Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Social Networking

I first heard of Facebook this past year from someone I know who attends the U of M. She explained that she liked it better than Friendster or Myspace, because it's more exclusive, and was originally set up for those in school. But it's not just for students anymore. If your business/company is listed here, you can join, too.

Truth be told, I find the whole Social Networking Website idea kind of unsettling. Something about posting one's vitals on the net for the world to view seems odd to me, but that's just the opinion of one aging baby boomer. Maybe I should be a bit more open-minded about the whole thing.

See, I was very much into a local bulletin board called 'The Meeting Place' back in the late 1980's, and I remember thinking how cool it seemed to be able to use it to so easily connect with others of like interests. I made several friends online, and for a few months I even ended up dating one young woman I met there.

Maybe the difference between that BBS and the systems of today is that the whole experience was all much more limited: no chat, text-only, no graphics. In fact, any email that was exchanged could only viewed by logging into the BBS, which nearly always took several tries. It had only a couple of incoming phone lines, and would only allow users to be online for just a few minutes at a time. One would log in, check email, save text files to compose answers to offline, post any outstanding responses, and log off. It was very different than the always-on and always-connected world so many seem to live in today.

And what's more, because there were just a few hundred people using 'The Meeting Place' - all locals - it was understood at the outset that it was possible to actually meet other users. There were regular gatherings at picnics, and there were even volleyball and softball leagues formed from the group. It was a natural thing that the online exchanges would lead to real-world contact, and very few people maintained online-only relationships.

One note: it must have been a paradise for interested females. The ratio of users was fairly lop-sided, possibly 75% male to 25% female, but the young women who did join were quite computer-savvy - although not really nerdy. They were willing and ready to learn to use the nascent technology to make friends, and meet dates.

Anyway, I guess I tend to view the recent social networking phenomenon with a bit of a jaundiced eye. A few years back I recall receiving various invites from people I knew to join the rather exclusive Orkut, and I just couldn't bring myself to sign up. It all seemed too strange to me, but of course there's several hundred million people around the world who feel quite differently.

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