Interesting aticle on Facebook from Forbes Magazine

Forty-Somethings On Facebook
Tunku Varadarajan 11.24.08,
12:00 AM ET

In
his Facebook manifestation, hastily arranged in response to Barack
Obama’s resounding success with the Little Cyber-Platoons, John McCain
was not merely unconvincing, he was plain silly–an old geezer out of
his depth in an utterly alien milieu. Obama, on the other hand, is a
textbook Facebooknik: Had he been a professor somewhere and not a
politician, one can imagine him posting goofy pictures of his girls,
“poking” his friends and constantly updating his status.

“Barack feels like sushi tonight.”

“Barack wishes Malia would turn down the television.”

“Barack hated Quantum of Solace.”

Which brings me to a story: Some months before the election, I
received a request from a young man I didn’t know, asking if he could
be my Facebook “friend.” I’m told by hardened users of the medium that
it’s quite alright to ignore such requests. Call me old-fashioned,
however, or overly chivalrous, but I cannot bring myself to be so
cold-bloodedly abortive of amity. So I accepted the overture and
clicked him into the state of friendship with me that he appeared to
covet.

Thirty seconds later, I got this note: “You appear to support John McCain. Can you clarify if this is true?”

“I cannot say that I’m a supporter of Obama … yet,” I replied, in
my most courteous euphemism, not wishing to lock horns with someone I’d
only just “met.” To which I got this boomerang back: “Take me off your
friends list immediately. These things are very important to me.” I did
as he wished, thus ending what must count as the briefest friendship in
Western civilization (though the only thing civilized about this
particular transaction was my equanimity in the face of Manichaean
politics).

Yet a peculiar gloom possessed me after this incident. Truth be
told, I felt rather hurt. The swiftness with which I’d been sized up
and found unfit for “friendship” felt like a slap to the
face–especially as I’d (kindly) elected to grasp an unknown hand.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I belong to
a cohort–the 40-somethings–that has a peculiar relationship with
Facebook. It is a cohort that is entirely comfortable with computers,
but which also has a memory of the courtesies and languor of the
pre-computer age. We read a lot online, but also have newspapers
delivered to our homes. We write e-mail as if we were born with the
skill to do so, yet we wrote letters by hand until we were well into
our 30s.

We don’t take Facebook for granted the way our children do, with
their unthinking postings on each others’ walls, their casual use of
the F-word on what is effectively a quasi-public forum, their postings
of their own photographs in varying states of sobriety and decency.
Facebook is a forum that we wish we’d had when we were much younger; so
now that we have it in our 40s, we treat it with a certain
self-conscious formality, a calibrated theatricality. When we update
our status, we don’t just toss off the update with a casual
hack-hack-hack of the keyboard; we think before we type, pondering the
effect of the status update on its potential readers, and pondering,
also, its impact on our image. This is solipsistic, yes; but it is also
consciously gregarious–or, better, consciously non-misanthropic.

A few examples, taken from recent posts by my Facebook friends:

“X has given up pretending he’s 25–47 is a grand age if you can take the pace.”

“X is geeking and wonking and nerding.”

“X is still in Kandahar, but dreaming of Miami for Art Basel.”

“X is not drinking till Tuesday night.” (This was written on a Friday. Life can be tough.)

“X is waiting for Y to cook the pasta …”

“X is having a late 1980s green, ASCII monochrome flashback via the ‘terminal’ theme in my gmail.”

“X is wearing a new quilted robe and feeling like a pasha.”

“X is worrying about incest: Gilbert, the once-innocent baby goat, has gone and got George, his mother, pregnant.”

Or this, from my own, latest Facebook status update:

“Tunku rescued a woman trapped in a bathroom last night.”

Now, why did I post that on my Facebook page? Perhaps there was a desire–however mild–to epater la bourgeoisie;
or merely a desire to write a good one-liner. The story, in truth, was
not as exciting as the Facebook summary suggests, and yet I posted it
as a snapshot of my state. Was it an invitation to my friends to
respond? (Sure enough, one did: “OK, this sounds dramatic. What’s the
story?”) Or have I– have most of us–succumbed to the tedious,
excessively revelatory ways of modern American society, which assumes
that every ounce of everyone’s life constitutes a narrative-in-waiting,
a parable, a morality tale–which assumes, in fact, that nothing is
ever banal.

My own view is that the impulse is largely innocent, and pure. Our
Facebook friends constitute a grouping to which we are tied by a
loosely elective kinship. We inhere in ways that are neither overly
complex nor mysterious: One knows someone who knows someone who knows
one, so there is a social logic to the Facebook “friending” process
that need not flummox us. So we post stuff to amuse the grouping, to
titillate, to inform, to send out little ripples in the pond, to give
back what we have received from others (in the form of their own posted
updates of personal status).

Note, please, that the operative verb on Facebook is “to friend,”
not the more conventional (and sincere) “to befriend”; and so by a
linguistic sleight of hand, we are empowered to create an association
that stops short of being a community, whose whole is considerably less
than the sum of its parts. By the grade-inflation so typical of our
times, acquaintances are, here, classed as “friends.” So when we
dispatch a fragment of feeling (or color, or information) into the
ether–to be received by the members of this association whenever they
log on to Facebook–we don’t expect every reader of the fragment to
know us well, necessarily. And we certainly don’t expect, always, to be
taken seriously–or to be agreed with.

That, perhaps, is why the Facebook rejection by a youthful stranger
— which I recounted above — seemed like such a violation. (The
Facebook verb, “to unfriend,” has, I will concede, a certain blousy
drama.) My friend for all of 35 seconds mistook the loose association
that is Facebook “friendship” for a form of tribal lockstep, and was
horrified when he found that I did not wear the right sort of
war-paint. In that, he was a trespasser in a 40-something’s Facebook
territory, and it was entirely right that his presence there should
have been so brief.

From that conclusion, I take some solace … as I ponder my next status update.

Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at the Stern Business School at
NYU and research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, is opinions
editor at Forbes.com, where he writes a weekly column.

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