Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Of Facebook and Friends

A few months ago, after several promptings by colleagues, I decided to join Facebook, the hugely popular social networking website. I was hesitant to join because I had seen another successful social networking website, MySpace, and was repulsed by its noisy layout and design. However, Facebook seemed different—more streamlined, more accessible, I guess you could say—and for the not so easily impressed critic inside me that was enough reason to take the plunge.

Besides, I thought, I could connect with a few old friends.

But my introduction to Facebook was more sobering than anything else.

In a matter of minutes, I discovered two friends who had been my best friends when I was a kid. These two guys were the best. We were all roughly nine years old, give or take a few months between our birthdays. We’d go bike riding around the neighbourhood from dawn ‘till dusk; we celebrated birthdays; we’d set out for adventures downtown, where we’d catch a few movies; and we’d play sports, like street hockey or parking lot baseball, on the weekends and during the summer when school broke for holidays.

The summer sun was endless, the fun was endless, and life was sweet. We enjoyed this life for many, many years until circumstances, such as college, work, and family relocation, slowly took us into different directions. We lost touch, for the most part, only seeing each other briefly at university (in the halls) or on the bus or train.

But I never forgot those guys or those days. How could I? Can one really forget those days, when one was nine years old? I loved them; I loved us, those crazy kids on their bikes, innocent, without a single care in the world other than finding out the time for our favourite cartoon show and the release date of the latest Nintendo video game.

On Facebook, however, I barely recognized their faces. The oldest member of our trio was–let me call him “Big T”—was the sports fanatic and music lover. He introduced me to baseball as well as to hip-hop music (KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions, remember them?). As a kid, “Big T’s” dream was to become a professional baseball player and a rapper. He had a passion for both.

In checking out his Facebook profile, and in chatting with him, he had become an occupational therapist by day and a Deep House music DJ by night, hosting his own late night/early hours show on the Internet. His passion for music never waned, only transformed into something different. His passion has made him widely recognized and well-travelled. Awesome!

Meanwhile, the youngest member of our trio – let me call him “Lil L”—was the book reading, D&D playing, adventure-seeking free spirit. He introduced me to role-playing games (D&D, AD&D, RIFTS) and to the then still embryonic world of PC games (the hilarious Space Quest series). We’d bike a lot together, through forest paths, getting bitten by mosquitoes, and to the outer limits of our neighbourhood, which was very far for our little kid navigational senses. His mother would take us to baseball games and museums and his grandmother would serve us lemonade and share her air-conditioned apartment on especially hot and humid summer days.

As a kid, “Lil L,” much like myself, loved role-playing games. We loved conjuring up stories for our role-playing characters. The more stories we made up, the more fun we had. Personally, I found making up stories and watching friends become engrossed very satisfying, as I often came up with one story after another. Some good, some duds, and some with the right mixture of mystery and action that I even surprised myself. At one point, during one of those tension-filled story moment, “Lil L” asked me, “How do you come up with all these stories?” It was a question I could not answer. I was afraid to answer. I didn't quite know; they just came. But the question stuck with me for many years. My imagination, it seemed, was rearing its newborn head.

On Facebook, I honestly could not recognize “Lil L” because the profile image I saw was that of a man carrying a baby. The shiny kid face I had known was replaced by a glowing fatherly face, complete with goatee and sunglasses, and in his arms he held his child. “Lil L” was married with two young boys and worked with a large telcom company. His wife was not the girl who he had an endless crush on as a kid, but someone else. His two boys had their father’s free spirit look (in a few short years, I thought, they will be biking around the neighbourhood from dawn ‘till dusk).

Sadly, I also learned that his mother, who had set up birthday parties and trips to baseball games, had died a few years back. I could not swallow that revelation. I had known her, and now she was gone. Not sick or ailing, but dead. I was stunned, shocked, in disbelief. And as clich├ęd as it may sound, I felt something die in me.

This is not what I expected from Facebook. I expected connecting, social networking, old friends, new friends, super walls and super pokes. Instead, I experienced sad, painful nostalgia.

The faces I remembered were from a different time; the faces I now saw on Facebook were changed by time and circumstances, for better or for worse. And the time we had known together, that I had known so thoroughly and enjoyed immensely, which I kept tucked away safely in a protected memory center, to be retrieved every so often, had moved on.

I clicked logout, something I would often do in the months after I joined Facebook. And I never bookmarked the website.

Nowadays, I hardly use Facebook. That’s not to say Facebook has no value in the future. But for me, at this time, I am content with the social networking websites and tools I use and the online friends I have. I do not wish to allocate any more time to Facebook.

If one of Facebook’s purposes was to assist users reconnect with old friends with a few clicks, it certainly succeeded. Though not its fault, Facebook simply failed to mention that a few clicks can also mean opening doors to the past that, in retrospect, should be approached cautiously and in some cases sometimes remain closed.

1 comment:

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about the author

I am an information professional, researcher, and writer with over eight years experience in the information services field with experience in information and communication technology.

I have a B.A. in History and a Master's in Library and Information Studies and working on a Web and Multimedia Design certificate.

I believe that empowering people with information can enrich lives and transform the world.