There are a lot of really good reasons to hate Facebook. The privacy issues. The constant redesign. The advertising. The whole business model that comes leaking through every so often. You monstrous brute, selling me Singles in Seattle, plus size clothes that offend even muumuus, shilling up Marketo and Salesforce when I absolutely do not care. Best-selling swimsuits, Celebrity Nutritionist, Filing Online, Industrial Relic Designs. My page looks more like the back page of the weekly entertainment rag. And oftentimes has as much meaning and significance to me as the ads for live nude girls and Viagra suppliers.
But I’m struck by something that I praise Facebook for. Something that no other generation before us has ever had – and it’s an amazing and beautiful thing.
Let’s head back to the days of ocean voyages for a moment. The days of pirates and uncertain crossings. Puffy shifts and eye patches, scabbards and hooks for hands. But also ink wells, parchment paper, and quills with nibs carved ever so carefully for the right fine line and ink absorption. Each letter was crafted and constructed. Packaging up that letter, sealing it with wax, and leaving it in the hands of some islander on some colonial outpost to make its way back home. Maybe it would take months, maybe a year. Eventually it would wend its way to the recipient so that the wife, son, daughter, mother, lover would know the fate of the loved one. Of course, that fate was long ago history by the time news arrived. The loved one might have died of scurvy. Been cast ashore for mutiny. Been promoted to first mate. You never know.
With time, more would be known. Maybe.
Or think about all the letters ever written during countless wars. Letters from fox holes, from battlefronts, from hospitals declaring undying love. Remember me always. That last moment written down in shaky penmanship exposing more emotion than the words. Some of those words were the last ones ever written. But that knowledge was tucked away for months and years at a time, sealed away and giving the recipient hope. What if he made it out of there alive but just didn’t find his way home… yet. The lack of the next letter opened up so many possibilities.
Covered wagons, steamships, transcontinental train trips. Our relationships to our even closest sibling, friend, parent was strained by distance. News of child births, deaths, celebrations of weddings. It took so much time to know. The relationships between people might get so stretched and expanded to the point of becoming strangers. But letters with even the most cursory news re-established links.
The world grew bigger and bigger. And our ability to stay connected stretched along with it. Sometimes snapping.
Not even 10 years ago, if you had family in Australia, you might wait for an email to show up. Its digital lines expressing health, wealth and happiness. Standard lines of how they were, wondering how you were. Maybe a mention of an upcoming vacation to a place you had never heard of, to see people you didn’t know. But it was a thread, a connection to the people you loved and who loved you.
And then 5 years ago, if you had friends in Italy, something magical happened. Instantaneous news that could flash on your screen the moment it was shared. You could see the photo of your friend’s twins. Freshly out of the cooker and bundled up with squishy faces and tiny hats that looked made for fingers instead of heads.
I can spend an hour a day reading what’s going on with my former neighbor who lives in Scotland now, or see the countless photos of the babies from all my friends across the globe. I’ve been watching those Italian twins grow up and pose in sunglasses and sandals. I’ve been following closely the travel plans of a friend in India complete with photos. I get to see each meal almost in real time. Watch her video of the traffic along the dirt paved streets. I’ve been tracking my Australian family’s move from the city to the beach, looking at the photos of one beautiful day after another. I’ve learned what matters to my friends and family. I see their world, even briefly, through their eyes. What excites them. What they think is worth sharing.
It doesn’t interest me to rail about how cheap our communication has become as a result of this kind of technology. How lax and uninteresting our messages are (and frankly poorly spelled). How mundane and perhaps profane these kinds of updates have become. How self-focused they are.
I don’t care.
We are connected in a way that makes me appreciate this great big world and the people in it, experiencing it right now – and allowing me a little peek into their whole grand affair for just that moment.