Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ah, Facebook...

Ah, Facebook.

First of all, you have to know that I love Facebook. LOVE it. I've been involved with the Internet since before there was an Internet, back in the 80's and early 90's when we ran local Bulletin Board systems for local callers to get email, download files etc. We would dial into a bigger provider, the beginnings of the 'net, retrieve mail and files and post our uploads. Cludgy, expensive and slow, but it was the beginnings of a worldwide network.

Then came the actual Internet. Providers had a bank of phone lines for callers and a small trunk line into the network. Email improved, a new invention called a 'web browser' came along and suddenly everyone was surfing websites worldwide. No one really knew what they were doing, but it was huge and we all knew the potential was staggering.

Then came more... online game sites, huge listings of downloads, forums and newsgroups, and text, voice and video chats. There was so much information out there it was difficult to find and sort through it all - so the search engine was popularized. Better algorithms, more knowledgeable tags, and soon we could find just about anything we wanted.

Except people.

Finding and communicating with people was still a challenge. You might find their name in an article, or a mailing address and phone number, or even an obituary, but to really communicate with people you had to locate an email address or some kind of chat group... and it just wasn't effective.

Enter social networking. The concept of everyone signing up at one site and able to chat, share stories or photos, and follow each other daily was exciting and daring. Several possible ideas came and went. Forums were too sparse and slow. Chat rooms too limited. MySpace was a joke, a kids toy with lots of flashy nonsense but little mainstream attraction.

Then there was Facebook. Determined to keep the interface simple and usable yet full featured, it quickly became a favorite for both the young tech-set and the old timers trying to saddle up to modern times. You could find family, classmates and neighbors. You didn't have emails piling up to sort out from all the spam, no annoying messages with thirty layers of forwards, it was simply there whenever you wanted to check and see what was going on within your little circle.

And so we come to the present. Facebook, ever growing and changing, has captured the hearts of Internet users all over the world as the place to connect up. And it works. My family is huge. I have hundreds of cousins, and it seems a new generation comes along about every five minutes. Most of them I have never met face to face, yet on Facebook I have not only learn their names and see their pictures, I also get a glimpse into their lives, their activities, and their passions. I meet their children as they are born, follow their careers, experience their struggles and dreams, share their hearts and laugh, cry and pray with them daily. Facebook has traveled across impossible miles and cultural boundaries, and brought us together again as a family.

And I love it.

Of course, there are negatives, but you can get that at any family reunion. The differences, the gossip and slander, the morality arguments and the politics. Oh goodness, the politics. But at least on the Internet it's a little easier to scoot the chair back and walk away for a break, let the dust settle and cool some heads, and return with some love and caring that just might stop the battles. Or so we would like to think anyway, sometimes the battles get bloody and people get hurt in spite of the best intentions. But we're still family, and that can't change. As they say, 'you can pick your friends but you're stuck with your family.' So true... but when it comes down to basics, we love 'em anyway. And with Facebook, we get to share with each other better than we ever have before, and I love it.

Ah, yes. Facebook...

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