By Paul M. Lewis
In case you may be unfamiliar with the term, a Luddite is someone who is resistant to new technology, a definition that could all too well be applied to me over the years, especially when it comes to the latest forms of electronic communication.
But, I have to ask, who knew Facebook could be so difficult? I’ve been on it for several days now, and only slowly do I seem to be getting the hang of things. True to my Luddite roots, I resisted for years, but now that I’ve published a novel, I’m told I really should become familiar with the social media movement, since this is one of the best ways of getting word out about the book. I understand that, and I even appreciate that it puts me in contact with whole lot of folks whom I would otherwise never know. But all this comes at something of a price. Maybe because of my inexperience—some might say because of my resistance—the learning curve has been a steep one, and things have taken much longer than I thought they should.
Just the mere process of signing up on Facebook was harder than I expected. But with the patient help of my partner, who is far more computer enabled than I, we were able to successfully achieve this first step. Then came the concept of friending people, which, I have to admit, I found a little strange. This notion of connecting with people I know, and then with friends of theirs, and sometimes with friends of friends of friends, people whom I don’t know and will probably never meet, was a concept that took some getting used to. But it does stand to reason that a friend of a friend could become a good acquaintance. So, I accepted offers of friending from a number of people whom I’d never met, except virtually.
The very term “friending,” in fact, seemed telling to me, rather than the more traditional notion of creating a friendship. But then, the idea of friendship designates a deeper relationship, one that usually presupposes an actual face-to-face, in the flesh meeting of individuals, taking place over a period of time, even years sometimes. It assumes a gradual getting to know one another at some deeper level, a modicum of shared values and interests, and a whole set of any number of other indescribables that unconsciously go into connecting two people who know and like each other. Is it possible that this level of mutual knowledge could take place solely online, where messages for the most part are customarily reduced to a few lines of text? I suppose that miracles, which are by definition rule-breakers, are always possible, although I don’t necessarily count on them.
When I was an adviser to international students at US universities many, many years ago, these foreign students (as we called them then) would sometimes come to me and complain they had a lot of difficulty forming deep friendships with American students. “They’re very pleasant and they smile a lot and ask me how I’m doing,” they’d say to me, “but I never feel I really get to know them.” My ready-made answer was always this: you can’t push a friendship. It has to develop naturally, and for most of us this happens when we’re not really looking, when we’re not even thinking about the idea of making a friend. It happens when you work or study side by side with somebody, or when you join a club that promotes an activity or an ideal you believe in, and maybe you do a project together. Friendships sneak up on you and take you by surprise, mostly while you’re doing something else. And before you even realize it, if you’re lucky, you’re sharing things about yourself and learning about the other person by giving each other the time and emotional space to reveal yourself at a deeper level to that person, and allowing her or him to do the same with you.
To be fair, though, I have been told that this notion of friendship isn’t the real purpose of Facebook. What it’s designed for, on the one hand, is more of a quick way of keeping in touch with people you already know, of finding out what is new and intriguing in the lives of those whom you don’t necessarily get a chance to see all that often, and so more or less of keeping up to date with how they are. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Another reason for Facebook is to connect with people whom you may never have known, but who might share similar interests, concerns, or worldviews as you do. Again, nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, it’s good to know that there are folks out there who agree with how we see things and to know that we’re not alone when it comes to how we view important issues, like what to do about global warming. So, if in the process, we also see umpteen pictures of somebody’s grandkids, or yet another photo of Hello Kitty, or of a stranger sipping a grandemochafrappuchinolatte at some generic Starbucks, what’s the harm?
Any longing for the supposed good old days of frequently seeing and talking with people you know and love is maybe overblown and over-romanticized anyway. We all lead busy lives and have less and less time or opportunity to spend hours chatting with friends. And in an ever-increasingly mobile world, friends and relatives move away in order to find jobs, to be near their kids, or to live in places where their money stretches a little further.
As you can probably see, what I’m trying to do is to argue myself into accepting the good that is in Facebook, while simultaneously attempting to wind down the whining about what can, admittedly, be some of its more superficial aspects. As they say, the tool isn’t to blame when it’s misused. So, here’s how I’m going to approach things: I’ll make a valiant attempt to capitalize on the strengths of this technology, which—as I see them—are the ability to get quick, efficient word out to a whole slew of people about a specific topic (usually, one simple message), and to remind folks of subjects that have some importance to me, and maybe to them too. Next, really along the same lines as the first, I’ll use the power of its reach to let people know about the novel I’ve written, to inform them of how they can learn more about it and how they can buy it, if they so wish (see my website at www.paulmlewis.com). And I’ll probably also occasionally browse the information people send out and see what so-and-so is up to of late, especially if I haven’t had the chance to see him or her in quite a while. Really, are her grandkids that big already? Although, I think I’ll pretty much have to draw the line at Hello Kitty.
I get it that the creation of deep friendships is not the forte of Facebook. And that’s fine. In a way, I’ll think of it as advising myself (as I used to advise international students), only this time more or less in reverse. Not every paintbrush is designed to create an amazingly revelatory piece of art. Sometimes, you just need to paint a wall with it. So, I’ll do what I can with this new technology and hope for the best. Maybe one of those miracles might even take place, and I’ll get to know some people better, more deeply, than I ever thought possible. In the meantime, this particular Luddite will try to lighten up, just a little. After all, I’m here to admit to you, I’m on Facebook now, and who knew that could ever happen?