I refuse to get on the anti-Facebook bandwagon.
For the last five years or so, Facebook has been the biggest thing on the Web. But some disillusionment was inevitable. Nothing can be the biggest thing forever. In recent months, there's been a rising chorus of discontent: Facebook, we are told, invades your privacy. Facebook capriciously changes its features, making them worse. It's boring. A time-suck. A chore.
There's some truth to all that, of course. But you know what? I still love Facebook. There, I admitted it. I'm a huge, unabashed fan.
Why? For the simple reason that Facebook makes my life better.
I'm a busy guy. Three kids, lots of pets, a demanding job, a big house to take care of, an aging parent to look after. Having lived in eight states in my 44 years, and after changing addresses so many times I've lost count, I have friends and family scattered all over the country.
I'm quite fond of those people. I enjoy chatting with them. I like knowing what they're up to. But how best to stay in touch? Phone calls often don't work; after all, other people are frequently busy, too. Old-fashioned letters? Yeah, right. Email — sure, I use it, but the fact is, a lot of people are not so great about checking or answering their email.
But through the miracle of social media, I can instantly and almost effortlessly see what the people I care about are doing and saying. I can silently "chat" with friends around town or around the country for seconds or minutes at a time, with minimal disruption to my workday or theirs. I can let them know what's going on in my life without having to compose many separate emails or make many separate phone calls.
For years, I struggled to stay in touch with my far-flung friends. Thanks to Facebook, it is now somewhat less of a struggle.
Ah, you ask, but what about all those insipid status updates about what someone had for breakfast, or those endless video clips of stupid animal tricks?
Yes, I get my share of bizarre and boring postings. And no, I don't really much care how well one friend is doing in the game "Modern Warfare," or that four of my friends "like" SpongeBob SquarePants. Perhaps the very nadir in status updating occurred just this week, when an old high school classmate of mine actually posted this as her status: "blah blah blah blah blah."
But as I see it, this problem is not with Facebook. To take issue with Marshall McLuhan: The medium, in this case, really is not the message. Blaming Facebook for the vapid or foolish things that people often post on it is a bit like blaming a wall for the fact that people spray-paint graffiti on it.
What surprises me is that more people don't use Facebook for what I consider its most obvious, useful purpose: to quickly exchange helpful information and advice with people whose company you value and whose judgment you trust.
When I joined Facebook a few years ago, my very first posting was about a restaurant I had just patronized for the first time (Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore). This wasn't an exercise in verbal navel gazing. I was providing potentially useful information — useful, at least, to my fellow Baltimoreans. Noting that I liked the place, and perhaps putting some stock in my opinion, they might well have been encouraged to check it out themselves.
Sure, sometimes I use Facebook to update my friends on interesting or important events in my life: spotting a grizzly bear while hiking in Yellowstone or boasting about my kid's performance in the school play. But I'm just as likely to use it to find a good pet-sitter, or get feedback on a certain iPhone app, or to weigh in on a friend's review of the latest "Harry Potter" movie. To my mind, these kinds of things are what make social media "social": They are exchanges, interactions.
It's true, an extremely small percentage of Facebook updates contains any practical advice or useful information. I don't know why this is the case. But please, don't hate Facebook on account of that. In the end, all Facebook is, really, is a blank slate. What you fill it with is up to you.