Several years ago, one of my sons sent an online request to be my "friend" on Facebook. Apparently, he'd just signed up, and they gave him ways (a simple click of the mouse) to ask folks on his email list if they wanted to be his Facebook friends, too. So I said yes, and suddenly the world of online social networking opened its doors to me.
I believed Facebook was a kid thing, another way for them to stay in touch, gossip and share pictures of where they were, what they were doing or how cute their baby bump or newborn child was. I was charmed by all I could suddenly see.
Sitting at my computer deep in a North Country frigid winter endurance contest, I was able to see trips my "friends" were going on, family photos of recently departed grandparents, recipes for barbecue pork, pictures taken out winter windows and faces of my own kids, who lived far away and didn't call or write often enough for my taste.
I learned how to post photos and identify people in them by "tagging" their faces. Then, most times, those folks would send me back a note to say hi or thanks for posting the picture. I'd found a new way to stay in touch with people, at my own pace, whenever I wanted to sit down at the computer and "see" what was going on out there in cyberspace.
One of my first "friends" was a woman I'd known as a girl in high school. We hadn't really been close and had never kept in touch, but now we caught up. I learned she lived in Texas and had just retired as an airline attendant after 30 years. It made her sound so old. Yet she was exactly the same age as me. I was learning a lot through this Facebook thing.
Back then, I saw that most everyone on Facebook was from my kids' generation. I took delight in seeing where these kids were living and what pictures they were posting from those lives. It was like a personal television show.
Over time I'd pay less rather than more attention to Facebook. Sometimes I totally forgot about it. But then someone would request to be a friend, and I'd say yes, and get to see more pictures and hear more backstories every time I did. I learned that some people seemed to think the Facebook world cared about their mundane daily activities like getting laundry done, making pancakes or taking the dog for a walk. Others seemed to be joyfully enthusiastic about cooking and sharing recipes. Many cared about service organizations and the military. Others cared about national politics, and posted articles that demanded my attention and action, which I often did, signing petitions, calling my representatives and sharing my political beliefs.
Many people posted articles from other sites about cute animals, or precocious children performing musical numbers, or evidence of global warming you can post something you have read or you are interested in any time you want. But after a while, a lot of these topics get tiring. You stop reading them all. There is too much out there, too many people, too much surface-level chatter, too little substance to take up your time. And time is what Facebook costs.
I learned how to "unfriend" someone who perhaps I had intense political conflict with, or whose "must reads" were rife with religious or sensational right- wing leanings, or who I never cared that much about in the first place. I learned that if I had clicked on "like" for a certain place, I was provided with promotions and advertising for that place. If I liked a business, especially local restaurants and events, I would be sent schedules, menus and upcoming events. If I didn't want those things, I could unlike them and have a lot less to look at.
One of my sons posted music that I listened to. Another son posted pictures of the two kittens he'd adopted. My youngest son posted pictures of the ocean when his job sent him on business trips to cool places. Facebook was my link to all of that. I didn't need to look at maps of ancient worlds from the Metropolitan Museum's store. I figured that out.
Over the years, I've noticed a change in my Facebook. Most of my "friends" are in my own age group now. We take note of bad weather, school closings, and the passages when our elders leave us. Many proudly display photos of their grandchildren, their gardens, and of trips they take after retirement. And the "kids" that got me started on Facebook are getting older, getting married, having children of their own and posting pictures I would have posted if Facebook had been around 30 years ago when my kids were young.
I like Facebook. I like the comfort of seeing our connections, our Adirondack Almanack, VIC, Adirondack Daily Enterprise, BluSeed news ... all with postings and stories about our lives, culled for us by folks we know. On a cold winter day I can be in my pajamas with steaming tea by the keyboard, figuring how many minutes I will spend sorting through Facebook pictures and stories. I'll be seeing if anyone has sent me a hello ... being careful to balance the time spent with what the day will be legitimately expecting of me. So while I get messages from friends and family in Oregon, California, Colorado, Florida, and the city, I'm feeling the pulse of our social network, and all our eyes on small screens, looking for those smiling hellos from somewhere else.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.