Out There: It's a Facebook reality

What does a person really need? A spouse, a purpose, health, food, shelter, a newspaper. But Facebook?

herb keinon (photo credit: )
herb keinon
(photo credit: )
Not from the quick deciders or those who take seamlessly to new technology, it took me quite some time - about four years - to decide whether to sign up for Facebook, that granddaddy of all social networking Web sites. Among my arguments against joining were the following: I've got no time; I have my hands full with e-mail; and there's nobody I really want to talk to whom I can't just call on the phone or e-mail. Facebook, I concluded, was something I didn't need. But "need" in this context is the wrong word. What does a person really need: a spouse, a purpose, health, food, shelter, a newspaper. But Facebook? The question then became not whether I needed Facebook, but rather whether it would be beneficial or enjoyable. I knew it could probably be very beneficial professionally - networking, exposure and all that - but couldn't really figure out how exactly that would work. Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, for instance, wanted to be my Facebook friend. But what good was that when he is already Facebook friends with 1,441 other people. Where is the exclusivity, the intimacy of that "friendship"? Anyhow, I thought that by the time I would finally figure out how to leverage Facebook to my professional advantage, something else would come along - Twitter? - that would be even more useful. THIS FATALISTIC attitude toward technology is born of experience. Back in the '70s I followed the rage of the time - eight-tracks - and bought all my music on that now-obsolete platform. I was so gung ho that I actually had a two-deck eight-track player, giving me 16 tracks of grainy-sounding music interrupted by track switching. Not long after that CDs were born, and my eight-track collection became obsolete. Crossing off need or benefit in regard to Facebook, I was left with the question of enjoyment. Would Facebook be enjoyable? In the beginning I wasn't sure that was the right characterization either. Given that I'm on the computer eight to 14 hours a day, would spending another hour at the keyboard really be enjoyable? Until I realized the true use of Facebook for people of my generation: looking up the names of old friends, glancing at their pictures - including old girlfriends - and making snap judgments. And, as much as I hate to admit it, there is a degree of guilty enjoyment looking at these photos and saying, "Wow, I'm sure glad I didn't marry her," or "Hey, I wonder if she married a Jewish guy." And therein lies the beauty of Facebook: being able to see what people you liked - or disliked - 30 years ago look like today. So I joined. The decision to join was made easier since The Wife joined about a month earlier. I concluded that if she's going to look up her old flames, I didn't have to feel bad about doing the same. Once you join, however, there are all kinds of other tactical decisions. Do you want to be "friends" with everyone out there, or do you want to limit it? Do you want only to reconnect with people from your distant past, or do you want to have contact with someone around the block? I'm still very much in the process of trying to figure all that out, though I decided to widen my scope when I got depressed after logging onto my account for two weeks running and seeing the following message on my profile: "One friend." It's an odd phenomenon, this looking up one's past on Facebook. And its even odder for those who live thousands of miles away from where they grew up. I graduated from high school in 1977, and have never attended a reunion. Not because I didn't want to, but rather because I couldn't justify paying $1,200 to travel 4,000 miles to Denver for an event I'd have to walk to on Shabbat, and which I wouldn't be able to eat at because the George Washington High School reunion team wasn't exactly going to provide kosher fare. The upshot is that 32 years after graduation, the mental pictures I have of my friends are frozen in time. I think "Carla Hansen" and I'm seeing this beautiful blonde temptation. I think "Bobby Jones" and I'm thinking little, tough punk. I think "Tom Turner" and am recalling a social misfit whom everyone picked on. NATURALLY, WHEN you go to the occasional reunion over the years, those images become altered as you watch people age. If you see these people once every five or 10 years, the iconic yearbook photo gradually fades into the distance, and reality intervenes. You watch the transition as Carla becomes heavier, Bobby softer and Tom flourishes as CEO of a computer start-up. But if you don't go to reunions, the folks you went to school with remain in your mind forever young. Until, of course, you click onto their Facebook pictures, and the full impact of the intervening 32 years hits you: "Jeez have they aged." I'm looking at pictures of people who look like grandparents - and not necessarily young grandparents - precisely because, well, some of them are grandparents. The Wife, a kindler, gentler, more forgiving soul than I, constantly remarks about how good her friends look. I'm always mumbling the exact opposite. And that scares me, because if I'm looking at pictures of bespectacled, gray, bald, heavy classmates and thinking about how the years have not done them well, I can only imagine what they are saying about me. Which is why in my Facebook profile, I'll never appear without a hat (my kids suggest a ski mask). Me, I want to keep Carla Hansen guessing.