Saturday, September 27, 2008


A son turned 21 on Wednesday, and in honor of his birthday, I bombed his Facebook account, maybe a dozen times, with all manner of pictures, pop art, messages, birthday greetings, etc. It was similar to visiting him in his dorm, as he was surrounded by friends there in (he has over 500 linked to his account, impressive), and they were using it: popping in, saying hello, talking about a movie, speaking French with him, or whatever. As one who had not really been in FB for more than a few seconds previously, it was an eye-opener. I learned a lot.

1. There was a lot of talk about the "new" FB; I had a hard time remembering the "old" one, or really understanding the difference. One difference is that you get a lot of feeds from your friends; you know more about them perhaps than they wanted you to. To me huge differences have been the appearance of chat (a little light at the bottom, only when I'm on Firefox), and the ability to make a movie, on the spot (if you have a webcam, which I do at work)...and put the movie directly into your FB.

2. As for the chat, which I'm really most interested in, your "community" (I have ~100, mostly former students, but some family) is who you see; there's always someone there. How addictive! Not that my former students want me to always be tapping on their shoulder! But, they've always taken the time to talk, when I did. Saw my daughter on there that very night, and she's the one who told me about the movie: just sign up for the application, give FB permission to use your webcam, and make it!

3. So, I made a movie, but found myself mumbling into the webcam and probably didn't get the hang of controlling the volume adequately. So I could bring a banjo to this? So I could make a pronunciation lesson? So I could have my students do an assignment and drop it in my FB?

4. There's a group, "Million people opposed to the new FB" or some such; I will get references up soon as I actually went and read to see what it was all about. Learned two things: lots of people were opposed to the new FB, mostly because of the privacy thing; that million number doesn't mean a whole lot. Somebody wants a million. My son says FB is pretty good with the innovations; he trusts that they've done a wise thing; he likes them as a tech hub, in comparison to others that we all use, like blogger, yahoo, flickr, etc. He, of course, has the most invested; my daughter (30) is into it but says most in her generation are not; one son (16) has an account (of course) but doesn't actually use it that heavily. Some people, I can tell you now, are on there quite a bit; they live there. Most of these people are between 20-24, like my son, I'd wager. Some are in my generation.

5. FB's main innovation was to make it so others could add applications, so that they could take advantage of the general competitive sense of "we'll provide something cool for everyone." If you make a venue where people can come along, try their hand at making a cool thing, and lay it on the table, they will, and everyone will win. But mostly you will win. Because your place will be the happening place.

I keep up with FB, and like it, though as I've said, I was a little unclear on "new" vs. "old" as it's all a little "unfamiliar." Most of all, I liked getting all over my son's life, as I miss him a lot, and we really kind of celebrated his passing through that big door, the door of adulthood, together,I felt; although it was virtual, I went there, hung around, listened in on his friends, saw what he was doing, etc. Once the cameras make it possible to do that in 3d, I'll be able to walk him down the hill to town (which is Lawrence KS btw) and actually see all his friends too, but for now, this was the best I could do without actually driving there, and it was good enough, it had to be. But one more point I need to make which I'm still mulling over. The "friends" distinction is often a barrier; for example I can't really show my own "friends" what I did; on the other hand, having only my "friends" be actually in the chat room, as I've said, definitely distinguishes that chat room from a variety of others. But the open/shut nature of that system surely raises a lot of questions. Young people, for example, I'm sure are saying, now that my parents can come in any time, I can't exactly say everything, can I? Of course not. So, if it's so public, are they speaking their true free mind somewhere else (where potential employers, for example, won't look?)...I find it, overall, like a kind of public, community and visual e-mail. You have pictures, movies, events, and "status updates," which I'm sure you can manipulate to your advantage, or at least to some advantage; and, once you know your way around, I'm sure it's well connected to every possible virtual avenue. Yet, in its look and feel, it seeks a Googlish simplicity, purity, and primary color-splash: for, if you're an empty slate, that attracts people to get what they want, you'll get what you want, which presumably, is traffic, and money.

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