Talk about the “digital divide” has been de rigueur for years now. It’s generally taken to refer to the gap between those who have access to computers and the Internet and those who don’t, and/or to the quality and quantity of whatever access they’ve got. These are significant issues to be sure, but what intrigues me is how Internet access shapes one’s psychic map, and how my own map has evolved along with my relationship to the Internet.
Back in August I wrote about how we who live on Martha’s Vineyard don’t live on the same Martha’s Vineyard. Cyberspace is far shiftier than Martha’s Vineyard. And while people who’ve never laid eyes on Martha’s Vineyard can get some idea of what some of it looks like by looking at photographs, cyberspace is hard to imagine until you’ve been there.
I’ve had my own PC since 1985 and been online since 1994, when I signed up for GEnie so I could participate in its Science Fiction Roundtable (SFRT). My first view of cyberspace looked like old GEnie’s Aladdin interface, which was DOS-based: all lines, right angles, and words. The only graphics were those created with ASCII characters, like the simple long-stemmed rose that heralded the passing of any significant figure in the fantasy/science fiction world. I thought of the SFRT as a conglomeration of salons, some presided over by authors, others devoted to particular topics.
I’m not an early adopter of anything, and I’m especially slow to adopt anything that’s touted as the next wonder of the modern world. Since mid-2005 my website has been my home in cyberspace, a combination bulletin board and attic where I could both store stuff and let people know what I was up to. Beyond the standard contact form it wasn’t the least bit interactive. Surely that was enough? What did I need with Facebook?
Besides, I already spent plenty of time in front of a computer screen: I’m active on several e-lists, nearly all my communication with clients is via e-mail, I do work-related fact-checking online, I buy stuff online, and in recent years I’ve started doing most of my banking, bill paying, and ferry reservation making online. One thing I like about living on Martha’s Vineyard is that so much of it is face-to-face. I didn’t want to estrange myself further from the material world of dirt, dog fur, and flesh-and-blood people.
In a what-the-hell moment last January I finally got myself onto Facebook. It didn’t look like I expected it to look, which was something like my website. It took a couple of days to get the hang of it, but one big advantage of being a late arrival is that many of your friends have gotten there first and can show you the ropes.
Within a very few weeks Facebook — FB to its initiates — had surprised me several times and rearranged my understanding of cyberspace. My profile page, like my website, was fairly static, but my news feed was like a river, sparkling, eddying, flowing ever onward. Now that I’ve accumulated a few “friends” — 338 at last count — my news feed incorporates updates and photos from horse friends, dog friends, Martha’s Vineyard friends, editor and writer friends, and an assortment of feminist and progressive projects.
The juxtapositions can range from hilarious to thought-provoking. The horse and dog friends tend to be considerably more conservative than the writers and editors, so anti-Obama screeds roll by in the wake of links to articles excoriating one or more GOP presidential candidates. The Australians are sunbathing while the northern North Americans are decking ourselves out in down and longjohns. I know all these people! I marvel, grinning with delight.
Another surprise is that FB hasn’t estranged me from my real-time community; it’s immersed me in it differently and more deeply. I find out about and often attend events that I wouldn’t have found out about otherwise. People I’ve had a nodding acquaintance with for many years turn out to have facets I never noticed before; I meet people for the first time that I’ve already gotten to know on Facebook. Cyberspace and the material world flow in and out of each other. Nothing in my growing up prepared me for this, but still I manage to adapt without much difficulty to the additional dimension.
Facebook is like circulating through a party thronged with interesting people. The music is loud enough to hear clearly but not so loud that it drowns out conversation. You overhear an intriguing remark, drop in a response, then whirl on to the next cluster of people. The scene doesn’t lend itself to deep philosophical discussions or extended political debate, but you pick up plenty of thoughts worth following up on. The interaction that is Facebook prompted me to start the year-round Vineyarder’s blog that I’d been thinking about for a couple of years: From the Seasonally Occupied Territories launched in July and has become yet another virtual home or hangout.
Barely a week ago I acquired my very first hand-held digital device: a Nook Color. It’s an e-reader that can download books, access the web, play music, and show movies. No sooner had my little Nook brought e-books into my life than I started thinking of turning Mud of the Place into one.
Make it real . . .
I found Facebook to be an incredible timesuck. But as I Friended people, I found I was alerted to things I’d have otherwise missed. It’s a handy way to catch up quickly with people. But it can eat up a lot of otherwise face-to-face IRL time.
I feel the same way about FB, Susanna. You’ve put it so eloquently.
I, too, love the sparkling swirls and eddies of FB. I love checking out the links, and photos, and videos in my newsfeed. I love the juxtaposition of the erudite comments of my colleagues and the unfathomable McDiLbott* neologisms of my granddaughters.
FB has reconnected me to the world and rescued me from hermithood (though not much else has changed in that respect—I’m still sitting :at a desk in my home office).
* A word my daughter uses to refer to the pastiche of McKees, DiLabios, and Abbotts that live at her house.
Sharon in Ottawa
i’m not surprised that you have described my FB experience perfectly. i know that it helps me to be more social; i hadn’t thought about the events that i’ve attended or places i’ve gone because i learned of them on FB. next month i’ll meet my one of my FB friends and her partner for the first time IRL, and i am really looking forward to it. the connections are the important thing to me.