There is a lot of criticism of Facebook from various fronts. There are legitimate concerns with privacy, data sharing, commercialism, triviality, even narcissism. A lot of the criticism is undoubtedly right on the mark. But there are positive aspects, too, that critics overlook or underestimate. These include generations connecting, old friends finding each other, online support for grief, and all manner of happy sharing. I see that and appreciate it for what it is. I toss out my bookstore reminders and occasional personal notes on Facebook. But I still enjoy the blogosphere more. Blogs and Facebook posts are different.
The thing is, I’m not great at cocktail parties, either. I’d be the “wallflower at the orgy,” in Nora Ephron’s memorable phrase. As I see it, the default tone (there are, of course, departures from the default) of Facebook is banter, and I have never been good at banter.
I neither text or tweet. Being “wired” every minute of the day and night sounds like a nightmare to me, not a dream come true. It astounds me that anyone would want to be followed and monitored on a constant, nonstop basis. Don’t they ever need quiet time? I need a lot of it!
Sometimes I write and post something on my blog and then put a link on Facebook, in hopes that friends who don’t follow the blog regularly will at least read that post. That, I guess, is my trying to have my cake and eat it, too, and to a certain extent it works, in that there are usually more readers for a post I’ve linked to Facebook than one I haven’t. But then Facebook friends usually leave their comments on Facebook rather than on the blog post, which to me seems a little like whispering in the back of the room to your cronies rather than sharing with everyone. I realize that blogging platforms don’t always make it easy for readers to leave comments, but figuring that out isn’t any harder than working with Facebook, is it?
What it takes to read a blog post and leave a comment is a slightly longer attention span than Facebook requires, a more leisurely and yet more careful approach. Here’s how I see the difference:
Imagine whizzing down a street on a bicycle, a street where you know everyone in every house. Neighbors are sitting out on their porches, and as you ride by you wave and call out a greeting, friends on their porches call greetings in return. Some have signs in their front yards that you read as you ride past—advertising signs or campaign signs or whatever. You are probably wearing a shirt with some kind of slogan on it. Little clots of bicyclists may stop at an intersection briefly to share a bit of news or gossip. Okay, that’s Facebook.
Now imagine yourself sitting on a front porch. Maybe you know a few of your neighbors, and maybe you know everyone on the street, but people from anywhere in the world may be walking or riding or driving past. From time to time some of them come up and sit with you a while on the porch. They listen patiently and with interest to a story you have to tell and may have a reflection to make on your experience. If you take a position on an issue, they may agree or argue, and they’ll tell you why. Maybe you get out your photo album, and they look through the pages with you. In turn, you accept their hospitality and visit them on their porches, even if they live in India or China, because there is no distance in the blogosphere. Everyone on earth is a potential neighbor. There is a serendipity to these meetings with strangers and a leisurely quality to all the exchanges, and often strangers become friends. That’s blogging.
Years ago a friend and I got into a spirited discussion in my bookstore on the philosophy of John Rawls. We were really into our subject! (I’ve told this story before. If you’ve already heard or read it, sorry!) A young woman, the sole browser in the shop, finally made her circuitous way to the door, and before leaving turned and said to us disdainfully, “You two are the most boring people I’ve ever eavesdropped on!” She left, and we looked at each other and laughed, then went back to Rawls. Chacun á son gout! If the young woman had found our subject of conversation interesting, she would have been welcome to join us. She didn’t, and that was fine, too. A blog is like that.
A blog makes no demands but is open to anyone who cares about what the blogger finds interesting. It isn’t a closed club. No one need submit a friend request to access it. My life would be the poorer without friends I’ve made serendipitously through my blog and theirs over the years.