Monday, June 13, 2011

A World Without Facebook

The Girl and the Boy, both on summer vacation, are both out of town this week, headed in separate directions.  I'll be doing the same in a few days and there will be hundreds of miles between us.  Yet in addition to daily texts and phone calls, the Girl is posting pictures on Facebook, so I can see how her day went. The Boy, while more cryptic, also posts, though his lame phone (mom's old Crackberry, aka The Brick) doesn't take pictures.

I am of an age and live in an age where my friends fall into two camps: those who engage in social media, and those who adamantly oppose it.  Three summers ago my friend Colin visited me and suggested I get on Facebook.  My response was that social media was irrelevant to me, given my age.  Colin--who is not only one of the scariest-smart engineering types I know but also, back in 1986, introduced me to Elvis Costello--was unequivocally in opposition.  "Your kids," he said, "will use this or another version of it constantly. If you really want to be involved in their lives, you"d better get with it." 

It wasn't hard, except that I spent a couple of weekends searching for friends from previous lives and wasting a whole lot of time getting an understanding of it.  I'd started this blog and realized quickly that most of my readers would come from my friend list.  I even started tweeting, though my enthusiasm for that never really has taken off.  At least I understand it, though. By now most of my good friends and even my mom are on Facebook, though some of them are either erstwhile users or perpetual lurkers. 

Others yet resist entirely.  This gap is not, anecdotally, based upon education or age, as many of my most intelligent friends resist.  And while some of my older friends say they don't get it, many others who are several decades beyond me post with relish.

Some of my resistor friends even have managed to keep their children off. I feel, alternatively, that these kids will go on to finish mapping the human genome or will be the subject of future Weiner-esque memes, sort of like the university friend who now spends four hours a night glued to the television because his parents forebade his watching during his formative years. I have misgivings about my indulgence of my own two children, though I and many other significant adults in their lives watch their posts carefully. 

Today in the WSJ I read the best argument yet for staying with the program. Daniel H. Wilson, in his piece "The Terrifying Truth About the New Technology" argues that what modern Luddites (they were, you may remember from sociology class, the textile workers who threw mechanized looms into the river) really fear is getting old.  And yet by resisting, they make themselves old, because the world keeps changing whether they like it or not.  Mr. Wilson, born in 1977, says it well:

Of course it's possible for old folks to adapt to new technological advances. People do it all the time. It only takes a grim determination to force yourself consciously to interact with each new wave of technology, no matter how insipid it seems. Only through grueling, hard work can you hope to understand or belong to the new world that is constantly (and rudely) emerging.

"So what?" you might ask. Those young people can keep their precious Internets.

I'm not saying you have to keep up. But at the moment you choose to stop growing, your world will begin to shrink. You'll be able to communicate with fewer people, especially the young. You will only see reruns. You will not understand how to pay for things. The outside world will become a frightening and unpredictable place.

As they say, the only constant is change.

Each new generation builds on the work of the previous one, gaining new perspective. New verbs are introduced. We Google strange and dangerous places. We tweet mindlessly to the cosmos. We Facebook our own grandmothers.

I, for one, don't want to be left behind.

Me neither.  Thanks, Colin, for helping me keep my world from shrinking.  And for the record, I follow Elvis Costello on Facebook.

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