Tuesday, May 06, 2008

From the Beginning to the End of the Curve

A friend who I have not talked to in over 15 years contacted me through Facebook a couple of weeks ago. MZ is easily one of the smartest people I know. During freshman year at Virginia Tech, we were practically inseparable. Life got in the way, of course, and though we occasionally found ourselves in similar orbits, we hadn't communicated directly until now.

Thankfully, his penchant for making me think to the point of paralysis has not changed in that time.

Funny how slow our generation is about getting on facebook. I've been putting it off for years it seems like.

Now - this came from the guy who got me involved in one of the earliest iterations of online social networking in the form of Virginia Tech's bulletin boards. We're talking 1988. (Procomm Plus and 19.2K modems anyone?)

So why did we, former pioneers in online communication, take so long to adopt Facebook?

I came up with the following list of excuses.

- Facebook does not solve an immediate problem. (No, it never dawned on me that folks I haven't talked to in 20 years would actually want to contact me. Facebook has been great for that).

- We have other priorities. (True - MZ has a wife, kids, professional job. All require attention.)

- How many new technologies can we learn? (Lots, apparently.)

- Do we really want all of our "stuff" out there? (Still grappling with this one. How much to expose. What will get me in "trouble" later).

I then promptly realized that all of these excuses don't really get to the core of the issue. And I'm not entirely certain what that core is.

So why is it taking so long for us 35+ folks to adopt Facebook and other social networking technologies?


Anonymous said...

For me (as a 35+ person), the generalness (for lack of a better term) of Facebook that really holds no appeal. I blog and read blogs that appeal to me. I'm active in subject-focused social networks. That's enough. I think you're right in that it does come down to priorities. If I'm getting sucked into another network that eats up my time and takes me away from other things and people then there needs to be a payoff greater than the cost. I learn from the blogs I choose to read and the networks in which I participate. Despite what others have written, I don't see a lot of learning in the purely social nature of Facebook.

Anonymous said...

My dad, who is 58, joined Facebook not too long ago. He got a friend invite from someone whose name he didn't recognize. That's because she changed it when she got married and doesn't have the same name as when they were in junior high together.

Although when I started playing with Facebook I expected it to be more about connecting with other bloggers like you, I've gotten much more from it connecting with people from college, high school, and music groups. It's been much more about those connections than anything else.

Even I, as an only 31-year-old, didn't "get" that part of it. It's about those connections--it isn't about something else. It's about having a way of maintaining those connections from different places in your life, knowing what's happening in their lives and sharing what's happening in yours. And yes, it's the little things in our lives as much as the big ones. I found out that a lifelong friend is expecting kid #2 through Facebook--there is that big news. But all the little daily things matter: Cammy was sick for ages this winter, Janet has awesome shoes in her new picture, my friend Julie is craving s'mores right now.

But when you think about your friend MZ, how much of that relationship was built around the small little experiences your freshman year? Yes, there are clearly big things that keep you together too. But the little experiences in the cafeteria or the quad or the dorms--the stuff of ordinary life--that's part of your relationship too.

You know, I guess my thinking has been moving this direction for a while, but it hadn't crystallized yet. I think Facebook is really about the connections and relationships--everything else is just a side effect or an environment built to support relationships.

Thanks for giving me a space to think out loud and process this all.

So what do you think? Is there some deep purpose that I'm missing? Am I oversimplifying it?

Sarah Stewart said...

Personally I would rather connect with people through my blog but I do have a FB profile so that people can find me there if they want. I just haven't got the time to do all the silly quizzes and things that get sent around.

Anonymous said...

As far as connecting to other bloggers, I think Facebook does add a more personal dimension to the relationships. However, I don't think it's worth doing Facebook just for my existing online relationships. As you said, Sarah, people can contact me through my blog, and we all interact with comments and posts.

But what about all the people who don't have blogs? What about friends from school that, even if they do have their own blogs, aren't interested in the specific topic of my blog? Plenty of my Facebook friends could care less about e-learning and instructional design, so why should they interact with me on my blog?

It would be different if my blog were just a personal journal. In that case, sure, I can see that old friends could reach out that way. But it doesn't make as much sense with a professional blog.

The flip side of the coin is that this also lets me find old friends. It isn't just about making myself available for people to contact me; it's about giving myself another way to reach out.