Thursday, September 30, 2010

Does Facebook Make Us Rude?

Wishing someone a happy birthday has become tricky business.  Based on the number of mid- to late-September birthdays in my circle, a lot of people apparently got lucky in the 1970s around the office Christmas party (I think that's what they were called then) and on New Year's Eve.  If I had to send each of them a card and take them to lunch, I'd have to take a leave of absence from my job and extend a line of credit.  Luckily for me there is Facebook, which strikes me as a bit of a cheat on my part.  And yet people are quite likely getting many more birthday wishes as a result of social media.  Is this a mark of a more or less civilized way of living?

My little generation of Gen-X types is, in this as in so many ways, divided on the subject.  I have friends who still say they think a text or email as a form of communication is rude, but most are quite comfortable with these or with an FB message, since they're on a few times a day. 

The divide is somewhat age-based---my friends who are older than I am, even by a few years, almost always say that a phone call is better and sometimes don't even know how to text or use social media--and is, anecdotally, related to marital, work, geographical, and hipster status.  So married people, especially women, tend to call each other, and those who don't work outside the home even more so.  They are also often the ones who tell me they think a text is a rude way to connect.  People who are plugged into popular culture, travel a lot for work or who live more than 100 miles from their hometown tend towards Facebook posts for general updates and texts for immediate needs. 

Only a couple of years ago I thought I was too old for social media, but my friend Colin--he and his wife are definitely plugged into popular culture and have so many friends who live all over that they got on the bandwagon early--told me to get with it because I needed to understand the world my children will live in, as we're really only in the early iterations of this medium.  As I have been more than once, I'm grateful for a kick in the pants from a friend, as he was entirely right. 

I'm a single parent with a demanding job and commute, so I honestly don't have the time or inclination for talking on the phone unless it relates to something urgent or juicy gossip, and I am definitely not a lady who lunches, other than at my desk with leftovers.  I really like texting, especially when it's for logistics, and Facebook annoys me for all the reasons it does others, though the ability to catch up with lots of people I've had the good fortune of knowing, many of whom live hundreds of miles from me or are always on the road.

Today, though, I got home and found a note in my mailbox.  As with my home phone number, usually what I receive in the mail is junk, so I was thrilled to find a little handwritten missive.  It was from the mother of a friend of mine.  My son was fortunate enough to attend a football game at the University of Texas last weekend (I'll not discuss the outcome of the game, though it was ugly for the UT faithful) with the family of one of his school friends.  The boy's grandmother actually sat down and wrote me a note about how much she enjoyed visiting with my son.  I can keep it in a drawer and read it when he's seventeen and I am despairing over his future, as every parent of a teenager assures me I will do.

Is the medium the message?  Because I'm not a boomer or one of their children, I am not entirely sure, a state I've learned is part of the flux inherent in my cohort.  I'd love to think I can sit down at my writing desk and manage my correspondence, but if you're my friend you know I'll be pleased with myself for remembering your birthday, even if Facebook has helped me do so. 

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