Friday, July 1, 2011

Come Over to the Dark Side.

          I have spent the last few years trying to lure my sister into joining the social networking community. (Come on. All your friends are doing it.) Her response is always, “I don’t have time.” Which is a legitimate excuse, considering how much of my time is sucked up by the internet. Although, upon reflection, I have found this reason lacks accuracy and understanding of the social networking phenomena.
          I began my foray into social networking with a MySpace account. I joined so I could keep track of my teen and preteens as they hitchhiked along technology’s superhighway. After all, you wouldn’t just drop your kid off on the side of the freeway and hope they get home safely (although admittedly that has crossed my mind on several raucous family outings.)
          This was back when you just had a plain profile page, no cool backgrounds, creative fonts, or colorful texts—simply a picture of your face and just enough personal information to get you into trouble. Then my daughter, techy that she is, redesigned her space. Well, that looked kind of cool. I’d like to give MYspace  a fresh new look, just for fun. I could do that…couldn’t I?
          No. I couldn’t. What I knew about computers at the time was that they were glorified typewriters/encyclopedias. I learned binary in high-school.  Oh so useful in real life, (especially to a dyslexic.) Technically speaking I think I should actually say I was SHOWN binary in high school. I learned nothing. So I went to the source, asking my 14 year old question after question. How did you do that? Where do you find that? Why is it doing that? Did I just enter the atomic launch codes that will begin World War III? (Yes, I had an inane fear that I could somehow affect some serious damage by mistakenly entering the wrong data. Don’t laugh. You weren’t there. It could happen!)
          It was not long (about 10 minutes) before my daughter discovered two important details. One, I was an idiot. And two, without her help I had less of a chance to stalk her every teenaged move. It was at this point she adopted the “teach a man to fish” philosophy. Except her version was more “give a guy a pole and throw him in the river, then laugh while he struggles to survive.” Needless to say, I was on my own.
          I spent countless hours poking and prodding my Myspace. I had never seen HTML, the new language of computers. I still have only a loose grasp of its form and function. But slowly I discovered how to change a font, add a background, place glitter graphics as section heads.  And I felt wonderful. I felt young and accomplished and a little bit smart. I had conquered the internet, and along the way I had “friended” a few fellow moms trying to keep track of their own kids. I had wished Happy Birthday to a few people I probably wouldn’t have conveyed the sentiment to otherwise. I had shared a few laughs at a Youtube video or two and checked out photos of my friends’ families doing a myriad of activities.
          And so I was rolling along, enjoying my new found creative outlet and feeling accomplished; spending more time catching up with my own friends and refurbishing my home page than monitoring my kids, when I realized, someone was missing. Where was my teenager? Why were her posts fewer and fewer? Why were her friends commenting less and less? Why was my newsfeed getting shorter and shorter?
          Facebook. Yes, as soon as I mastered (and I use the term in the loosest sense) the world of MySpace the children disappeared down the rabbit hole into the land of Facebook. Dutifully and begrudgingly I followed. This new land was sort of plain and I didn’t “get it.” It wasn’t personalized or creative. Other than the fact that your parents weren’t there yet, what was the big draw? Statuses? Really? That’s it? Just random status updates about what your friends were eating for lunch, or what weird thing happened on the way to school? But this is where my kids had gone, and so I followed.
          Soon I started getting friend requests from the other parents transitioning over from MySpace. My high school reunion started taking shape and requests came from people I had not thought of in years. Most I didn’t care to become reacquainted with, but some were just lost in the shuffle of growing up; misplaced with the other youthful playthings I had cherished but set aside as memory while life unfolded. My Facebook exploded, albeit slowly over time, with the faces and voices of my past and present; merging into one hub of collective ruminations.
          Being a stay at home mom can be isolating. It’s not your fault. It just happens. And in my case, because I started my family so far ahead of all my friends, I had lost contact with most of the adult world, unless it pertained to one of my “mom” activities: school, scouts, little league etc. Everything I knew, everyone I knew, revolved around the lives of my children, and to a lesser degree my spouse.  Now, suddenly, through the wonders of modern technology I was connecting and reconnecting. I was existing as an individual.
          I have read some articles about how social networking is stunting our ability to interact in reality. In my case my life has been enhanced by social networking in a way I can not imagine living without. I am more connected than I ever could have been without it. I converse almost daily with two sisters I had barely known in their childhood. I have followed my niece’s pregnancy updates with excited anticipation, despite only having seen her twice since she turned 16. I met up a few weeks ago with my cousins and a family friend who I have not seen since my wedding 20 years ago.
True, with great effort these things all could have taken place in the real world, but I live in the real world and sometimes, I’m only available at 4am. How nice to know I can leave a thought for you without waking you up.  And in the real world, I couldn’t have shared in the joy of that new birth, or dance recital, because in the real world you are 12 states away and neither one of us can afford to travel. Social networking is just more convenient. It is the pen-pal of our generation.
Sure, I have spent countless hours posting photos or silly updates or quoting a particularly funny thing I heard that day. I have lost an entire day connecting little colored jewels, and rolling virtual dice, although I have never tended a crop or traded mafia equipment with anyone. I have spent entirely too much time reading YOUR updates, commenting on your photos, and laughing at the memes you shared. (I even learned what a meme is!) But I have also discovered a support network. When my day sucks, you’re there to give me a boost. When I am excited I have someone to share it with. When my husband had his heart attack, you knew about it right away, and I didn’t have to call 100 people to give them updates on his condition, I could do it in one 30 second post. And you could respond, send well wishes and prayers, offer assistance, in a way you could never have done before.
          This year I received almost a hundred birthday wishes. I probably sent at least as many. I was a part of your life. I watched your kids grow up a little. I saw your cool vacation photos and little Suzie’s first ballet recital. I heard about the demise of your Great Aunt Tilly and the family turtle. I have seen your new haircut, your new pet, your new house, your new car, your new husband. I invited you to a show and then actually got to hang out with you in person after a 20 year hiatus. I reconnected with old relatives (and yes, I meant “old” both ways.) I have taken and given advice with you. I have laughed with you and cried for you, and generally wondered what the hell you were thinking. What I have not done, was waste my time.
          I know you better now. I have invested in our friendship. I may have left a few real world chores undone while I did it, but I consider it time well spent. So I will continue to extol the virtues of social networking to my sister, and anyone else I’m dying to spend more time with, in hopes that we can share a little more, be a little closer, drift a little less. Resistance is futile. Come over to the dark-side. It’s a hell of a lot of fun.
One of us. One of us. One of us…..

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