So it occurred a few months ago that after I was accepted into graduate school at the University of Maryland, I made a real Facebook page, not just an old alumni blank-slate sort of page.
There. I said it. And with the addition of this site, it's also become clear to me that my presence in a growing number of online communities (some of which are beautiful things - some of which are just plain wacked out) is perhaps a sign that the Web is too much with us. I'm overloaded, maybe. But it's not like I plan on stopping.
I joined Facebook with a bit of a shaky hand ("You're joining Facebook? You poser dork? What? Haven't you sold your images and thereby your soul to enough 18-year-old programmers who will vacation in the deep Caribbean on the fruits of your social whoring while you sell your words for 50 cents a pop?") I did it mostly to see if there were other people from my program also on there, and to join the NYC network when I thought that that's where I was going to be moving. (Remind me why I didn't do that, by the way, please. Major issues with it this past week.) I felt legitimized by the fact that I was genuinely a student again, if a little bit of an older one, at a Facebook-y sort of school. This was a necessary step, in the most fragile sense of the word "necessary" (read: totally inaccurate). Besides, I had no plan to put pictures of myself in any state of undress (Lord no) or with anything intended to promote the ingestion of chemicals, even if I think some related decisions are paranoid and wrong..
Part of me did feel ridiculous because how much self-disclosure and how many different communities does one really need? How many screennames and how many security questions? It seems like it's the inevitable march of the online-driven knowledge and networking base, though. The more time I spend integrating myself into life online as well as off, my experience expands and the applications are so interesting that I just want to be a part of them to try them out. I've never cared so much about meeting people through them, which sounds strange, because I think that was the intent of these things, at least originally. I mostly like to see the people I already know in these environments instead - mostly. I've made a friend from a LiveJournal that is as close to a private diary as an online journal can approximate and one of the first sites I ever had (along with this one). That's the only "networking" thing that's worked out to the point where I feel like I have a friend I'll keep for a long time. I have met people via blogs, but mostly through Blogher and in a more organized way - not just by randomly trolling a social networking site. I'm pretty picky about the word "friend" and how it applies to my life, and just because you're a face or a name on my list or I'm on yours, I don't think the meaning of that word should get watered down at all.
It just seems like lately things online have gotten really dense, and I fear it's going to get to the point where I'm going to feel like I need a password to have a human conversation. I believe I've divulged here that I have a MySpace account also. I signed up for Friendster for absolutely no reason, once upon a time, and it seemed equally stupid to get a MySpace, but I got it because I wanted to keep in touch with a friend in California who was really big into it at the time, and I could never seem to connect with her on chat because of the time difference. Over time, I started adding bands I liked to keep up with tour schedules, and then friends from different pockets and grooves of my existence started popping up. It felt vaguely uncomfortable, for some reason. I don't really like asking people to add me, unless I know them well, although I will if I find them interesting or we've had a conversation that seemed good at a conference or elsewhere, even online. It's this weird online equivalent of "Will you be my friend??", and since that question makes me a little queasy in real life, it's no surprise that it's no different on here. I've never done any online match.comming for that very reason, methinks.
I used to feel like one of the oldest people on
Fox News Corporate Whore Central MySpace, until I realized in a blinding flash of inspiration that it didn't fucking matter. And also that on MySpace, it's kind of cool to be older because I don't have to make up places that I'm from, like Alabama or Outer Space, because who in the hell is going to come after me anyway? And if they do, once they get a load of this finely honed attitude, it just isn't going to matter anyway. They'll be gone in a split second. MySpace is sort of...oh I don't know what word to use....anticlimactic? Jarring? Weird? Just pick one. It's something. I do check it, and I usually enjoy seeing the bulletins that my long-lost friends have posted. I rarely send anything through there, and when someone messages me it's usually a guy from my zip code in a blue tank top with a buzz cut who looks inclined to bust out into 'roid rage at any moment. And also he usually sends me a message with numbers and single letters standing in for words, entitled something like "R U mY AnGeL?". That's a paraphrase of course, but it evokes the general mood, and of course phrases like that really get me hot. I just can't even tell you what the alternating caps and lower case letters do to me, either. I love affectations. So if the tank top didn't do it for me in the first place, the "U R my LA-DEE 2 B" would seal the deal.
The real time stuff is fun, because I've sadly lost interest in writing e-mails, whereas at one point I typed my little fingers off on them all the livelong day. Chances are I won't even send you a forward now (although I think most of my friends are really concerned about my safety and it's starting to weird me out, like I shouldn't leave the house, because I get one of those "Use your ELBOW and disable him in the KNEES" self-defense e-mails a few times a week lately! Okay, okay, I will not sit in the car and write a check. But please note that I'm now looking over my shoulder, constantly. Your work here is done, loves.) I loved Twitter in the beginning, although I clearly forget to update it now, and it surprises me that I've lost interest in it. I just need time to have in-person conversations! Maybe it's a summertime lull. I love the interesting "friends" I have on there, some of whom aren't really individuals, but concepts. My favorite is TwitterLit, that sends the first lines of books every day, (and of course Santa Claus, an individual AND a concept at the same time!!!!)
Flickr is my favorite "social networking" ANYTHING, because I think sharing photos (except for the gross and ugly groups on there, which are many and varied and profane and upsetting - ick) is one of the coolest things you can do online. I've been neglecting it lately and that's bothering me, because it is my favorite archive and were it ever to crash and die I'd definitely be in mourning. I have a ton of photos to upload still from vacation, and one of the favorite parts of my day is seeing the images that all of my contacts have uploaded. What I DO like about Facebook is that I could add a Flickr application, although I thought it would automatically upload to Facebook when I updated my Flickr stream, and it doesn't.
These problems, these pressing online problems!
Immediately after I made my Facebook profile more complete and actually started to pay attention to it, I realized that Blogher people were on there (and I'm still stupid enough about it all not to know if you can see anything related to groups if you're not signed in.) and that people who weren't in school were signing up too. I'd heard this was a possibility but somehow missed that it had happened so soon. Now we have a Blogher group, and a Bloghers Act group. People are talking on the boards and on their profiles about the conference, and I'm learning things about people and have a number of new contacts that I wouldn't have necessarily had otherwise, going in. So far it's far preferable to other programs, and although it felt a little silly going in, now I'm digging it.
This is how it sucks me in, and millions of other people too (good list of tech trends -most of which make sense to me.) If I was in Mark Zuckerberg's spot, I don't think I'd sell either. And although I still do feel a little weird about how many different places I've got a tiny stake in the bandwidth, it's still more fun and occasionally useful than it is just a guilty pleasure. I've got more than enough of those.