I was late to the social-networking party. By nature, I am not the most social of creatures; my idea of a fun Friday evening is dinner with my family, and in bed by 10pm. (Wouldn't you love to hang out with me?)
I've been so busy with the child rearing this past decade, that it wasn't until I got my iPhone that I began to move into the twenty-first century. And while I heard my friends talking about Facebook, I did not have much interest. I am generally not nostalgic about my past (what with the haze of depression), and didn't have much interest reconnecting with old friends. The way I see it, relationships that have dwindled off, did so for a reason.
So I resisted the evangelizing of friends, who told me what fun Facebook was, until Carrie Brownstein, one of my favorite bloggers, musicians, and all around people (although of course I do not know her personally), wrote, in January, on her excellent blog Monitor Mix, that she had joined Facebook. She wrote:
A few months ago, Facebook membership among my friends reached a Gladwellian tipping point. A lot of people who would theretofore never have considered joining a social-networking site caved in, shed their mistrust of visibility and nostalgia, and embraced the concept wholeheartedly. For the two Monitor Mix readers who are not on Facebook, think of it like this: Do you ever wonder what the guy you sat next to in high-school math class is doing? Right now? Well, Facebook answers that question. He is doing his laundry. Yes, it's that exciting.
Not exactly the most ringing endorsement, but it made me laugh, and was an accurate description of where I stood on the subject. Well, if Carrie (I like to call her that, although we've never met) did it, surely I could? I thought about it for a few months more, and eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, and/or I succumbed to peer pressure, and signed myself up.
I am not in love with Facebook. I find it overwhelming. I liken it to shopping at Ikea, in that it is deliberately disorienting. It's like wandering around the showroom looking for the kitchen accessories, and despite what you thought was an excellent sense of direction, you keep finding yourself back in the lighting department. And although you just came to get dishtowels, you end up coming home with a lamp, a chair, and some batteries. And you forgot the dishtowels.
You can get lost in Facebook, and then when you finally look up, bleary-eyed, from your screen, you think, WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE LAST 3 HOURS? I had laundry to do, and dishes to wash, and a really good book to read, and AND NOW IT IS BEDTIME AND I HAVEN'T ACCOMPLISHED ANY OF THESE SIMPLE TASKS.
I also think of it more as Acquaintancebook. For me to consider someone my friend, I have to have slept with you, dined with you, been mat to mat with you in a yoga class, or at some point, engaged in a substantial discussion about one thing or another. And so I sometimes feel disingenuous "friending" people who in reality, I don't know all that well. (Perhaps this is why I don't have many "friends"?)
But I don't think Facebook is all bad. I am glad to know where my my friends from high school are, and that they are happy and thriving, and it has helped me to forge stronger connections with people in my present who have been on the periphery of my life for a long time, who I am glad to get to be knowing better. And of course, it is good for self-promotion.
Soon after I joined Facebook, I decided to look into Twitter. And while I am lukewarm about Facebook, I LOVE Twitter! The short format (140 characters) is limiting, and forces you to be more succinct. Perhaps this has something to do with why I find it less disorienting than Facebook; for me, it is easier to dip in to Twitter without getting lost.
I find the self-limiting nature of tweeting to be a good writing exercise. It reminds me of one of the most challenging, but useful English classes I took in college, where we had to read a book a week, and write a one-page paper on it. Margins, font point, and line-spacing all had to be within a specified range, so you could not cheat. It forced you to choose your words very carefully, and make your argument elegantly.
Essentially, Twitter is a socially acceptable form of stalking. (Although come to think of it, so is Facebook.) Initially I was sheepish about following people I didn't know personally, so for the first few weeks, I spent a lot of time talking to my husband, my brother, and my sister-in-law, which was sort of ridiculous because I can speak to them any time I want.
Once I got over that fear, I found it less daunting to "follow" someone, as opposed to "friend" someone on Facebook. So I follow some of my favorite bloggers, and even a few celebrities. (I don't believe Carrie is on Twitter; I looked.) I followed Tom Waits for a while, but I started to suspect that he wasn't really Tom Waits, because he seemed to spend a lot of time talking about some Twitter specific pyramid scheme, so I un-followed him. (That sort of thing happens a bit on Twitter; it's easy to impersonate a celebrity in cyberspace!) I followed Neil Gaiman for a while, and while I adore his writing, I found him a bit too tweety for me, so I nixed him too. (Nothing personal, Neil; you're still one of the most gifted storytellers I've had the pleasure to read.)
When you first join Twitter, it's common to have Tweeter's block. You can't think of anything witty or clever to say, so you clam up. You spend the first week or so following people and wondering what the point is, and how is it any different that a status update on Facebook. But then you have an Eliza Doolittle moment, and all of a sudden, YOU'RE TWEETING ALL THE TIME! You can't stop, you have so much to say. All the funny thoughts that occur to you throughout the day: tweet, tweet, tweet! It's a bit like being in an infinitely sized room with no walls with a bunch of people who suffer from Tourette's syndrome. You're all running off at the mouth, and every once in a while, you happen to collide with someone else.
It is great for freelancers, or housewives; people who work from home, and spend a lot of time by themselves. Talking into the ether somehow helps you to feel less lonely. It gives a little thrill to see your thoughts blasted out into the ether. On Sunday, I tweeted Delicious spring evening, gentle breeze, Campari + soda. And moments later: Delicious spring evening now being marred by smell of rotting, sulphorous diaper wafting in on the breeze.
Sometimes these tweets take on the flavor of little zen koans: Practical advice: know which way the wind is blowing before shaking out a flour covered towel outdoors.
I also find it a great tool for anger management. I am a little crazy about pedestrians having the right-of-way, and last week as I was crossing Bellevue Avenue with my kids, someone decided to make a left turn. While I was in the middle of the cross walk. With my kids. And I had the right of way. She just kept coming, even though I looked her directly in the eye. I finally held up my hand and demanded she stop, which she did, with much rude gesticulating in my direction. I was so furious, that as soon as we got safely to the other side of the street, I whipped out my phone, and tweeted: One who looks you in the eye as you cross the street with your children, and STILL tries their left turn is called...an ASSHOLE. It took a little work to condense my anger into 140 characters, but once I got it off my chest, I felt much better.
Or this, which I was compelled to write while reading about our former Vice-President: DICK Cheney; never was a man more aptly named.
Tweeting sometimes gives me ideas for blog posts. I got two posts out of items I tweeted this week, while in Costco; one about the store itself, and the other, about SPF, all because as I passed the sunscreen display, I tweeted: Does anyone else think things have gotten out of control w SPF#s?, and the next day, off I went on the blog.
So if you like Facebook, and social-networking in general, I encourage you to join me on Twitter. I am @rollergrl, although I'm thinking of changing that to @njhausfrau, you know, for branding. (@hausfrau is already taken; drat.) In fact, I tweeted last week to solicit people's opinions on whether I should change my screen name, but since I don't have that many followers, no one answered. (I didn't take it personally.) So if you join, then I'll have more real friends to "talk" to.