Friday, May 21, 2010

Life is all just social networking

Social networking is part of the new lexicon ... a term created to put websites such as Facebook and MySpace under one umbrella. You could also throw text messaging in there too.

All of these shiny new things follow a similar pattern. They rise up, they're condemned by people who don't understand them as corruptible, we all wring our hands over the amount of time people spend engaging in "social networking" activities ... and ... soon enough ... they're absorbed into our culture.

Then, a curious thing often happens -- something else comes along to take their place and we go through the whole damn thing all over again.

I'm guessing this is what happened with the radio. It came along, and people probably though it was "the devil's airwaves" or something. Next thing you know, Franklin Roosevelt is delivering Fireside Chats via the airwaves, Jack Benny and Rochester are cutting it up, we're glued to it to hear Red Sox games, and, viola, it's an indelible part of our culture.

That's certainly how it was with television. Newton N. Minnow was John F. Kennedy's chairman of the FCC in 1961. Aside from being pissed off at having such a ridiculous name, Newton Minnow didn't have a whole lot of regard for television. While he conceded (grudgingly, I'm sure) that good TV was something to behold, he said -- in a pretty famous speech before the American Broadcasters Association -- that most of it was "a vast wasteland."

Two years later, of course (and I'm sure much to Minnow's everlasting dismay) we got the full scope of how powerful a medium television had become when we all sat in front of one for four straight days after Kennedy was assassinated.

The media aren't the only vehicles that spawn cultural alterations. Music, art, literature ... they all undergo seismic shifts that meet with widespread disapproval before they're finally absorbed into the mainstream. There's probably no more of an accepted musical idiom in America today than jazz, yet, in its day, it had its severe critics, especially among white critics who accused it of "taking us back to the jungle."

As we can see, race had an awful lot to do with the acceptance of certain musical forms into mainstream culture. Besides jazz, rock 'n' roll was called, among other things, race music (as well as "the devil's music"). But it didn't take long for Danny and the Juniors to record a song that said, "I don't care what people say, rock 'n' roll is here to stay."

And it was, too. It's stayed a good, long time too. It has evolved -- often into forms that seem totally foreign to those of us who got in on the ground floor -- but it has endured.

I can remember when cell phone started becoming plentiful. I was already into my 40s when they became more than just cumbersome mobile phones that looked like walkie talkies. I didn't get my first one until I was past 45. And by the time I did, I think I was among the last holdouts.

I confess that I, too, took the view that "whatever did we do before we had cell phones?"

What we did was hunt around for pay phones, fish through our pockets for loose change, and pretty much sit there and take it when the phone companies kept raising the rates and tacking on more charges for the privilege of using them.

I can remember being a reporter in the early days of my career. I worked for the United Press International wire service. And whenever UPI would send a team of reporters out to cover a major story, the lowest guy in the pecking order (and a couple of times, that was me) would have the most important assignment: go procure a pay phone and sit on it. It would require a lot of patience, and a lot of dimes, but it certainly came in handy when it was finally time to report the story!

The advent of cell phones eliminated that responsibility. Now, you just have to make sure you're not in "bad cell hell" when it comes time to make the big phone call. Otherwise, life becomes a chorus of "can you hear me now?"

Of course, these days, you don't use your cell phone simply to call home so your wife/husband can start dinner. You use it to text message your friends. This, I find hysterical (though there are times I text too). With speed dial, all you have to do is press a button and you get your friend. You can talk ... actually carry on a conversation! Develop some seriously-needed social skills. But no. We text. This way, nobody has to talk to anyone and actually engage in any kind of meaningful dialogue. But like everything else, it's become part of the overall culture.

You also use your cell phone to check your email and go on Facebook. Well, technically, when you're reached this level of sophistication, you're graduated to a Blackberry (we can thank Barack Obama, in part, for making this a household word) or an iPhone.

Again, I have a Blackberry and I check my email about 2,000 times a minute. But I do ask myself why? I do ask myself "whatever did I do before I got one of these? How did I ever keep track of my email?"

I have a cousin (well, I have about 29 of them actually) whom I ran into a few years back outside of Dunkin Donuts in Saugus. We had a brief conversation ... and it was mostly about computer technology and how backward both of us were when it came to keeping up.

"Do you text?" he asked me. "I don't even know how."

I didn't either. But I do now. So like the mule who has to be cajoled and beaten to move forward, so have I.

A couple of weeks ago, in what could prove to be a seminal episode of "Saturday Night Live," Betty White thanked the people who campaigned, on Facebook, for her to host the show. Then, she said that in her opinion, Facebook was a waste of time.

I never had much use for it ... until my son talked me into logging on. Now, I can't get enough of it.

And I love how people justify it, too.

"It's a great way to catch up with people you haven't seen in a while."

Sure it is. Except that, in all but the rarest of instances, there's a reason I haven't seen some of these people in a while!!!

What Facebook represents, to me, is a way to goof off while making yourself look busy. It is now the bane of all American business, because employees tend to spend way too much time messing around on Facebook, sacrificing productivity in the process. Offices all over America are having their Computer Nazis block it.

I can see why. It can be addictive. It's all-encompassing. It's pretty much made AOL's and MSN's chat services obsolete. Why have those programs open when you can log onto Facebook and chat, check up on someone's high school reunion pictures, play a game, pretend you're in the Mafia, or on a farm, or designing a city ... and at the same time read about people who insist on sharing every aspect of their lives in their status reports?

Going to bed now ... getting up now ... Boo hoo. Gotta go to work ... Dammit all, Daisuke sucks (that's usually me) ... It's a beautiful day (U2 thought so too). You can get daily affirmations on Facebook that would have made Stuart Smalley blush. And then there are those "like" things were some nut can say "If you don't like the American Flag I'll be glad to escort you out of the country" or some such ... and thousand people hit the "like" button without even giving a thought as to how Nazi that really sounds.

I like the flag too. Respect the hell out it. But I'll decide how, when, and why I choose to fly it ... or whether I even want to fly it at all. Not you. That's also part of what being an American means.

It is its very own soap opera and central clearing house, all at once.

But do you know what the hell of it is? In another year or so, something is going to come along that renders Facebook as obsolete as AOL Instant Messenger and, eventually, every fan bulletin board on the internet. Because in the computer age, there is always a bigger bread box (or, in some cases, smaller with more gigs of RAM and a more powerful pentium chip).

And the same thing will happen all over again. People like me, who probably haven't even tipped the iceberg of what Facebook is capable of doing, will moan and groan about what a waste this new technology is ... and keep on complaining about until the day comes when I actually learn how to use it. Then, I'll embrace it with open arms.

I mean, I have resisted -- and I'm actually proud of it -- Twitter. I know the whole world tweets. But I also know how much trouble Paul Pierce of the Celtics got into because someone hacked his Twitter account earlier this week, and I wonder why you'd ever want to expose yourself to that type of risk. Just what I'd need ... some jerk hijacking my account so -- in my name -- he could talk trash about my friends.

Then again, I just had to go through hoops to change my email password because some idiot hacked my account and began sending out spam emails hawking pharmaceutical products guaranteed to make Smiling Bob look woefully inadequate.

So maybe I'm already there. After that, Twitter doesn't seem like such a big deal.

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