Commentary: Time to Close the Curtain

Buffalo, NY – Our ability to build and maintain friendships has always benefited from technology of some kind; every form of mass media devised, from the public mails to wireless texting have given us a way to communicate better, each providing a different degree of immediacy, privacy, or expressiveness.

I think it's important to embrace technology and make it work for us. And even though I am well past that 18-34 year-old demographic, whose tastes and purchasing decisions seem to drive western popular culture, I'm always open to adopting the latest technology, or at least trying it out and understanding it. Which is why I gave in and started a Facebook page.

Social networking is nothing new. Humans have been writing on each other's walls to share their experience since hunters painted images of running bison in the Lascaux Caves 17,000 years ago. Imagine that status update. "Og is exhausted from chasing the hooved beasts all day and is frustrated at the glacial pace of evolution."

But the Facebook phenomenon- and maybe it's not a phenomenon, but just a natural progression of an idea that spreads exponentially once the technology is in place to support it- the Facebook network has not only created new ways for interacting but has changed the meaning of the word "friend".

The idea of having lots of friends is appealing, but you don't really have friends simply because you add their names to a list in your computer.

I visit some people's pages who have 5 or 600 friends. Who has 600 friends? Nobody. I don't have sixty close friends. Sure, I'm acquainted with hundreds of people, and I meet a couple hundred or so each year, but do I know them well enough to consider them friends? I don't think so.

A friend is someone you can call at 2:30 in the morning when your car breaks down 20 miles from home and you need a ride. And they show up a half hour later without an attitude. A friend will point out the mustard on your cheek to save you embarrassment, not to bring it. (ok, maybe they'll let the mustard go for a while, but eventually they'll point it out.)

I get friend requests from people I don't know, and it makes me wonder why. No offense, but what kind of friendship are we going to build with superficial comments about each other's status, or by sending a virtual beer to each other? After I accept their request, invariably I never hear from them again, except when they ask me to join their cause: "dogs deserve better".

Some people feel compelled to tell us everything, like someone leaving their curtains open so you can see into their living room all night, even when you don't want to.

Apparently, some people have the free time to be online all day. Either that or they keep it on while they're at work. Naw, they wouldn't do that. I check in once or twice a day, usually prompted by a request that shows up in my email. And I'm amazed to see the sheer number of posts some people put up, letting us know their every move. Or maintaining a constant stream of one-liners. Hey, I appreciate wit as much as anyone, but a little goes a long way. Quiet time is good, too. Negative space in a painting is just as important as the subject.

I must admit, i get a kick out of it when they post the results of the endless ego- massaging, time-wasting activities there are, like:

- I've been told I look like- and then they list the names of all the beautiful people they want to be compared to, or

- What kind of reptile are you? A komodo dragon...

- Someone actually devised a quiz to determine which of the Spice Girls most closely matches your personality. "You are Posh Spice, the sexy, dangerous one of the group. You are stubborn and hate to be told what to do, but you love to party, especially with the guys."

And what are you to think if you invite someone to be your friend and they never respond? Or worse, you have a friend who suddenly blocks you from accessing their page. Ouch...

And there are people who discuss their personal lives openly on their walls, like someone on a cellphone in a crowded elevator making plans for the weekend.

Of course, it's my choice; I can control what I see just by turning it off. I don't have to participate, do I? But that's the insidious addictive nature of it; it sucks you in, like reality television, and before you know it, you've wasted an hour or two getting poked, looking at someone's vacation wall pictures, and taking the quiz, "what cocktail are you?" (I'm a Bombay Sapphire Martini, by the way- dirty, up, extra olives)

So i just learned how to change my personal settings to control what shows up on my home page. I'll keep using Facebook, and i appreciate its value, but i don't want it to take over. I can stay in touch, I can find out everybody's status if i want to, but i need to close the curtains once in a while.

Reed Rankin is a local comedian.

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