Wed 13 Jun 2007
i graduated from university, the first time around, in the spring of 1993.
on a late April morning, i packed up the little old Datsun i’d borrowed from my grandmother, sucked up my raging hangover, kissed the boy i’d spent three years with – my first real love – goodbye…and drove out of that tiny college town.
i’d lived the previous four years in a tight-knit, if amorphous, community of friends and acquaintances, where almost everyone i knew was in some way connected to everyone else, and where even the communities i’d left back home weren’t entirely separate…a fair number of graduates from my high school had chosen the same university as i did, so friends at other schools could be referred to, linked into stories. i was far enough from home that my mother never heard much about my escapades (i don’t think?!?), but not so far that most of my college friends didn’t eventually meet my mother, or have my tales about her corroborated by people i’d known most of my life. i had a network, and a place in it.
and then, we graduated. and scattered. most of us outgrew our forwarding addresses within a year or two of leaving the cocoon of our undergraduate world, drifting far and wide in a search for work or roots or wings or further education. a recession does terrible things to prospects in a part of the world like the Maritimes, so very few stayed nearby. and in that infancy of email communications, when few of us even knew what an email address was and – if we had one – had it tied to an institution or provider that we no longer were affiliated with in a short period of time, people got lost. i never saw that first love of mine again, after i drove away from him that morning…not once, even randomly, in the fourteen years that have passed since he blew me a kiss through the Datsun window. we exchanged a few letters and phone calls over the first few years, still friendly, but they dwindled. i lost contact with people who held huge, significant chunks of my history in their hands. that network just…evaporated, leaving only a few individual threads, stronger than the rest.
but for years afterwards, i had this fantasy.
David Bowie walks into a bar and says erm, okay, i had a few different fantasies. but in this one, everyone i’d ever really been close to or thought cool or interesting or smart, they were all at a dinner party. with me. and i looked hott it was fabulous. there were cocktails and cross-pollination of conversation, and constant catching up, and i could look around me at the faces of everyone who’d actually been significant in my life to date. i could introduce them to each other and merge the various networks i’d become part of, the various lives i’d led, and mostly – best of all – just eavesdrop, sate my curiosity about what had happened to everybody while life was busy with me elsewhere. at that imaginary table, i could see all the various incarnations of self that i’d been, reflected in the faces of these people i had once connected with, even if only briefly.
this fantasy always brought me comfort, imposing an imaginary coherence on the disconnects of the itinerant life i led for a long time.
but lately, i have abandoned that daydream to the ‘obsolete’ pile. i don’t need it anymore. i have facebook.
facebook. crackbook. social networking software that’s supposed to make my pretty head spin, and get me back in touch with a world of friends who probably didn’t even know they were lost. i got my first invite – from, appropriately, a woman i’d only ever met twice, more than a decade ago, and hadn’t spoken to since – back in mid-April. now i have a respectable-sized hodge-podge of facebook friends from all sorts of weird pockets of my life, including this girl who used to steal my lunchbox back in second grade. i’ve found some of my favourite lost people from high school, the ones who never come to the reunions, and some of the regulars from the bar i
lived in frequented that year i fell into a cheap gin bottle in Korea. i’ve tracked down a couple of good friends who’ve scattered themselves all over the globe and never email, and an old roommate from college who’s mixing a fine art degree with a professional gig breaking horses. i haven’t found that college boyfriend, though. or any of the other ones that got away, come to think of it…apparently, they’re all still in hiding. sigh.
but much as i do find it entertaining to skulk around on the facebook pages of people i haven’t laid eyes on in ten or fifteen years and gaze upon photos of their offspring and their tattoos, much as i take voyeuristic pleasure at scrolling through the friend lists of my friends and squinting at little teensy avatars trying to remember whether i ever knew the person pictured, much as i could admit that i occasionally pull up my own nice little friend list and gaze at it with satisfaction, as if it were a banquet table at my fantasy dinner party…facebook is still a disappointment.
and blogging is the reason why.
all online social networking – that which operates through formalized software like facebook and myspace and explode all do, and that which we do out here in the blogosphere with our freeform webs of commenting and blogrolling – serves a multitude of purposes. it creates belonging and community, sure – or at least a semblance thereof, a picture of connectedness. a quick glance at a facebook page or at a blog’s comments gives a snapshot of the community to which the owner belongs. and not just in numbers. the absence of many visible ‘friends’ or comments may suggest that the owner is new to the form or unusually private or hasn’t really ventured ‘out’ much, but those people that are there become all the more intriguing. if it’s facebook, why were they chosen? if a blog, how’d they end up here? and who are they, in their turn?
my mother always told me, with a faint shrillness in her voice, that i’d be known by the company i keep. i think she feared the all-seeing eye of random church ladies “tut-tutting” as if we were all extras in a scene from Anne of Green Gables, but somewhere deep in me some part of her message sank in, though it got skewed in the absorption. if i want to be an interesting person, i figure, i need interesting friends…and lots of ‘em. i’m an Aquarius, after all. i cultivate quirkiness, originality. i like odd, interesting people. and i enjoy basking in my collections of people, online and in real-life, bringing them together, surveying my domain, as it were. part of my own identity is indeed wrapped up in the company i keep – not merely in having friends, but in exploring what qualities my broad group of acquaintances and readers and online pals share, and how they differ, and what they reflect of me.
and that’s where, in the end, facebook simply can’t compete with this spiderweb of connections i’ve made out here in the blogosphere over the past few months. blogging is – at least for me, and for most of the people on my blogroll, no matter how they differ – part confessional, part journal, part satirical essay, part performance art, part sacred reflective space, part grocery list, part word play, part dissertation. the scope for personality to come through in blogging is boggling. some of my ‘blog friends’ are real life friends, too…but friends with whom i’ve shared more of me – my ideas, my sadness, my flights of fancy, my pride in my son – here than anywhere else in our relationships. here, i get to take up as much space as i want. here, i can be honest, and be rewarded. here, if i make someone uncomfortable, they can simply ignore me without hurting my feelings. here, i am constantly stretching the boundaries of my self, or least of my self-expression. and here, i make connections with people based not on happenstance but on empathy and shared experience. i’m not sure i can say that about any other circle of friends and acquaintances in my life.
most structured social networking programs don’t work this way. in facebook, i feel choked by the forms to fill out, by the applications to add, even by the fact that everytime i add something new everyone gets notified. in facebook, i cannot perform my identity in nearly the same way. it is not a journal for self as expression, it’s a bulletin board, a pastiche advertising – it’s self as branding, as identification with various groups, as surface. it is my mother’s version of “you are known by the company you keep,” updated for a piercing-friendly generation. but there is no room on facebook for the underbelly of self that i’ve gradually come to expose – and in the process, heal and learn a great deal from – being out here in the blogosphere.
which, for me, is fine. i can pop into facebook and gaze at my nice pile of friends and add a few photos of Oscar and then come here and actually think and write and share and be what i consider to be a real person. or – gasp – i could, you know, interact with people in the flesh, and all. but i hear blogging is dead, on its way to the obsolescence my former fantasy of the all-friends dinner party suffered. and i wonder what the confines of facebook and instant messaging will mean for a generation growing up on them as mother’s milk? i think it’s valuable, at all ages, to have online spaces to explore and perform identity, and absolutely necessary to the human psyche – or at least my human psyche – to have some sense of belonging to a network…but i am uncomfortable with the idea that those spaces so successfully taking over society’s concept of what it means to network online may be leaning in the direction of cookie cutter self-marketing environments rather than freeform exploratory spaces like we have out here. i think that this corner of the blogosphere has done something extraordinary, making the connections we have, creating these webs of communication with actual content in them. i’d go so far as to say that, for me, it’s been radical and empowering.
whereas facebook couldn’t even find me that old college boyfriend. ;)
this is cross-posted at BlogRhet and is a mere opener in what i hope will be a larger, more thinky conversation about facebook and social networking and all sorts of things. it’s also, in part, a response to the BlogHer call to action posts. if you’d like to participate…Her Bad Mother‘s invite is below. has blogging empowered you? seriously, tell. maybe we can keep this medium cool, somehow. :)
“…sometime before midnight this coming Friday, write a post about blogging and the empowerment of women and link to MommyBlogsToronto. Not only will you feel really, really good about yourself, you’ll be eligible to win a two-day registration to BlogHer. Or candy. Your pick. And your post will be linked up at this [HBM's] site, and at MBT, and at BlogRhet, where the brightest minds in the blogosphere will immediately set about deconstructing it and identifying its greater meaning. An offer you can’t refuse, no?”
(Post are eligible to win a two-day BlogHer registration package OR candy. If you’re not going, opt for the candy.)