March 01, 2008

Reach out and touch someone (updated from my Nov. 2007 entry)

Something Like Life
Feb. 29, 2008

SOMETIME last November, I got a little pissed at Flickr because I could no longer organize my new batch of Boracay photos into a set.

To those still living in a world where they think Wordstar is the best word-processing program ever invented, Flickr is a digital photo-sharing web site where you can upload your photos, organize them, put little captions, and virtually store them all for free (well, almost). You can choose to share the photos to anyone who’s sitting in front of the computer and surfing web sites and such, or just to a small private group of friends or family.

The problem was, I couldn’t organize my new photos into another set, like an album you see, on account of my being a free-account user. Because I’m cheap and didn’t want to spend $25 a year just so I could organize and post an unlimited number of photos and sets, I searched through the discussion forum to find solutions or alternatives to the issue at hand.

Fortunately, some of the guys in the forum mentioned Facebook, the social-networking site, which they said allowed unlimited photo uploads. Hmmm...I thought that sounded cool, although I was still wary of the social-networking phenomenon that began with the establishment of Friendster and MySpace.

I’ve been invited a lot of times by Friendster users to join the site but never did, because I couldn’t figure out how you could call this person and that a “friend” without actually meeting them in the physical world, face-to-face. Some of the users had more than a thousand “friends,” according to their pages. Then there were those reports of kids committing suicide after bullied on their MySpace pages. What ultimately put me off joining these sites was this one guy whom I had never met in person but e-mailed me nonstop to view his Friendster profile, which I found creepy and annoying.

So my joining Facebook was borne out of a real need—that of wanting to have unlimited photo storage online—and partly because I thought it would be a good social experiment.

First of all, I wanted to see how many of my real friends, contacts and regular acquaintances would join the site. I found out that among my e-mail contacts (Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail), there were a few who were already Facebook members. So I restricted my invites to people I actually knew, my friends, as well as a few acquaintances I was interested in knowing more.

Two days after I joined Facebook, 10 of my friends who were scattered all over the world — the Philippines, Bangkok, Northern Marianas and the US — joined. Hmmm...not bad.

Second, as I plodded through my Facebook friends’ pages, I also noticed that most of their friends were people they’ve worked with, people they grew up with, or went to school with, or even current companions and colleagues at work. There were only very few who appeared to have “friends” whom they met randomly online.

I don’t know if it’s because I belong to a more, ahem, mature generation (my youngest Facebook friend is 25, while the oldest is probably in his mid-60s) who are more protective of their privacy, but only a couple of my friends had about 130 Facebook “friends” on their lists and I, too, knew most of those people, having met them in press conferences or other social events. So they were not strangers at all. So, generally, I think Pinoys are still conservative when it comes to meeting new people, especially online.

Since signing up, I’ve had a couple of “friend requests” from people I didn’t know and thus ignored, which is probably contradictory behavior on what is supposed to be a social-networking site. I’ve also ignored requests from people I do know but don’t particularly care to reestablish any relationships with, due to unfavorable experiences with them in the past. I wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend I like you now that I’m online, right?

Third, the great thing about Facebook and perhaps other social-networking sites, is that I’ve been able to reconnect with a number of people I have not seen nor heard from in over 15 years who are now living in other parts of the globe, just because I found them on other people’s profile pages.

There’s lovable Bessie with her still long curly hair, now married and living in Shanghai with an absolutely adorable son.

Then there’s Tita Minnie, who used to be part of my barkada, but whom I gradually lost touch with when she opted to join the corporate world before going offshore. She now works in Argentina, the lucky bitch.

Then there’s Nona, who was two batches ahead of me in De La Salle University but I knew her because we both worked at the university paper. She’s now based in Sweden with a grown-up daughter—and married. While we were never particularly close back in college due to our differing political beliefs (I was mostly a fencesitter), we now constantly “feed” each other tiramisu or some other yummy desserts.

It may sound silly to those who aren’t members but on Facebook, we send cybergifts of tequila shots to our friends, feed and race one another’s pets, comment on recently uploaded photos, bless and send good karma to one another, and recently, I became a proud owner of a “Tiffany necklace.” (One friend who isn’t a member thinks that those who join such sites are just “desperate” to meet men, the poor dear.)

Of course, the site is now packed with a lot of annoying ads (it’s the only way for the site’s owners to actually earn from hosting the free service) and, technically, you won’t know what gift you’ve received from another person unless you send out an invite to at least 15 other people to use that particular gift application. So it can be a tad irritating receiving numerous invites to use an application. There’s also a lot of spam being forwarded like chain mail, videos and silly photos.

Then, if you’re like me who makes a living out of using the computer and being online all the time, there is the tendency to keep one’s Facebook page open for hours, and use several applications at the same time. A friend of mine in Boracay says she is hooked to the site, but became embarrassed about being online all the time. She finally had to disable her online status setting.

As of today, I have 56 friends on my Facebook page, which is probably small by average social-networking standards, but if you know me, that’s actually more people than I can handle in the real world on any given day anyway. I like sharing my photos with my friends, and keeping in touch, especially with those who are watching the sun rise at the same time I’m off to bed. It’s also a smart way of greeting your friends simultaneously on special holidays like Christmas and Chinese New Year.

I don’t think social-networking sites will ever replace meeting people and making new friends the regular face-to-face way. But I think these sites are powerful tools to keep relationships going, and keep friendships alive and current.

The only downside in joining Facebook is that I found out that creepy Friendster guy is also a member—and on a friend’s page. Thank God for small mercies like “block this profile.” All you gotta do is click, block and ignore.

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