- By Teddy Robertson
- Tuesday, April 05, 2011
- Hits: 1717
I am into Facebook. This past October when I got the urge to be social, I could not log on to the Facebook page.
How to find my login name, what was my password? I am locked out of society. My retrieval system to the rescue. I rummage in my briefcase for the piece of paper on which various passwords — campus e-mail, university libraries, journals, credit cards — are scribbled horizontally, vertically, obliquely.
My friend Jan wrote a sharp essay about Facebook. It's somewhere on her blog, Nightblind. I can't find that online now either — too much time has passed for me to remember the month she wrote it or the tag it might have used.
She and I are in the same age cohort — we are boomers, as the pop sociologists say. What are we doing here in our early 60s posting on an electronic social network? You'd think if we didn't have a social network by this time we might just hang on until we are in "assisted living" and go with what's there.
We are old enough to have grown up with another social network, one that monitored now forgotten minutiae of behavior — gloves and hats, invitations and thank you notes in the mail. And yet here we are, pursuing the socially networked life online.
I can't scorn these new ways. One night a couple of months ago my side of the city of Flint suddenly resounded with booming sounds like fireworks. Only it was Oct. 3. Facebook friends were flummoxed — what was the reason?
No answer online, but comfort comes from communal clucking about mysterious and perhaps alarming events.
Facebook is the preeminent social network service or, as Google and founder Mark Zuckerberg categorized it, a social utility.
Social utility is not new. It is the backbone of the 19th century fiction. Austen, Thackeray, Dickens, Balzac — the utility of social connections for status and success is the driving force of their plots. Where would these novels be without the filiations, gossip and intrigues of social networking? If the characters had had a reliable service, think of the possibilities for the climbers, poseurs, parvenus.
Back in the day, certain behavior used to "have social utility" — an advantageous marriage, a promising business connection, joining the right church. My maternal forebears were keen observers of these social stratagems to advance in the world. They had phrases they used privately to describe people who deftly or disastrously deployed them. Today we openly, indeed brazenly, network, log on and link in to the socially useful.
When people post obnoxious statements, I can "hide" them. Not just the present irritating opinions, but the people themselves and everything they say on Facebook in the future. They disappear from my News Feed, retrievable later when I feel up to it. Exiled from my trough of web-based chatter, chitchat, or per uno chiacchierare as the Italians say — the natively gifted in this field. What a change from the past social life in the flesh when I mentally strained to marshal a smart retort or physically had to dodge and dart to avoid people.
And then the guilt. My mother — who as a young woman was fully armed with social skills to deflate such verbal irritations — would be impressed with this new, painless convenience.
Our city newspaper has gone to three days a week. The task of recycling has eased, but the consequences for local democracy are negative. What has come to the rescue? Facebook. Flint civic and cultural organizations are on Facebook — the FIA and FIM, Buckham, Steady Eddy. Along with the Mayor and the young urbans renewing the city.
My neighborhood association now has a Facebook page. We can join efforts to maintain our neighborhood, to advocate with our councilman, to discuss city problems. We find the "Affordable Handyman" to keep our old houses going. Most of all, the neighborhood Facebook page helps us with safety — the bedrock social utility.
We keep the neighborhood page up on our laptops in the kitchen, ready to alert others about "scopers" roaming our streets. A Facebook member sends text messages to our phones as an alert. Highly efficient when compared to e-mail that is fading along with dusty answering machines.
My students are on Facebook, of course. They reinvent themselves there, play games. A new profile picture, an update of personal information, album after album of pictures — their doings, their relatives' doings, their friends at indecipherable and generally uninteresting events. Scores of people whom my grandmother once would have dismissed icily remarking, "I don't believe we have met."
So now a librarian colleague has taught me how to use "delicious" to save my teaching and research bookmarks. It's wondrously efficient for organizing sites and has brought order to research and teaching. And it has a social networking feature. Maybe my Facebook network would like to know about my primary sources or 19th century maps of Central Europe? Probably not.
Several of my former students have invited me to LinkedIn. I don't think I can take it. I'm not building my career, I'm trying to dismantle it.
Toward the close of last summer I went to see friends for a twilight glass of wine and some chitchat. Where was her husband, I asked, as we walked to the candle-lit screened in porch. Oh, she said, he'll be out soon. He's just back in the dining room in the dark — facebooking.
Teddy Robertson grew up in California but has lived in Flint since 1984 and in Mott Park since 1995. She teaches history at UM-Flint, specializing in Polish history. Her research is about the Polish-Jewish writer Bruno Schulz and she has published translations from Polish to English.
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