From the voice of a true skeptic who refused to join Facebook and give in to social peer pressure, I want to pay a tribute for the richness that Facebook has brought to my life.
My Facebook rules first to give you an idea of what kind of user I am: I am very wary of the applications floating around Facebook, and except for a select few – related to reading list of books, places I have visited – I hardly allow any applications on my profile. I do not add widgets or games either, and much to the dismay of many friends, I decline requests to be kidnapped, have my fortune told, engage in imaginary mind games, or uncover the meaning of every letter in my name. I take great amusement in reading on the similar endeavors of my friends participating in the fun, but none of that is what brings me to Facebook every day. The top reasons I have grown to love Facebook go a layer or two deeper, and here I impart those reasons to you:
- Connecting with my family in Iran. Without Facebook, my means of communicating with my cousins, whom I have not seen in over 20 years, would be restricted to polite, short, and expensive phone conversations a few times a year. Through Facebook, I have come to get to know the habits, thoughts, quirks and dislikes of the playmates I grew up with in Iran. I am making friends with my childhood companions after a 20 year gap. I am getting to know a cousin that I never met for the first time now, and whom – be it the Persian culture or the closeness of family – I have loved unconditionally to this day but never known until now. I am closing the geographical, timezone and painful gap of separation through this brilliant online medium that makes the world feel smaller, warmer, and tighter.
- Participating in the lives of my friends where circumstances keep us separate otherwise: Of course, I prefer seeing and interacting with my friends in person, who doesn’t? How practical would that be if my friends run in many circles and communities, not to mention many states and countries. During a time when I constantly traveled for work, I formed invaluable friendships far from home, and made the best of my time during those trips with my new circle. Travel restrictions have taken away my ability to visit and socialize with my dear circle across the country but Facebook keeps my friends near and dear. Circumstances may change again, and opportunities may arise to meet up once more but we must take care not to let too much time pass between the last goodbye and the next hello. While today’s advanced technology provides countless ways to make that happen from my own living room, Facebook gives me the most structured, organized platform to keep up with the lives of these people, and they with me.
- Finding the precious few who knew me when I was much younger: There is a favorite quote from a graduation speech which begs us to hold on to old friends, because he reminds us that the older we get, the more we want to connect with those who knew us when we were younger. However badly I may have wanted to forget the tough transition to American high school, I welcomed with open arms the handful of friends who made those days less lonely. However long the gap of complete separation, it was fun to find one another and to start becoming a new kind of friend in our adult years. It is possibly true that in those years when I did not hear or see these old buddies, I also did not think about them. That bears no relevance to picking up a new trail because we have something special in common; we knew each other before we were old enough to vote or drive and it turns out, memories work in funny mysterious ways. We each remember different nuggets of information from those days, and being reminded of what you used to do or say is a dear treasure, no matter who you are.
- Hearing bad news, unfortunate that it is, and imparting heart-felt compassion in right time: Recently, a shock wave went through our tango community as we lost a vivacious, warm friend. A person I would have liked to know more, but knew of with fondness and high regard. It was the first time I experienced a loss of a community friend through Facebook news, and I am certain I would not have heard this news through other channels for weeks or months. The out pour of compassion and sadness was overwhelming and I wallowed in it. The increasing wall posts on our friend’s page allowed his friends to share last thoughts with him, even if he is not here to read them. Through Facebook, we also had the ability to console one another through words and gestures of kindness, and remember him warmly. We were able to grieve in silence, together, openly, quietly, expressively. We were able to lean on one another and gain the much-needed perspective on our fleeting life.
- Closing the generation gap: Those who tell you Facebook is only for kids are just kidding you, no pun intended! It can be a playground no doubt, a waste of time for sure, and abused and overused through and through, like anything else in life. What does that have to do with it being just for kids? Facebook can and does close generation gaps. My cousins who are 15 to 20 years younger use it and my beloved aunts and mom use it too. My friends in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s use it and they all find unique value in social networking. For each group, this can vary with different tastes, pursuits, and sense of adventure. Facebook can and does close the generation gap, as it includes the older generation into the new technology and proves it to be accessible to them. It enables the kind of conversations and sharing of thoughts and feelings that can only take place through this medium, easily and effortlessly.
- Practicing my language skills: Learning a foreign language, tough as it may be, is nothing compared to the colossal effort it takes to maintain it through the years, despite one’s best efforts. I have struggled time and again to establish a discipline for keeping my skills intact. Even despite good intentions, learning and speaking the practical spoken language on a daily basis requires conversation with a native, a circumstance that is usually hard to establish. Lucky for me, I have friends who speak my beloved language of French, yet I have the pleasure of their company less often than I would like. By accident or subconscious desire, I have found that going through the daily motions in French with them on Facebook forces me to think and speak and express myself on the spot. It takes away the burden of the ongoing promise I give myself to practice French every day as soon as I have time. It forces me to delve into my passion even for minutes a day, and practice that which I love in a simple lovely medium of communication now instead of later.
- Enabling the best way to build a support group: Sure we all know that our friends and family support us and they may very well prove it on certain occasions, but life is so fluid, so dynamic, and it happens so fast that the sheer practicality of getting that support when you need it is not there. Not through the old means. Generally, I like to think of myself as pretty independent, far from needy. Facebook continues to teach me more about who I am. When I embark on a challenge, big or small, and announce it through my status, I get the most amazing support – often from those I hardly hear from on regular occasion. When I was going through my 10-day yoga challenge, the emotional love from my friends pulled me through. It always depends on the subject, and I never know which new goal or challenge will strike the fancy of which friend, family, relative – but I welcome it all with open arms. This process has shown me that no matter how small or large my efforts, the words of encouragement and support are tremendous in value. Sometimes I almost deem them necessary to take me to the finish line, because now, after having committed to more than myself, how can I possibly stop?
- Generating compelling and delightful dialogues: Getting to know one another through every day events and happenings. These are circumstances that otherwise simply do not exist but with today’s technology and social networks, we get to know our friends and family in small doses, just large enough to digest and delight in. It is never easy to get to know each other in one meeting, or one long phone conversation. You just cannot force connection. You have to let it happen over time, and the right circumstances just bring it out. I never know what fascinating dialogues some of my status updates generate, and I am continuously surprised by how little I know about my friends, and how fun I find it to get to know them better through Facebook. The dialogues make me think about how much we may all have in common, how strong we can be together as communities of friends and families, and of course, how I can use the tidbits of information to tease and play with my friends in return when the right time arrives.
Every reason I stated above for using and loving Facebook, I can find other means to achieve. Facebook is not exclusive or special in enabling me to live this way. It simply continues to be the best and most efficient way I can imagine achieving these goals, all of them, and still having time to spare for my responsibilities and life pursuits.
Perhaps sharing these will shed some light into not just the benefits of social networking but also the concept of selective and disciplined use of these social networking mediums, which, with a little discipline, can bring such joy to living. Social networking doesn’t have to be a black and white issue. It covers a spectrum of gorgeous colors, and I can see benefit and reward in it for everyone. Why dismiss it if it can be bring our world closer, our friends even closer, and enrich our life a little – or a lot – as a result?