catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 13 :: 2009.06.19 — 2009.07.02


The pleasant results of a shrinking world

The evening of the event in question occurred about halfway through grad school. I was a novice of less than one month’s experience in the realm of Facebook. I had created an account on the advice of a friend that it was a great way to meet girls. That night Facebook was about to move from habit-forming hobby to critical connection, however. The scenario: I didn’t feel like working on that particular term paper and the newfound world of Facebook had proven quite useful for procrastinating. That’s when I saw her profile.

“She’s really hot!” I thought to myself. And thus, away from my mind flew the term paper.

A few moments of scanning her profile (hey, that’s not what I meant!), and I was amazed at how much we had in common. To make things even more interesting, we were both working on graduate degrees at the same university. So, impulsively, I sent a message to introduce myself. No risk of face-to-face rejection here. What’s the worst that could happen? She could click “delete.” The best-case scenario was that I might get her number, or even a date.

A few weeks and three dates later, this newly found woman of my dreams finally raised the question of whether we were officially seeing each other. I said something suave to the effect of we could be if she wanted. She said she would.  Then she updated it on Facebook. After all, we joked, a relationship wasn’t official until it said so on Facebook. There was something that raised my blood pressure a bit when I logged on that night, and there was a message stating that she was “requesting to be [my] girlfriend.” Wow! That was just cool! I clicked to accept. Now we were official for the cyber-world to see. 

Six months later we were married, after some hesitation on the part of her parents and several of my friends asking, “How did you meet her? I hope you know what you’re doing!” To be fair, I think more of them were concerned about the time-frame (and a few of them used more colorful metaphors than this), but all were ultimately accepting and we are happily married today, not quite three years later.

The day of the wedding, as we were preparing to leave the reception and head off for our honeymoon, I mentioned to my new wife: “We have to change it on Facebook. It’s not official until it says so on Facebook!”

In retrospect, it turns out that my friend’s advice was correct: Facebook was a great way to meet girls. The famed social networking site has morphed a bit since then, and, complaints about user interface aside, it has become a nexus for all of my other social networking, integrating information about my recent activities in everything from Twitter to for my friends to see. I share interesting news stories with friends on Facebook. I keep in touch with friends and family across the country, or in different countries, with Facebook. I’ve made professional contacts on Facebook. I rush to post humorous videos or commemorative photos of family events on Facebook. I keep track of places I’ve visited and books I’ve read on Facebook…the list goes on.

While I’m aware that social networking sites may be a Web 2.0 fad, and while I’ve read the conspiracy theories that claim they were funded by the CIA to keep track of all of us and who we know, I see sites like Facebook for what they are: a tool. The danger of being caught up in their subculture is always present; my wife has complained of the “sucking sound” when half of her Saturday has mysteriously vanished after logging into her Facebook account, and I’ve discovered that my non-Facebook friends are hurt at times when they discover themselves to be out of the loop. After being involved in a car accident last summer, my Facebook status reflected the event fairly immediately. My “offline” friends didn’t find out about it until a day or more later. I had forgotten that what I post isn’t immediately communicated to everyone. Worse, I subconsciously assumed that it should have been! What did they expect, an e-mail? That’s so ten minutes ago! And a phone call…who has the time for that? In addition, and redefining of social moors notwithstanding, I’ve become concerned at times about the lasting effect of this phenomenon on the English language. Following in the steps of Xerox, I’ve begun to use “Facebook” as a verb. On the negative side of social networking is the potential for time lost you’ll never recover, such as my wife’s Saturdays. There is a realm beyond usefulness into which social networking can digress, time that could be better spent with actual human contact, in person, instead of completing quizzes on how well you know your friend.

Outweighing these dangers for me, however, are the great advantages to social networking. As my wife and I began getting to know each other, we exchanged messages on Facebook for two weeks before deciding to meet in person. During this process, we had no information as to where the other lived, or telephone numbers, or anything of the sort, because we were both cautious enough to not include this information on our profiles. Thus, there was a zone of complete safety for us as we asked important questions. More simply, there was the ability to ask those important questions. As a result, we were acquainted with each other at a deeper level and at a much quicker pace because of this safety zone. We knew so much more about each other than most do by the time we met in person two weeks later, and we had a confidence that came from an unusually open level of communication. What sometimes takes couples months to discover we knew in days. We were off to a good start.

Would my wife and I have met if it were not for Facebook? Well, I suppose one could debate providence here, but I think that likely the answer would be no.  Would she have had a few Saturday afternoons back if it were not for Facebook? Unequivocally yes. As with any tool, social networking has its place. The potential for addiction is certainly present, and, as Uncle Ben reminded Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Meeting new people through any online medium has inherent risks, and isn’t for everyone. The positives have far surpassed the negatives so far, though, and, even as I write this, I realize that my list of non-socially-networked friends has dwindled to a small handful. I’m much more aware of what happens in most of their lives on a daily basis because of social networking, as I am the lives of old friends from far away with whom I had otherwise lost contact. E-mail addressess change, after all, but to type in a name search is a simple thing. The other side of this is that I must take the responsibility to maintain high privacy settings to prevent clients and ex-girlfriends from discovering my profile. As we realize the pleasant results of an ever-shrinking world, we should be aware that it can become too small.

Facebook and blogs and MySpace and Twitter drive some to distraction and frustration. I am close with some who rage against the social networking status quo (although most of them have Facebook pages as well, and just don’t check them periodically as a form of protest), and I must confess to being involved in my first argument by way of Twitter recently. All of this in consideration, though, I think there’s something rewarding and extremely positive about the abilities that social networking services provide, assuming one is cognizant of the dangers, aware that there is some yin in the yang, and is careful not to let his blogosphere collapse his twitterverse…or something like that. 

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