Like any other social networking tool, Facebook is just what you make it. I've found Tweeting to be something that doesn't really work well for me. MySpace felt like the Commons, a break room in my high school where kids gathered to snipe at one another or bury their noses in their own concerns. Neither of those spaces worked for me. Yet, as I reflect on my life as this moment, at who is in it, who is on my mind, the things I am doing with my time and energy, I find that Facebook has replaced the old Bitnet Relay in my life. It keeps me in touch with a wide number of peripheral acquaintances and casual friends. And it has allowed me to deepen friendships where I wish to, and make new ones when they resonate.
I am sitting here right now, sipping a last cup of coffee. It's snowing lightly outside - just flurries. And in a few minutes, I will rouse myself to get moving and get out of the house to make my way into NYC, where I will meet my real-life friend and possible cousin, Carolina. Carolina is from Guatemala. We may be related, or not. Who knows? We share a surname. I met Carolina when her sister, who shares my name (or at least a portion of it), Virginia Servent Palmieri, friended me during the early days of my having joined Facebook. Slowly, the net grew, and I added many of the Palmieris who live in Guatemala to my Friend List. I discovered a kindred soul in one of Carolina's cousins, Carmen, who also lives in Guatemala. Our life stories are eerily similar and our instant understanding of one another was stunning. And when I met Carolina in person for the first time last January, even though there are years between our ages, continents between our lives, and vast cultural differences, I made a real-life friend. The connection was instant and has only been deepened each time we have been together.
Me and Carolina, friends and presumed cousins, moments after first meeting in NYC
in January, 2010
I have some friends who malign things like Facebook and say they have no use for them. Interestingly, they have never so much as stopped by these sites to see what they're like, but believe they know what they're all about. They criticize me, and think I'm crazy for using it. I just shrug, knowing that I have also heard them criticize people who have strong opinions about them and their work without having taken the time to familiarize themselves with it. They are right: you can't judge a book by its cover. Just like the Internet itself, Facebook can be a door to misuse, as can anything else in life. It can also be a very pleasant place to stop by for a quick visit. Some people use it to play games. Others use it to broadcast news to a large number of people at one time. But for me? I use it, instead, to update myself on the comings and goings of a large number of people I care about. I've heard people say that they don't have time for it. Oddly, I use it as a time saver. I can tell in a moment if something important is going on with one of my friends, and then I am free to follow up on them with an e-mail or a phone call, or simply to wait for another update from them so I know what's happening. In an age when none of us have enough time to do all the things we'd like to do, when few of us can afford to travel the globe, where most of us can't (or don't) even make time to pick up a pen and drop a card in the mail to a friend in need, Facebook has served in an amazing capacity. It has broadened my horizons and expanded the scope of my world.
I have recently had lunch with a woman who was my best friend in kindergarten. I hadn't seen her in 40 years, and wasn't close friends with her after our earliest elementary years together, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing her again, and was instantly aware of what drew us into friendship when we were 5 years old. Right now, I realize I haven't seen any activity from her since before Thanksgiving and I'm about to contact her to make sure everything's all right. Without Facebook, we would not likely have reconnected.
As I get ready to go have lunch with Carolina again, all I can say is, "Thanks, Bets. You're right. Facebook is fun."