I got a new Facebook account over the holidays and with it came an unpleasant surprise: not a single friend from my high school or college days is a member.
Jim, Tom, Carol, Gary, Mary Jo, Ross, Linda, Anne, where are you? Its funny how you lose track of your old high school pals through the years and then get nostalgic for them, forgetting the time they put snot in your Coke or whatever.
A bigger shock was going to Facebooks list of members from Royal Oak High, class of 70, and finding that there are only 22 of us who are members. And this is out of a class that had something like 800 graduates. By contrast, the class of 2000 has 134 members, and the class of 2006 has 223.
So I feel lucky to be in with a much younger demographic than my lost cronies, who are probably all asleep in front of old CSI reruns somewhere...
I first heard about Facebook from a group of heavily-addicted college kids about a year and a half ago.
The social networking site was launched in February, 2004 as a hobby project by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg and some of his classmates. It‘s claimed that Zuckerberg ripped off the best elements of Facebook from another student project called ConnectU, which resulted in a lawsuit back in the mid-00s. But the suit was dismissed, and today ConnectU is toast, while Zuckerberg will soon be richer than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett sandwiched in with Steve Jobs, owing to the popularity of the site.
Initially, you had to be a college student to join Facebook.com. Starting at Harvard, the membership was extended to Stanford, Yale, and then millions of college students signed on.
Thats why Facebook members tend to be younger, typically having something like 900 ‘friends‘ on their pages. But Ive noticed in recent weeks that Facebook seems to be spreading like wildfire among those of us in the Gen-X and Baby Boom generations. I send and receive friend requests every day, and its almost spooky watching this thing grow... kind of like the Andromeda Strain.
At first, I didn‘t believe the Facebook hype because other social networking sites seem so lame. MySpace, for instance, is a mess -- its webpages tend to look like a teenagers bedroom, crammed with ads and clutter (no surprise, its teenagers who tend to be the biggest fans of MySpace). Then theres a site called classmates.com, which makes you pay for access to old school chums that you probably never want to hear from again. No thanks.
But Facebook is clean and direct while providing an ingenious web of connections. You end up being ‘friends‘ with people you barely know, and also with people that you didnt think you even wanted to know -- its one big online meet-and-greet. Plus, its free and a lot of fun, wondering whatever happened to old whatsherface, the hot chick you dated back in 86; or if your crazy Uncle Joe is a member. I‘ve made connections with people around the world, including a friend from Egypt who offers his opinion on the carnage in Gaza.
People write the dumbest stuff on Facebook, a friend says. Who cares? Ironically, she tends to be the queen of small talk herself, but is puzzled by messages such as: Sally is frying eggs for dinner, or Jim-Bob is taking a well-deserved bath.
Perhaps we tend to choose our words carefully on Facebook because there may be a great many people reading them. It may be the greatest foot-in-mouth medium ever invented. Ive had to remind myself not to write anything after a glass of wine or two because the results tend to be dumber than usual.
But for the same reason, Facebook also reminds us to be more civil with our words and less gossipy. Suddenly, it no longer seems wise to slag Joe Blow when, after all, hes your new friend on Facebook.
Its not all good. One can only imagine that Facebook will have an bad effect on magazines, which are essentially time-wasters meant to fill up the spare minutes of the day. If youre fiddling around with your Facebook (or your Wii game or your iPod), chances are you simply dont have time to read Time or Vanity Fair. I hope that Northern Express dodges that bullet...
The other day, most of us at the Express watched the inauguration on our computers via the live-stream hook-up between Facebook and CNN. It served as a reminder that great changes are indeed before us -- both with the presidency of Barack Obama and with technology that seems to be shifting the ground beneath our feet. Does anyone doubt that Facebook -- or some social networking site like it -- will have as great an impact on the 21st century as did the automobile in the last 100 years?
Oops, time to go. Got to check and see if any of my old high school friends have signed on yet... and write something inane on the ‘book. lol...
Check out Rick Coates article on the Facebook revolution in an upcoming issue of the Express.