Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Facebook: Networked Time Travel

I've had a Facebook site for years. I have daughters. With one in college and one in high school, I found it prudent to have both MySpace and Facebook sites, to be among their friends, and to remind them now and then of some of the pitfalls of our digital age. The day they are either one uncomfortable with my visiting their sites will be the day I know I need to worry. Until then, I consider it a privilege. It's like being asked along when the one daughter's college crowd, home for the holidays, invited me to visit the hookah bar with them. Having photos of that posted on one of their Facebook sites was another matter. But they're smart kids--the brightest in their class--and they were quick to discreetly remove those when asked.

But back to the topic of Facebook itself. You can find a good academic discussion of it here, or you can sign up for an account here. But the main point of this post will take less time to make than the intro itself. It's been made before elsewhere multiple times, but I'll say it for yucks anyway: if you have any stock in, sell it two years ago. Facebook is free. I've connected with more classmates via Facebook in the last week than in the entire existence of That is probably true of the two networks as a whole. Classmates was a decent idea, just never worth the money. Facebook, on the other hand, figured out how to make free, pay. And therein lies the secret of their success.

It will flourish for a bit and then eventually settle into a more sane background hum for most of us, but during its current explosion, every day is like a class reunion of sorts. While the college kids still own the Facebook network in some ways, the current explosion of membership is being fueled by those kids' parents and everyone between. And for us, a lot of those friend requests are invitations to remember something we thought was gone forever: our youth. When you get a note from someone from whom you've not heard in 30 years, the face you attach to that note is his or her younger face, and with it, all those younger emotions that surround it. You can keep your mafia wars, your green beer, your time-wasting competitive Facebook applications of every variety. I have enough to do meeting my day-to-day obligations already. But those aspects of the service based on genuine human communication with people I care about, once cared about, or should care about--those I will steal the time for.

For it's better than stealing time. It's more like reclaiming it, if only for a bit. It reminds us, this time travel of sorts, that the things we liked best about ourselves before life chipped and dented and hardened our souls are still there within us. The person we were then is as ever present today as the person we would become was in every second leading to this now. I am never quite sure which way the memories flow best or how much of each experience is the result of the other. Is this pleasure all built on the recall of that, or is that pleasure as firmly founded in the destiny of this. Was premembering then as important to the moment as remembering is now? I think so. I think Merlin knows so.