I exist on Facebook therefore I am
The kid’s trampoline was sagging under the weight of three big snowfalls. We hadn’t taken the time to disassemble the thing before winter, so there it sat in the front yard—with its stretcccccccccched underbelly almost resting on the top of the snowdrifts.
Until yesterday, that is. On my way out the front door I noticed it, took pity on it and decided to shovel it off. What I didn’t bargain for was just how much snow a trampoline could collect. I think it’s something like 16 or 18 feet in diameter (or about 5 meters for the metrically inclined), and the snow was at least two feet deep (about two-thirds of a meter). And even more surprising was the amount of ice that built up under the snow. It had frozen into a huge solid puddle in the middle.
It took the better part of a cardiac-arrest-inducing hour to clear it off. That was just the snow. The ice took another half hour, during which I climbed up on the trampoline and used the shovel to hack as I jumped up and down—hard—on the giant ice block. I wondered self-consciously—as I bounced with the big block of ice—if the people in the cars driving were having a laugh at my expense. But I was too far into it and too out of breath to care. Given the weight of all that snow, plus the ice, plus me, I don’t know how the trampoline survived. It’s just a marvel of modern engineering I guess.
Just as I was finishing up, I glanced back at the house and through the window I could see my daughter getting up from the computer. Facebook again, I thought.
Within minutes of finishing up and going back inside the phone rang. I picked up the phone and sat down in front of the computer. It was my mother reminding me to call them for their wedding anniversary, and asking me if I knew of some economist she’d seen on TV. I hadn’t. As we talked I googled him and fed some information about him back at her. Although I never thought of her as old, I can see the signs. She’s never used a computer, let alone the Internet, and she found the instant feedback amazing.
I gave her a computer once, and tried to get her hooked up to the Net, but it didn’t take. I think she mentioned something about it being the devil’s work. She kept flying the mouse off the table to follow the cursor on the screen, and wondered why the damn thing wouldn’t work. The whole experience was really odd, because my mother is not a ditsy woman, and in matters non-computer-related she’s quite rational. So after a couple of months collecting dust on her desk, the computer was duly removed, and donated to another victim.
Within minutes of saying goodbye to her, the phone rang again. This time it was my sister in Vancouver, calling to remind me about the anniversary. She and I hadn’t spoken for about a year, so it took a while to exchange all the news about our kids, our houses, jobs, the weather and all the rest, before comparing notes on India. Coincidentally, both of my sisters travelled to India not more than three weeks before I had, so she wanted to compare perceptions. She’d been to the east coast, while I’d done a north-south sweep from Delhi to Bangalore. As big as India is, there are striking commonalities—the chaos, the dust, the poverty, the sacred cows, the scams and corruption, the colour, the friendliness of the people, the booming new economy and the creaky old economy running side by side—it’s all there.
When we were done she put my brother-in-law on the line for a quick hello. He and I have been friends since high school. He does music and audio engineering out there, and is a very wired guy. He got into digital recording early on, and has been teaching audio technology in college for more than a decade. Naturally the conversation turned digital and then to the Internet. It turns out he and I have been checking out the same kind of sites—economics, globalization, world poverty, weapons proliferation—lighthearted stuff like that. Not more than an hour after we spoke he e-mailed me a bunch of links to some of the more interesting websites, plus a video of his latest recording.
So within the space of two hours I’d reconnected with family. The minute I got off the phone, my daughter sat down in front of the computer. Facebook again. I don’t know what it is about Facebook, or the other social networking sites for that matter (MySpace, YouTube, et. al.), that I find off-putting. I mean I can see it for kids. But for adults? Why would any adult want to manage an on-line personal profile page, complete with inviting and deleting friends? And yet there they all are, from construction workers to bored housewives to high-level academics.
Just to test the thought I went to a science website at random, looked up their CEO, then went to Facebook to see if he was there. Sure enough… So what is the fascination? Is there some underlying need being met?
You bet there is. I remember getting a call from an old colleague a couple of years ago. He said that he’d googled me to find out where I was, and eventually found me. I remember feeling a little sheepish about my lack of virtual exposure and the faint hint of worry about becoming digitally irrelevant. That was my first clue that the Internet had become very real.
To belong to the 21st Century means existing within the collective mind of the Internet. You can’t be validated unless you’re on the Net. And so it ends—I’ve somehow crossed a divide and joined my parent’s digital-free generation. I guess existing on the Internet doesn’t really matter to me, which is why you won’t find me on a blog or on Facebook.
But I have to admit virtual life is a whole lot easier. Ten minutes after I got out of bed this morning my back gave out. Digging out the trampoline had taken its toll. In the real world life is hard and short and then you die. But back on planet Facebook you can live forever.