Facebook

Today I hung out with a good friend I haven’t seen much of recently, and one of the first things she is asked me was whether I were going to attend a party at her place this Friday.  My response was not as informative as she might have hoped.

“Are you coming to our party?”

“Huh?”

After some discussion I understood what she was talking about.  But, the question originally made no sense to me, because I originally didn’t have the slightest idea that they were having a party.  It turns out I had been invited, on Facebook, something like a week ago.

I was actually a little annoyed to discover that they hadn’t bothered to invite me in person, or perhaps through e-mail.  My friend knew perfectly well that I don’t go to my Facebook page very often right now, because I told her as much after the last time she invited me to something through Facebook and I didn’t find out about it until a few days after it happened.  I could easily have formed a habit of missing events if we hadn’t somewhat randomly decided to hang out today.  I would feel pretty left out if my close friends hosted a party and I didn’t even know about it.

But, there is my invitation, plain as day, on my Facebook page.  It certainly seems unfair for me to be annoyed about not having been invited, when I had an invitation sitting there waiting for me.  On the other hand, I also feel that a person doing invitations has some vague obligation to put them where they can be found.  Inviting me through Facebook was a little like sending a wedding invitation to a forgotten P.O. Box — yes, that’s my address, but I’m probably not going to be picking up my mail any time soon.  However, whose fault is that, if not mine?  All of this raises a question: do I have an obligation to check my Facebook?

I have a friend who avoided getting his own mobile phone for years.  He would actually give out his girlfriend’s number and tell me to call her to reach him.  I teased him about his apparently Luddite reluctance to get such a useful item, but he maintained that a mobile phone wasn’t a convenience for him, but rather for the people trying to get in touch with him.  A phone was, he thought, an obligation and a burden, and so he didn’t have one.  At the time his ideas on the convenience of mobile communication seemed silly, but now — hounded on an almost daily basis by the good people at the National Student Loans Service Centre — I begin to appreciate his point.  Like a phone, Facebook certainly offers an awful lot of convenient and useful services to its users, but it also comes with a measure of obligations and expectations.

My phone-less friend eventually gave in and got his own mobile contract.  He didn’t really have a choice; personal phones are common and expected while home phones seem like an antique notion, at least among the gypsy-esque student circles in which we travel.  At some point, his aversion to mobile phones began to seem less like a personal preference, and more like a curmudgeonly and antisocial rejection of common convention.  Eventually, in order to avoid the perception of a Unabomber-living-in-a-shack level of nonconformity, he had to give in and concede that having his own mobile phone was simply the way things were done.

I imagine similar things happened when e-mail first became common.  At first, only people with an interest in technology and communication were using the new service.  But, soon it became mainstream enough that there was nothing special about an average person having an e-mail address.  Now, e-mail is so culturally-ingrained that it’s hard to imagine living without it, and anyone who didn’t have an account would quite possibly be viewed with confusion and derision.  We all have e-mail, and we all expect to be able to communicate effectively with each other through it.  E-mail brings convenience and opportunity in a way that we didn’t have before.

For example, as soon as Rev. Kwame M’chombo gives me my cut for e-mailing him my bank account information to secure the fortune that he is sneaking out of Nigeria, I’ll be able to get the student loan people off my back.

At any rate, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  Is Facebook the newest mobile phone or e-mail, a technology product whose mainstream appeal obligates mainstream acceptance?  My party-inviting friend quite reasonably assumed that my absence from Facebook a few months ago was the result of an unenviable state of homelessness (which left me without permanent internet access), that has since ended.  In point of fact I had relatively consistent access the entire time (the internet really is just about everywhere); instead, I’ve just been generally ignoring Facebook because it’s a reminder that the world continues without me, which can be unpleasant for someone trying to find his place in it.  But, my friend wasn’t thinking about that when she sent the invitation.  Instead, she knew that I had Facebook, and assumed that I would use it regularly, because… why wouldn’t I?  That’s what Facebook is for.  Not checking Facebook would be like having a mobile phone but never turning it on.

So, do I have an obligation to have a Facebook account, and check it regularly?  Have we reached the point that there is basically a social contract, at least among some circles, to use Facebook diligently?  Am I rudely snubbing people if they contact me through Facebook and I don’t respond because I’m unaware?

Certainly, I’m shooting myself in the foot socially by not checking my account — that much is clear.  Since I’m obviously going to continue to miss out on things if I don’t use Facebook regularly, I’m simply going to have to use Facebook regularly.  It feels a little like social blackmail that I have to be overconnected unless I want to risk being underconnected, but I suppose it’s no different from a phone that makes me vulnerable to calls I don’t want, or an e-mail account that attracts annoying spam.  In the end, you have to accept the bad with the good, or you risk missing out on the opportunities that really matter.

Do you think the Rev. M’chombo would accept my friend request?

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