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Long time no see
May 21, 2009 - Bill Ackerbauer
As if I don't already spend enough of my waking hours in front of a computer, recently I fell into the grip of the social networking site Facebook. If you've never heard of Facebook or the term "social networking site," it's probably either an accident or a miracle that you're reading my blog at all, so I won't give a comprehensive explanation. It suffices to say Facebook (like MySpace, LinkedIn and myriad lesser known sites) offer forums for communicating with friends, making new acquaintances and expressing oneself.
Some people on these sites do the latter to a fault, committing the cardinal sin of TMI and revealing things about themselves that probably should have remained private.
One of the reasons I've come to prefer Facebook to MySpace is that, while both let users customize their profiles, Facebook pages tend to have a gracefully neutral quality, like blank slates upon which people jot down their thoughts and experiences. MySpace pages, on the other hand, are too often customized to such an extent that they are asthetically offensive. One never knows, when clinking on someone's MySpace page for the first time, whether one will be greeted by images of fluffy puppies and unicorns or dagger-impaled skulls dripping blood. Such cyber-eyesores usually are accompanied by background music ranging from sugary pop to rampaging death metal. I'm not sure which is worse. Occasionally, some clever chap will combine the fluffy puppy pictures with the scorching sounds of the death metal, to which I grant points for irony, but the result is ultimately a doubly unpleasant Web surfing experience.
Pardon me while I go all Andy-Rooney-cranky in this post, by another thing I'd like to complain about with these social networking sites is that many people use them to announce the most banal and pathetic details of their lives. To quote one of my own outbursts on Facebook: "I've been at work since 5:45 a.m. and I don't want to hear at 11 a.m. that you're just enjoying your first cup of coffee in your jammies and bunny slippers!"
Overlooking the pitfalls of annoyance and mediocrity, however, one can see social networking sites for the powerful communication platforms they are. Through Facebook, I've met new people with similar interests and reconnected with old friends, former schoolmates and teachers, even long-lost relatives. I recently had a conversation with a friend (in person) about how one's first foray into Facebook can be shocking, almost surreal, as if one suddenly is able to locate and communicate with people one hasn't heard from in half a lifetime. When I first started Facebooking (it's an ugly verb, but functional), I found it eerie that so many old acquaintances were contacting me from across time ("High school reunion, anyone?") and space ("Greetings from Switzerland!") and filling me in on the most recent chapters of their biographies.
In many ways, it felt as if dozens of people who were as good as dead to me suddenly came back to life, and they all wanted to catch up. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke had it right: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
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