I’ve had some very interesting experiences over the last few years with what we’ve come to call social networking. I got to thinking about what for me has been over 10 years of it, once known in the library world as Web 2.0, and in other places as “being on the Internet.”
My experiences have been overwhelmingly constructive; they’ve brought me closer to my nephews and nieces, allowed me to stay in touch with family and friends in the UK, Israel and around the U.S., and in those implausible serendipitous episodes, I’ve been able to reconnect with friends through the most unlikely encounters. I’ve also had my share of “I didn’t write that, did I?” moments, one just this past week — but they have been far and few between . . . unless I didn’t want them to be. This accumulated wisdom has also allowed me to keep pace with my daughter (a 14 year old), though frankly I’d rather be one step ahead of her.
Outside of discussion groups back when there wasn’t a web interface (yes, we used to have to read orange or green text with a black screen, and you needed to know some rudimentary DOS or Unix to navigate around a DEC VAX machine), real time exchanges didn’t take off until the advent of the web-based interface unless you were an intrepid IRC user. Around 1999 I was a regular reader and contributor to a site that still exists, www.triumphspitfire.com for those of us building, rebuilding or just interested in the Triumph GT6 or Spitfire roadsters. I spent 18 months rebuilding my Spit, something I couldn’t have done successfully without the give and take of that website and board. It was a gratifying moment when I crossed the line from being the tutored to being the tutor.
Around six years ago I began dabbling in YouTube, even using it several times as a reference tool for someone asking about the Beatles (specifically the first concert at Shea Stadium.) In seeing what was out there I made some comments about a clip of an Israeli performer, specifically mentioning where I used to live – Kibbutz Yahel. A few weeks later someone responded to my comment asking how I knew this place, Yahel. We danced around each other for 1-2 messages; I think we each thought the other was a Nigerian Minister of Banking with a check for us to deposit. Once we got past that, it turned out we knew each other very well and had even been part of a midnight group skinny-dipping conspiracy 28 years ago. Steve and I were casual acquaintances, I know his wife, but more importantly, I was able to ask him about someone who had been my best friend and neighbor for 6 years until he moved to Holland (Dutch wife, child with CF, etc.). Because of a comment on YouTube I was able to reconnect with my friend Itzik who had since moved back to Israel.
Facebook probably doesn’t need an explanation for most of you, but I have to take a moment to note that it has revolutionized communication. I was a reluctant entrant to FB; I looked askance at my 20 something nephews with 286 “Friends”. Their father, my older brother, used to ask them “how many of your “friends” will loan you something to cover the rent, or take you to the airport at 3:00 in the morning?” Since then we’ve both come to appreciate its potential and the connections / re-connections we’ve made. Maybe it’s a boomer thing, because the responses have been almost universal among those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s. Some of it is escapism, we want our Rob and Laura Petrie TV lives back, even if we never lived them, or possibly it’s because we’re one of the last vestiges of a time when you went outside to play without playdates and didn’t come home until dinnertime. I’ve also learned some valuable lessons about really thinking before you write, and the power of words.
When I first joined FB I was unaware or unsure of what a Wall was, and who saw what when I posted. Someone asked me about a particular person we’d all known and if I was friends with him. This was someone whose existence I marginally tolerated when we lived on Kibbutz together, no way was I going to be his friend. Of course I wrote something to that effect and immediately had someone else inform me that “you realize don’t you that blank-for-brains can see that?” No, I didn’t, and that was my last faux-pas until last week. In an ongoing discussion about growing up on Long Island when I did (about 2,000+ participants), someone asked about a judge who’d been forced to resign and went to prison. I made a flip comment about him, nothing incorrect or slanderous (if the newspapers and court record are to be believed,) but nevertheless impolite. His daughters, both participants in this group took great umbrage at what I wrote, along with what several others had to say. One of the daughters took the wrong approach and aggressively protested dad’s innocence; that wasn’t going to fly. The other daughter took a different approach, shaming us a little by asking if that was what the forum we were in was about; exclusion and other’s misfortune. That worked, and it was a lesson learned, something I will take to heart when I post or comment.