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Positively Facebook

Bernard Madoff has 1,558 friends.

What’s the deal with Facebook? I can’t claim total ignorance, as I registered on the site with neither picture nor profile at the prompting of an old work friend a while back. Then, a few months ago, another old acquaintance asked me to be her “friend” and when I returned to look at my page the amount of crap on it had grown exponentially. There was a long list of “People You May Know” – folks connected in some marginal manner to these two people I hardly knew anymore in the first place. There were vapid “announcements” ( Fran Turlington has poked Joyce Friendly ), “status updates” ( Clyde Bogues is doing his taxes ), assorted photographs of people in contented states achieved by me once every few decades, and more “friend” requests. The whole thing was overwhelming and confirmed a long-standing suspicion of mine: Everyone is having much more fun than I am behind my back.

Back in ’94 I was up at Ken Kesey’s farm in Oregon (one of my favorite name-dropping references.) Kesey had this rotund, early 20’s kid there working on some computer equipment. He referred to him as the “Round Mound of Brain Matter” when the lad was out of hearing range. It was less a malicious moniker than a playfully accurate assessment. The kid was well ahead of the learning curve on all things computer-related, and he schooled a group of us on the Internet, which was on the cusp of exploding. As we ate a spaghetti dinner and watched the Rockets and Knicks in the NBA playoffs, the Round Mound explained how everything was about to change. The key, he said, was this concept of connectivity.  Soon, most communication barriers, as we knew them, were going to evaporate. We pondered the idea for a while, before returning to the game, finishing the spaghetti, and firing up from a box of loose joints retrieved from the kitchen. (This was Ken Kesey’s place, after all.)

Fifteen years on, it would appear the kid was right. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have made it possible to connect with people from our recent, not so recent, and distant past with remarkable ease. Devices like the iPhone and iPod Touch allow for constant, portable Internet connectivity. If by some questionable stretch of the imagination you wanted to, you could easily send a snapshot of your big toe to a friend of a friend of your junior high shop teacher. What Kesey’s stout prognosticator could neither foresee nor fathom was why anybody would want to. As things have progressed, the true challenge lies not in being connected, but in somehow extracting oneself from the loop. Of course it’s a curious loop to begin with, Facebook being a prime example. For all of its remarkable features, what the site really offers is a tightly controlled environment, as defined by the user. Most “friends” on Facebook have little actual contact, and many don’t communicate at all beyond the initial “add.” It’s getting to where email, in all of its fluent ease and immediacy, is one of the more committed and involved forms of communication on the Internet.

Kesey had a nice place. I still remember the big living room, the barn adjacent to the main house, and the original Merry Pranksters bus parked out in the field. It was the only time I met him, and most of the other people there. He died in 2001, a few years before Facebook got off the ground. I like to think that, had he lived to see it, I would have refrained from asking him to add me as a friend.

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  1. Tom Myers wrote:

    Completely agree about this, a high school buddy convinced me to sign up and now get offers of friendship from a bunch of people I either marginally know or like, also the whole picture thing is true, who has the time or inclination to continually polish their trophy?

    Monday, March 23, 2009 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  2. admin wrote:

    Thanks for the comment Tom, though I have to admit that I’ve always made time for polishing my trophy and it’s one of the few things in life toward which I’ve remained consistently inclined.

    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 at 6:39 am | Permalink

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