Posted on Monday, January 14, 2008 by Michael
“Facebook is just a game. That’s it, that’s all.” So says Sebastien Provencher. Thank goodness for the holidays and their tendency to break people out of their ruts and send them back home for a bit of grounding…
During the Holidays, I met with my friends and family multiple times and one topic of conversation that came up very often was Facebook. “What’s Facebook?” my mom would ask. “Why are people so fascinated with it” my brother-in-law would add. “It’s useless” or “it’s a waste of time” would also come up very often. The proof of the whole uselessness was the “poking” and the “sending my friends a virtual beer” examples. I tried explaining Facebook the way I’ve explained it many times in this blog but I quickly realized I was getting nowhere. My friends and family members that thought Facebook was useless wouldn’t change opinion even after I explained my big social media theories.
PreFacebook Life of a Techie
Yea these many years ago, I was a kid playing Pong on my family’s vintage black and white TV… I could and did play that thing all day (was it an Odyssey? I think it came from Sears). Then it was Atari… in color! Space Invaders, then Atroids, PacMan and beyond. And I owned a few of the first handheld “videogames”… football and car racing come to mind.
In college, I dragged along my old Atari into the dorm, risking and receiving a bit of ridicule, but soon enough we were engage in epic tournaments of some four player “breakout” type game where each guy tried to protect his king in his castle of bricks… alliances made around the beanbag chair on the shag carpet… daggers plunged into backs… great fun.
Then it was on to music… collecting other people’s music. My chosen low-budget approach was making audio tapes from borrowed or rented albums and recording off the radio (the college station played complete albums)… later CDs.
I was the first person I knew to buy a PDA… a Casio with a full keyboard… oh man I loved that thing. A buddy and I used its built-in spreadsheet software to track a cross-country road trip, among many other uses.
Sometime after grad school, I landed a job that included broadband access at my desk… wow! The web didn’t have much to offer yet, but email was incredible. I corresponded with every old friend and family member I could find that used email (and didn’t try to keep in touch with those who weren’t online).
While I typically worked conscientiously at this job, now I had a growing set of diversions at my fingertips… (1) computer games mysteriously living on my hard drive, (2) music I could play on my CD drive and research on the web, (3) contacts and calendar I could manage on my PDA, and (4) friends and family whom I could email. It’s a miracle that I accomplished as much as I did at that position.
Which brings me back to Sebastien’s point above about Facebook. I have a Facebook account and I’ve nosed around repeatedly… but for the life of me, I have no interest. Am I the only one not on board? Sometimes I think so… but then I have a moment like Sebastien’s homecoming and I realize that MOST people are not on or deeply into Facebook.
And when I look at my life now… it’s very different than when I was a teenager or in my 20s and spent a large amount of time on entertainment… games, music, socializing. Now, as a husband, father of young kids, son of aging parents, active member of my community (i.e., the place where I live my “first life”), and business owner… well, I’m in a very different place. I’m blessed that my “entertainment” is woven into the daily fabric of a rich and mostly balanced life… very different than emailing distant and fading old friends from a lonely cubicle.
Facebook offers next to nothing for me now. From age 13 to 33 I would have been all over it. But I don’t long for any online tools at this point. In fact, I want to spend less time interacting with and through technology and more with kids, neighbors, extended family and other people in my life. Front Porch Forum evolved out of this situation.
Follow the Kids, Dummy
One last point, many voices can be heard saying we should bow down to Facebook and other services that cater to youth… because obviously that’s the way of the future. Follow the children!
Hmm. I know lots of kids, teenagers and people in their 20s. Lots of wonderful young folks. They bring much to the discussion… but I’m not ready to abdicate my responsibility as an adult, parent and community leader in order to follow the lead of a gang of 17 year olds.
What a loss for all involved if my father had chucked what he was all about and spent his time with me playing Atari, collecting bootlegged Bruce Springsteen and Replacement albums, and trying to keep the connection alive to that guy named Bill from bio class years after we parted ways. No, he was busy doing real things of consequence with real people in real time and space.
And he (and other adults in my life) got me outside, involved in my community, working, to the family dinner table, etc. He didn’t forbid me my “screen time”… but he saw it as play time… not as the guiding principal around which his generation should mold our society.
A New Entertainment Industry Born
Hollywood, pop music, video games… all established entertainment industries. And now Facebook and others have created an industry out of a collection of things we’ve always done (social networking)… souped it all up considerably. I’m interested to see where this all goes, but not keen to jump in or give it too much weight. More and more Americans seem to be spending more and more time, money and emotional energy on entertainment… reminds me of what I recall learning of the latter days of another empire.
[…] Facebook is a game and local engagement is about building up the community in which you live. Apples and oranges. […]
I’ve been a casual reader of your blog for several months. Of all the posts you’ve written I think this is perhaps one of the most interesting that I’ve read. I think it will require significant effort to figure out which technologies really aid us in building connections with our community and it’s inspiring to read your thoughts on it.