their issues of the day to other geeks. As a relative computer neophyte, these “communities” became great resources for me to help solve computer-related problems as well as dynamic forums to debate the latest issues. Hell, I actually fought with my girlfriend on one of these boards, knowing full well that the Sysop could read every word.
Then came Prodigy and then AOL and finally the World Wide Web. Long before any of my friends I shopped online, banked online, reserved flights online, and figuring my taxes with my computer. Consider me a beta tester for many of those things most of us now take for granted. I just always loved this stuff.
And now, there’s Facebook. For how long we’ll all have Facebook is anyone’s guess, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that within two years, most of you reading this will have largely abandoned the service for something else.
After six months of using it myself, I find it a product of genius, really, but it does nothing new. It just does most of it in a way that’s much easier for the casual web surfer. Uploading images, movies, and posting simple comments and observations couldn’t be simpler — or more addictive. We all love good conversation, and honestly, how often can we engage in this kind of socialization anymore? When was the last time your next door neighbor just dropped in for coffee? When’s the last time someone stopped by without setting up the appointment weeks, sometimes months in advance?
When I was a kid, we could usually expect someone to just drop by at least once a week. I miss that, but on the other hand, I understand why that rarely happens. No one wants to impose, and rightly so. With both parents — or the whole household — working or off doing something else, who has the time?
The Facebook dynamic, however, could hardly get more casual. This works in its favor and sometimes to your disadvantage. Most of us who use the web all the time know about emoticons and the impossibilities of subtleties. We also begin to understand the microscope that our public figures operate under. Quotes out of context, a bit of sarcasm, or an unappreciated photo can quickly get us all into trouble.
As a long-time veteran of online communities, I try my best to mind my digital Ps and Qs, but I am by nature very opinionated and passionate about what concerns me most. I do try not to express any opinion that isn’t informed. At 48 years old, I’d like to think I’ve learned something about the diplomacy of discourse. Still, I get some unfortunate reactions.
My Facebook account now has 141 friends. Last week, I started a thread all about the process of de-friending people, and it set off a torrent of responses that ventured into the world of religion, a real third-rail issue in any forum. The person I de-friended, someone I didn’t even know, expressed an opinion that indicated his belief that the theory of Evolution was a fraud. Click, he was gone. As I stated in one post, to question Evolution’s validity today means you can doubt the Earth is round. If you believe this, then you’re a fool and you’re in denial of the very essence of reality. I have no business associating with you.
So, as we ventured into the realm of metaphysics, we touched upon the whole “meaning of life” thing. As it happens, I’ve given this a great deal of thought lately. In middle age and watching my daughter grow up, the whole notion of my mortality presses upon me, and so it gets a lot of brain time.
I differ with my wife on this, but I’m not a religious person. When I even consider the whole god concept, I try to keep in mind a few things. One, the amount of actual space we take up in the unimaginable vastness of the universe would make it kind of pointless for a supreme being to care a whole lot about who we sleep with or whether or not we respect our elders. If you imagine a grain of sand on the beach of your choice, our galaxy in this universe would proportionally be a millionth the size of that.
Religion, it seems to me, is an attempt to answer two very basic but important questions. Why are we here and what happens after we die.
I finally figured out the answer to the first question. We’re here to create. I knew that the moment I held my daughter in my arms for the first time. But I also knew that the day I saw the first issues of Roadside come off the press twenty years ago. Our primary function in this life is to make something of it and leave a legacy. To do otherwise is simply evil. Evil makes nothing. It only destroys.
In answer to the second, I don’t know this yet, but I can only tell you with complete certainty that I was already dead once. So were you. You were effectively dead and non-existent before you were born. What was going on with you then? I don’t know either, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.
Anyway, during the Facebook exchange, I think I lost two or three friends. I know who one of them was, and I know that my comments were misunderstood. I also understand the sensitivity of the subject of the meaning of life, etc. I regret losing the friend. I do not regret anything I wrote.
How much does Facebook reflect real life? Not much, I’m afraid. A big bulk of my friends are people I haven’t spoken with in over 20 years. I find it downright surreal hearing on a daily basis from people who I last saw walking around the halls in high school. To see their photos makes me feel that much older. Yes, there are a few whose memory I’d rather preserve from that time and keep it there, but there you go. Seeing these photos and these people often bring about a lot of “what ifs” some reassessments for me. Who needs that?
And there are still some mysteries that I debate whether or not I should ever try to solve.
We will eventually find out if there’s life after Facebook. Like I said, as a long-time observer and user of all-things-online, I’m pretty certain we’ll all move on to something else. I’m also pretty certain that it won’t come a moment too soon.