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Thursday, May 7, 2009

A Difficult Dish

Sometimes I think I’m way behind as it pertains to technology, after all, I’m still trying to figure out Twitter. Then again, perhaps not. In a phone call this morning, a friend directed me to a commentary that appeared in The Boston Globe today. The topic of Christopher Muther’s essay; “Antisocial Status” was whether Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have “turned us into a nation of…narcissists,” and focused on his temporary decision to withdraw from what he called “self absorbed,” Facebook updates.

Now, we all know that my Facebook membership is in its infancy and I’m in test-drive mode. But although my three “friends” and one trivial comment have dangled out there with no response for almost a week now, I’ve had a little more experience through my daughter, who like every teenager, is a Facebook addict. Occasionally, and I mean occasionally least I become a “Facebook Stalker” she lets me look at some of the comments and pictures on her friends’ “walls.” And I get it. It’s nice to stay in touch, to keep up, to feel involved with what is going on.

I hadn’t, however, read The Globe article before leaving the too quiet house this morning to develop a little interaction of my own. After taking a long walk, I treated myself to a cup of coffee at the French café located in our town center. There I plunked myself down at a wrought iron, marble-topped table, unfolded the paper and read Mr. Muther, who notes: "If I thought my friends were interesting, Facebook has taught me otherwise.” His cynicism was ultimately reined in during a conversation with Hal Neidzviecki, author of “The Peep Diaries; How We’re Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors,” who counters that tedious updates on Facebook are not authored by self absorbed people, but by people looking for a “human connection.” Mr. Neidzviecki says:

“There’s a certain charm to [Facebook] status updates of ‘I’m making soup.’ These things have a beauty to them because they’re little domestic details of our lives. Once upon a time we lived in villages and everybody knew that someone was making soup. Now we live in isolation…In certain ways you could say that these are…gestures that bring us together.”

So the intriguing part of all of this is that as I was reading, the six professional looking women crowded at the table beside me started discussing Facebook and LinkedIn. The café was packed today; there were a lot of dialogues going on and I couldn’t catch every word. But as I stared intently at Mr. Muther’s article so it wasn’t obvious that I was listening, it became clear that they were trying to understand the use and effectiveness of on-line social and professional networking.

Here is a confession. Any time I am sitting alone in a public place, I am thirteen again, too shy to intrude upon conversations with people I assume are better, smarter and more important than me. On top of that, there’s that darned good manners thing with which I was raised. Had I though, mustered up some nerve, this is what I would have said: “Hey guys, I’m new to Facebook, but I’m sold on LinkedIn. After three clicks yesterday in a networking capacity, I found a job to apply for that I would never have remembered if it weren’t for a visit to the on-line network. As for Facebook, well, I’m feeling a bit more reserved, but know that I could go home right now and reach out to high school and college friends if I wanted to advertise the fact that I’m looking for support in a career search.”

In this world where we are disjointed, too busy, secular, withdrawn and removed from each other, any method used to engage other humans is probably a good one. Of course, it might have resulted in a step ahead in the networking game if I’d had the courage to make my point in person. Maybe I would have done better if the topic had been Minestrone.

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