Social Butterfly

Conventional wisdom holds that you can tell a great deal about a person by who their friends are. My Facebook posse is proof.

Since becoming a participant in what has become one of the most popular social networking sites (SNSs) on the Web; a cadre of people — men, women for whom my life has mattered, or who have mattered to me, are accessible in an instant — at the click of a mouse.

I am a keystroke away from my friendship tree.

Facebook has its draw backs. When I think of the possibilities of computer science, the thought of immersive experiences is the thing that turns my crank. Virtual reality, as if worlds, have always rocked my world. I look forward to their maturation.

But apart from this Facebook shortcoming, Facebook’s features lull the user into a sense of responsibility, history, accountability and community; even, sometimes, acts of random kindness.

My posse frequently sends me what I call “thought gestures” — virtual plants for instance which, remind me of our threatened ozone layer.

At first, I didn’t get it. I’m more inclined toward actual gardens. They smell good —As opposed to a virtual greenhouse of succulents.

The past arrives at your door on Facebook.

People find you.

They look for you.

. . . It’s as easy as the alphabet.

Whether you let them in; those for whom time has shaped but not severed the spine of friendship, is up to you. At this writing, I anticipate a meeting with two previously out of touch high school friends. The three of us became women, apart. But our memories bind us. Kim K. contacted me. She asked if I remembered pulling her hair in class (I sat behind her).

I did remember.

Spell the name Julie Holley on Facebook and get 18 possibilities. From California to Australia; 18 women who might be inspired to answer this question: What’s in a name?

“Don’t put out there what you don’t want your mother to read,” is how Brian Tietje, sales manager at LinkedIn (another SNS) put it at a panel discussion sponsored by the Barnard Business and Professional Network on Wednesday, September 24, two days after One Web Day [http://onewebday.org].

I thought of my mother, looked around, straightened up in my chair and smiled, knowing that my mother has served, (since launching my journalism career) as a kind of censor.

She is 80 but she gets computers. I am well aware of the kind of surveillance I am under. Rather, of its possibility.

One Facebook feature I like is called “blocking.” If you “block” someone they will not be able to search for you, see your profile, or contact you on Facebook. “Any ties you currently have with this person will be broken (friendship connections, relationships, etc),” says Facebook’s fine print when one chooses to block. Blocking is a kind of electronic martial art; a technique for those who don’t want to be in touch.

MIT Media Lab professor Judith Donath has done substantive work in the area of SNSs. She writes in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication: “SNSs provide a new way to organize and navigate an egocentric social network. Are they a fad, briefly popular but ultimately useless? Or are they harbingers of a new and more powerful social world, where the ability to maintain an immense network — a social “supernet” —fundamentally changes the scale of human society?”

[http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol13/issue1/donath.html]

The Palo Alto-based California company knows the world is its oyster.

It is available in 22 languages. That’s a lot of mother tongue.

© 2008 Julie Holley

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