Thursday, April 30, 2009

"Face" time

I recently joined the millions of people who are a part of the Facebook family. It is amazing to see so many familiar names already a part of this social network. Even more amazing to me is that Facebook allows me to time travel in a way.

When I first signed up for my Facebook account, I decided to search around and see if I could find some of the faces from my more distant past. To my amazement, I found someone I went to school with in the 1970s, someone I worked with 20 years ago, and someone I went to school with in the mid-1990s.

I'm not sure this is what Einstein had in mind with his theory of relativity and his idea that one could travel in time if they could go faster than the speed of light. But to me it is a form of time travel and on several levels.

First, there is for me the sense of traveling back in time as reconnect with people from my distant past. In this regard, I think there is also a sense of rewriting history as I am able to at least slightly alter the endings of these relationships.

There is also a sense of time standing still or at least a blurring between past and present (and perhaps future) as I move back and forth amongst the people from my past and those of my present. I find myself at times trying to remember what I was like in these other lives and balance that against and with the person I am today.

Conversely, there is also a sense of time rushing past at a rate faster than normal. Having only been a "Facebooker" for a few days, I already see the potential for spending and even losing hours at a time posting, commenting on others' posts, searching for new friends, and checking to see which friends are online.

There is a similar contradiction in the whole notion of the "friend" on Facebook. Facebook offers the promise of connection with others, but I can already see just how illusory that promise can be. If someone confirms you as a friend or you confirm someone else as a friend but there is no subsequent interaction, just how much of a connection is there?

That is the double-edged sword of Facebook. There can be connection to the point of over-saturation, perhaps even addiction. At the same time, there is also the danger of public isolation for all to see. I have already come across a number of people for whom, when I click on their names, Facebook says they have no friends.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who have hundreds of friends, maybe more. (As I write this, I have 12.) Just how connected can one person be with hundreds of others? And just how connected can any one of those hundreds of people feel?

Does having such a large network of "friends" diminish the meaning and the sense of either connection or friendship? Or is this merely the next step in multitasking the many facets of our lives: work, family, friends, leisure? I'll be watching and reading on Facebook to see if I can answer that question for myself.

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