By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there were smoke signals and crude drawings on cave walls. Then there were homing pigeons, the telegraph, Morse code and the Pony Express.
And now, all those primitive forms of staying in touch have snowballed, picked up speed and evolved into a communication phenomenon we call “Facebook.” It started out as a proper noun – the name of an online social network like no other. But it has become so popular and so massive that it has morphed into its own verb, as in “Okay, I’ll just Facebook you about that later.”
If you’ve been hanging out under a rock for the past couple of years and have never heard of Facebook, let me quickly bring you up to speed. Imagine, if you will, what would happen if your high school yearbook, your rolodex and your e-mail account had a baby. That’s what Facebook is. It’s a magical place on the World Wide Web where you can find nearly anyone you’ve ever met in your entire life. And they can find you. Your first love, your last boss, your third cousin you’ve never met and nearly everyone on your Christmas card list is there.
I resisted Facebook’s powerful pull as long as I could. Already an admitted e-mail junkie, I couldn’t imagine voluntarily signing up for something else I’d feel compelled to check every day. But then my friend Donna in St. Louis convinced me that if I wanted people to believe that I have a pulse and can operate a computer, I should probably be on Facebook. After all, everybody was doing it. (And, no, if everybody was jumping off a bridge, I wouldn’t do that, too. But I’m pretty sure Facebook and bridge-jumping are two entirely different things.)
The only painful part of creating my Facebook profile was finding a personal snapshot that I wouldn’t mind posting in front of the entire Facebook world. Other than that, it was kind of fun.
It was even more fun when invitations from old friends and classmates started appearing in my inbox. When you’re a Facebook newbie, you find yourself opening “friend invitations” pretty often and saying, “Oh, yeah! I remember her!” I’ve been “facebooking” for about a month or so now, and I’m still learning how it works. I doubt I’ll ever be as well-versed as some of those Facebook fanatics out there – the ones who’ve dived so deep into the social networking ocean that they know every tool, trick and nuance of the website. Some of them are facebooking so often that I wonder if they have time to eat, sleep or practice personal hygiene. I bet some of them brush their teeth with one hand while they type out a Facebook update with the other: “John Smith is brushing his teeth.”
As with any addiction, soon there’ll be support groups for those trying to quit. “Hi. My name is John. It’s been six hours since my last Facebook update.” (In unison: Hi, John.)
Of course, Facebook isn’t the only social network in town but it is the most successful. It was created in 2004 by a 24-year-old guy named Mark Zuckerburg, who developed it with friends during his free time in college. Last year, Time magazine named him one of the World’s Most Influential People. When I was in college, my goal was to figure out how to study for finals while eating a big bag of Cheetos without getting that orange crust stuck to my fingers and all over my books. It never happened. Mark makes me feel stupid and old. Thanks a lot, buddy.
Nevertheless, a college kid’s hobby has turned into a billion-dollar company that has people of all ages typing, updating, connecting, “friending” and facebooking until the wee hours of the morning. Who needs smoke signals, homing pigeons or the Pony Express? Clicking the “share” button is so much faster.