What I Learned in My First 72 Hours on Facebook
Editor’s note: After an exhausting fortnight of news coverage, Adam Smeltz is taking a break from writing his weekly column. Look for its return next Monday. Meanwhile, his previously posted columns can be found here.
I am not now, although I may have been at one time, a luddite. I have, if not always embraced, at least accepted most of the technological advances that have improved my life, work and pursuit of happiness. Notable exceptions include the aluminum bat, which really didn’t help me at all – as a hitter or a pitcher – and National Presto Industries’ amazing little gadget, the Salad Shooter.
Sorry, but I never saw the point of that one.
But after a year or two of resistance, I accepted the microwave oven as a bachelor’s best friend. And however begrudgingly, I have come to rely on the computer as a writing device, communication tool, repository of all human knowledge, quicksilver research assistant, chess opponent and spider solitaire dealer.
I didn’t always feel so Microsoft- and Google-friendly, however. Like many struggling writers – and aren’t we all? – especially those of us of a certain era, I had a romantic vision of who I was or wanted to be. It involved a beat-up fedora, an Underwood typewriter (manual, of course) and, in the absence of a hovering cloud of thick, blue cigarette smoke – a vice I never acquired, but have overcompensated for with others – dust floating on the slivers of sunlight that squeezed through the Venetian blinds as I pounded away on the half-decent American novel.
I wasn’t cured of my nostalgic silliness until, after leaving journalism forever for the first of several times, I attended a writers’ workshop – wearing a baseball hat, not a homburg. One of the topics touched upon was technology. The presenter – it may have been Penn State English professor and legendary Dylanologist Toby Thompson, although my memory isn’t what it used to be – pricked my romantic bubble with his what-should-have-been-obvious point. The typewriter, invented by Christopher Latham Sholes, who worked for a time as a printer’s apprentice in Danville, Pa. – I’ve seen the historical marker – was just as technologically advanced in its day as the iPod is now.
OK, maybe not quite as advanced, but it sure beat – for speed, convenience and cleanliness – the quill pen and inkwell. The eraser-topped lead pencil was a marvel in its day. Was I willing, for purity’s sake, to go back to the chisel and clay tablet? Ought I, like some of my Amish neighbors in Penns Valley, choose a date, and however arbitrarily – for me, not them – accept nothing invented in the intervening years?
How many generations of writing tools would I reject?
The presenter – again, it may have been Thompson, and is Hibbing, Minn.'s favorite son Bob Dylan really turning 70 on the 24th? – convinced me that using a computer actually made me better at my craft. Editing, except for the occasional ego bruise, becomes painless. Human nature being what it is, I may not be willing — and certainly not eager – to retype an entire page just to make a seemingly minor change or two. Less good is too often good enough when extra time and effort are involved.
But with a simple keystroke or two – and remember: save often – OK becomes, if not great, at least better, considering the source.
So while not exactly a luddite, I can be accurately accused of being a Troglodyte. I adapt slowly to technological change, and only when it becomes necessary, and rarely on more than a need-to-know basis.
I acquired a cell phone, for example, only after my aging Chevrolet Cavalier died in my parents’ driveway on the penultimate leg of one of many road trips to a niece’s far-away field hockey game. One hour either way would have made for a long, long hike.
Wireless, I concluded, was better than walking.
Which brings me to Facebook – kicking and screaming, perhaps, but here, nonetheless. As managing editor of a regional news and information website, technology in general, and the social media in particular, is/are a part of the job. In some respects, they represent all of the job, although I still have a paper spike and a pica ruler around here somewhere.
But now I am on Facebook. The job requires it. I'm kind of enjoying it, I must admit. And, while I remain painfully slow on the technological uptake, I’m learning. And learning rather quickly, for a Neanderthal newsman, or so I'd like to think. Most of the credit goes to StateCollege.com's indefatigable (as he has been accurately described) and irrepressible Adam "Yoda" Smeltz, Jedi master of the social media. ("Use the comment field, you must.")
I also learned quite a bit on my own during my first weekend of Facebook exposure, and for those who care to continue reading, I'd like to share some of my new-found knowledge with you. I apologize for those points that are gender specific, but I assume the existence of a corollary for the differently chromosomed.
What I learned during my first 72 hours on Facebook
- A new user can get warned and flagged for asking too many strangers to be friends. I thought that was the point. After all, I need all the friends I can get, whether flesh and blood or avatar. And after spending my entire Internet- and e-mail-dependent life fighting spam, to be accused of being a purveyor is mortifying. Heavens to Murgatroyd, to quote the cartoon character Snagglepuss, as columnist Mike Poorman did so deftly last week. My abashed apology to everyone whose cyber conversations I interrupted with my lonely plea for, if not real friendship, at least acknowledgment of my Web-presence and acceptance of my occasional posts.
- It is amazing how many people who, in real life, wouldn't give you the time of day if they were leaning on a sundial and staring at their Android's atomic-clock app, are willing to stand and be counted among your Facebook friends.
- Other users can see exactly how many friends you have – or don't have – and you can quickly become a shunned wretch in both worlds, a lonely hermit crying out, "Please, please be my friend." As everyone can now see, I have so few – 117 fewer than that jerk who sat behind me in 10th-grade geometry.
- This isn't a contest to see how many friends you can accumulate. Really, it isn't. Honest.
- All your ex-girlfriends are on Facebook.
- None of them is thrilled to see you there.
- Almost all of your former bosses also have Facebook pages.
- Each of them, too, is less than eager to find out how and what you've been doing since burning that metaphorical bridge.
- More ex-colleagues than you can recall – see the previous point about setting spans afire – are on Facebook and amazingly easier to get along with when you and they are not on deadline.
- They are all equally amazed that you can have a civil cyber conversation when so many outbursts in newsrooms past were considerably less so.
- Friends who say, “Congratulations on your new job,” really mean, “So I see you finally got one.”
- My nieces' field hockey success is much more interesting than your grandson's T-ball game.
- My bad back is much less boring than you're upcoming colonoscopy.
- As proud of them as you are and as supportive of them as you try to be, your younger relatives were, to use another euphemism, rather surprised to see you on Facebook. So were their friends and teammates. "Eeew, your uncle is on Facebook!" "Eeeeeeeew, I know. My uncle is on Facebook!"
- Resist temptation. Fight the impulse. Some things you really don't need to know.
- Just as in real life, those who say the most are not always those who have the most to say – columnists and late-comers to social media, for example.
So perhaps an old newshound can learn some new tricks. Regardless, next comes Twitter.
Tweet this: Old-skul newsdude Nters Brv Nu Soc-Media Wrld. Welcum aboard. Fstn ur seatbelts!