Thursday, February 9, 2012

Facebook, Electronic Town Square

Facebook (FB) is the new town square. It’s an electronic town square where you can live out loud. FB is where I have brief exchanges with friends I’ve met in person and friends I only know through our online relationship. We chat about current events and share what we’re up to by posting comments, links, photos, video, etc.

People ask for help, from referrals for a plumber to resources for designing a community garden. You can also view FB Friends’ pages, even if you don’t do any posting. Folks who only peek and don’t post are known as lurkers. Social media has generated new vocabulary to describe its milieu.

Some people disparage FB and other social media as time wasters or addictive. Yes, but no more so than hanging out aimlessly at the mall or coffee shop, or watching television nonstop. As with all things enjoyable and psychically rewarding, you have to have your priorities straight and exercise moderation and appropriate use. FB can be mindful and uplifting for participants if they're engaged in dialogue and sharing life stories.

FB launched in February, 2004, and I’ve been on FB since February, 2009. I was slow to embrace FB, being the laggard in the family, behind my 26-year old daughter, who’s always first, and my 42-year old son and 73-year old husband, all three of whom typically jump in months before I embrace new technology. I still don’t use an iPad, but they all do. I have as much technology as I can consume for the moment. Adam Ostrow reported in September, 2011, that "Facebook Now Has 800 Million Users". I now have 1,015 FB Friends.

I signed onto FB when I realized that I was missing out on my friends’ online conversations. As I’ve become adept at FB, I’ve come to value it as a source of maintaining connection with family and friends, building relationships, and reconnecting with old friends like high school classmates. FB has been a bonus source of new learning, because FB Friends turn me on to authors, news, and music I wouldn’t otherwise discover.

Age is not a barrier to adopting social media. Young users enjoy it as much as older users. Young people are Digital Natives or Netizens, who were born into an age of computers and the Internet. For us older folks, an adaptive attitude willing to try new things is necessary. One must overcome not only a technology barrier, but also an intellectual and emotional one to live out loud.

Privacy concerns about living out loud are real. One does need caution because of the potential for criminal acts like identity theft and stalking. However, one must likewise exercise caution living in the world even when not online. For some 800+ million users, the benefits of being online with social media outweigh the downside.

Life is full of risks, and one has to be informed, up-to-date, alert, and cautious in all of life’s endeavors. Living out loud on FB is no different. As one develops experience, one does gain a sixth sense about who’s legitimate and who’s iffy on FB. An analogous situation is how an experienced driver has a sixth sense about the iffy driver in front of her and anticipates a sudden lurching into her traffic lane.

How did she know? She had never met that driver before, maybe hadn’t even followed for more than a few minutes. Yet, the sum of all her driving experience gives her a gestalt about noticing minute cues, many of which exist at the subconscious level, that add up to an internal warning system that says, potentially dangerous driver ahead. Netizens possess that acumen online.

Social media are tools, vehicles for human interaction. The fact that social media exists online makes it new and different, not bad or lesser than in-person human interaction. Not everyone will get it, but not everyone likes to talk on the telephone or meet for coffee either.

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