My grandmother – bless her heart – joined Facebook at the tender age of 84. She is one of the most tech savvy older people that I know. She is genuinely interested in learning about technology and understands the role that technology plays in the world. These are all great things. Many people as they get older do not adapt well to change. That’s something that has plagued society since its inception. But, sure enough, Grandma updates her Facebook status, posts on people’s walls, uploads images from her church outings and plays Words with Friends. Some people are a little thrown by how she writes though. You see, Grandma, like a lot of people her age, has difficulty seeing things close up. Grandma’s solution to this matter seemed like a relatively practical one, however it is a faux pas in the online community.
I’m not a huge Facebook fan. I had an ex that referred to it as Fakebook and she made a lot of really compelling arguments. I wasn’t a big user before I met her or anything, but when the right enlightened individual comes along and makes fairly compelling arguments only the completely unreasonable would not look at both sides of the coin. How you interact with Facebook varies a great deal by age and I’ve found by gender as well. Don’t get me wrong I know way too many guys who spend too much time on Facebook, but the majority of those who do only do so because they use Facebook to try and pickup women – a practice that is both sad and disturbing on many levels. It’s hard to come across a woman who doesn’t have a strong opinion about Facebook though. The use of the service by women should be looked at like a swiggly line. Girls in their teens use and abuse the service, women in their twenties use it to keep in touch and stalk their exes, women in their thirties use it to bemoan life in general (especially single women in their thirties) and from forty on up to sixty it’s pretty much a crap shoot. Many use it simply to stay in touch with friends and family who are too far away geographically to interact with much in the same way as many are now beginning to use Skype. You don’t read a lot about women in their eighties using the service.
There is a code that isn’t just socially accepted but socially adhered to at the risk of appearing to be an invalid. This code which some call “netspeak” doesn’t tackle a broad enough swath of the online vernacular, syntax, and appropriateness of content to be used as a universal structure for online speech. Indeed, we must look beyond the simple dos and don’ts of internet lingo and textual conversation to understand how vastly different we communicate with one another online as opposed to face-to-face interactions. If you’re like me, you grew up on the internet. We’re first generation internet linguists. We’ve watched the speech patterns of online residents evolve over the years into a code that some have argued resemble slave codes in the Antebellum American south. Kids have safe words that they use when their parents are around much like those of us in the hookup culture have codes that they use to let the other person now that they’d like to initiate sex. My favorite line is: “wanna play some N64?” People outside of my generation don’t realize how genius that line is. N64 was the gaming device of my generation. I bought one solely so I could play Goldeneye as much as humanly possible and Mario Kart, Super Smash Brothers, and Mario Party became staples that drove my hard partying teenage years as much as the pot I smoked or the booze I drank.
I use Facebook minimally. I don’t have a lot of time to spend on social networking sites and I’m not that fond of social anything really be it a get together at a friend’s house or a meeting of barely known acquaintances in the deep dark dungeons of the internets. What I do use Facebook for is as an outlet for my writing. Any presence that you have on social media is going to help gain you readership as a writer and I’ve found that Facebook does increase my readership considerably. It also allows me direct communication with my readers. Although Tumblr is making the quick posting of media and content much easier and more user friendly until it has the network of people that Facebook has it simply won’t be able to surpass the shear reach that Facebook has managed to achieve.
I don’t have a lot of down time and what little down time I have I spend immersed in something else. If I’ve got time between classes I usually polish up some writing I’m working on or get some reading done. If I’ve got a doctor’s appointment I read, check my e-mail, make casual observations about all the weird people around me. It is in this last pursuit that Facebook actually has some value. I can make crude comments about people’s problems on Facebook and it’s not a big deal unless Gawker is having a slow news day. All of this brings me to the rather unique situation of having someone who really is like a mother figure to me in many ways reading my incredibly judgmental musings about other people. I don’t think that Facebook was created with Grandma in mind, but now that such a thing does happen and will, at least according to statistics only increase over time I think we should address the matter.
One day when I was in the waiting room preparing to meet with my psychiatrist I saw a man who was carrying around a glass of pickles. You run across all types when you’re in the mental health section of a hospital. I’ve come across the total schizophrenics, bi-polar folks who will go off on you if they think you’re looking at something too long, and my personal favorite: the overly possessive man with no real reason to behave in such a manner about the insignificant object he is guarding. The gentleman that I ran across was one of those folks obsessed with something that seemed immaterial to me, but like anyone in that situation I was curious as to why he was guarding the pickle jar with his life. Obviously, asking was out of the question as he had threatened to physically harm the last two people who inquired about the pickle jar, so I took a picture with my phone and updated my Facebook status asking anyone if they had any idea what could possibly be drawing this man to the jar of pickles.
My psychiatrist came out and we had our appointment and naturally I didn’t think anything of it until I got an e-mail from a friend I hadn’t talked to in a while. He made some small talk in the introductory paragraphs but then got straight to the point. His contention was that he had never met anyone who had such a strong opinion about pickles as my grandmother. He also asked why she was so passionate about automobiles. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when he said that he had read my Facebook status I became curious and checked my wall. Sure enough there was Grandma commenting on the pickle incident. She hadn’t said anything outlandish or even mentionable in the course of a regular course of conversation. It was the way she said it that rang alarm bells. She had written her response in all caps.
Grandma writes everything in all caps. It’s profoundly annoying to those of us who understand that when you type in caps on the internet it is generally thought that you are yelling. Her response to this information was: “well, Christopher, I can’t read small letters.” My response was that she should just increase the font size because writing things in all caps is going to elicit a strong reaction from people. I then had to explain to her how to change the font size, an exercise in patience that lasted nearly two hours. She never decided to change font size figuring that it was just easier to write in all caps all the time, damn the consequences for doing so. It amazes me that someone who can, on the one hand embrace technological advances to the point where they become active on Facebook can, at the same time, have such difficulty with something that seems as routine as changing font size. One day when Grandma updated her Facebook status I thought it would be funny to write in all caps on her wall.
“Why are you yelling at me, Christopher?” She asked. “Don’t be like your Uncle Patrick and play silly games with Grandma.”
“I see,” I said. “I shouldn’t make jokes about Grandma, but its fine to yell at a man whose only friend seems to be a jar of pickles.”
This is the world that Facebook has created. I hope you’re happy, Mark Zuckerburg.