The Last Word : To Facebook or not to Facebook
Recently I was invited to be a friend on someone's Facebook. I was flattered, I admit it. It had the same feeling as being invited by the cool girl at school to go to her party. Which, I gather, is pretty much what these Internet social groups are. You have to be "invited" to join the club. What was it that Groucho Marx said about clubs?
Then two things struck me: 1) isn't Facebook for kids; and, 2) do I really want to join something that will require paying attention to it? I have pets. I have kids. I have a husband and a mother. I have this column! Do I really need something else requiring constant feeding? I even have a website and I still have long hair in the picture of me on the welcome page. I cut my hair two years ago. I realize that Facebook and all the other social-networks may not be as time-demanding as all that, but what is the best use of what unencumbered time I have? Posting my every thought, my 9,000 cute pix of my dogs, or say, writing? Exercising? Cleaning the bathroom? Okay, that last one is not a good example, but my time is very limited and being practical is the dominant force in my nature.
I know that both of my kids are on Facebook. However, my oldest makes it a part of her routine advice to college students to be wary of online groups because you never know when a potential employer might see something you'd rather not be seen except by those hundreds of nearest and dearest invited friends. The horror stories abound - possibly as apocryphal as the story of the kids on Lovers' Lane and the man with a hook, but foreboding at any rate. Potential nun caught in a compromising position by someone posting on their page what they think is a funny picture of a nun doing shooters, which is then broadcast to the world. Many years ago George Orwell envisioned a world under surveillance. I'm sure he never imagined that we'd be surveilling ourselves. I'm made to think of the equation: If 10 people tell 10 people and so on, how many people hear the story? Or, it's that six degrees of separation. You might trust your contact, but maybe someone she knows knows someone you wouldn't want seeing your photo - exponential disasters fanning out like ripples on a pond.
On the other hand, as a person who wants as many people as possible in the world to know about my books, doesn't it make at least a modicum of sense to take advantage of this phenomenon? Free buzz. Advertising, publicity, fans. All I need to do is sign up and start listing the 25 things people don't know about me. And New Englanders are doing this?
There are other outlets for doing much the same thing -GoodReads, for example, an online book club. You can list your reads, review books, chat, join special interest groups, even blog. You can also become "friends" with other members whereby your additions to your bookshelf are sent as updates to them. Fairly benign and the only picture is the one posted beside your profile.
As nonprofits and businesses enter into the cyber-community of Facebook to get their messages out, the whole phenomenon will undoubtedly become as commonplace as the web itself, and I can't help thinking that, once again, the old folks have taken over the youth market. The minute your old man buys an iPod, the coolness factor diminishes. Grandma inviting you to join her on Facebook? Yikes. What next - septuagenarians shredding at the skate park?
Nonetheless, as "research" for this essay, I actually took the plunge and signed up for a Facebook account. Further exploration didn't exactly persuade me that this is a good idea. Casually scrolling through an index of pages on Facebook, I happened upon one called "Martha's Vineyard." Location, the UK. Who could resist? I clicked and was presented with the hind-most view of two young women in a pub, not exactly a reassuring image, all nether cheeks and thongs. Plus, my youngest daughter rejected me as a "friend." There are just some boundaries that shouldn't be crossed.
Errata. In the realm of glaring error, caught by my firstborn who reads this paper online (proud of you, honey) and by others who enjoyed publicly pointing out my fallibility, I admit that I completely blew it when I stated in my last column that John Gardner wrote "The World According to Garp." Of course he didn't. John Irving did. Shall I say that I throw out those mistakes to make sure someone is reading this column or that it was just a senior moment? Neither. I read so much, and both of those authors have been lodged in my fan fave pantheon for decades. Although, I consider John Gardner ("October Mountain", "Grendel") a literary equal to John Updike, and John Irving simply a lowercase god. Too many Johns, I guess.