August 1, 2016 by Jean
During my working years, I steadfastly resisted Facebook. I had some social media presence with my blogs, and for several years I participated in a social networking site for garden bloggers. At one point, I even signed up for a Google+ account, although I never actually used it much. But Facebook seemed to me like a terrible time sink, and I just couldn’t see the point.
That changed almost two years ago when one of the committee members for my 50th high school reunion asked me if I would set up a Facebook page for news about the reunion. I dutifully set up a Facebook account and then set about trying to find my classmates on Facebook and invite them to join a group page for the reunion. The reunion group page was never very successful – mostly because I didn’t really know what I was doing; classmates found it easier to communicate with one another via group emails. But a surprising thing happened while I was working on this: I found that Facebook enhanced my social relationships.
When I joined Facebook in late 2014, I was recently retired, living uncomfortably in a house that was under construction, and feeling somewhat socially isolated because I couldn’t invite friends to my house. Slowly, I increased my list of Facebook “friends” from high school classmates to members of my family who were on Facebook, to old friends whom I hadn’t seen in years, to former colleagues, and to new friends and some of my neighbors. (I’m pretty selective about who I “friend.” After two years, I have fewer than 100 Facebook friends and routinely decline requests from people I don’t know.) Facebook has turned out to be a good place to keep up with friends and family whom I seldom see and don’t communicate with regularly. I especially enjoy seeing what’s going on in the lives of my nieces and nephews (who range in age from early twenties to late forties) and what issues they are concerned about.
I don’t post a lot on Facebook; my timeline consists primarily of links to my blog posts. And I’ve generally made it a point to avoid political discussions on Facebook. I find the political “discussions” there are mostly rants. They shed more heat than light and don’t do anything to help people understand one another. Occasionally, someone (often one of my politically conservative high school classmates) shares some post from another source that I find so offensive that it would seem complicit to be silent. In those situations, I try to leave a comment that is polite and reasoned and that explains why I disagree (hoping, I think, for a teachable moment).
The political conventions and the realities of this Presidential campaign have triggered a departure from my usual “avoid politics” Facebook policy. The morning after Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, I was moved to share my feelings about it on Facebook. Here is what I wrote:
I stayed up late last night to watch Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech. I was reassured by her calm, clear-eyed competence and inspired by her vision of a country in which we come together to solve problems.
Many of my friends and family members “liked” this post, and a political scientist friend left a comment in agreement. Then one of my high school classmates, a Bernie Sanders supporter with serious reservations about Hillary Clinton, raised concerns about whether she will be able to “overcome all the negativity.” He and I exchanged a series of comments that were thoughtful, restrained and respectful and several of our other high school classmates chimed in, only one of whom went off on a bit of a rant. Since then, I’ve found myself sharing a couple of other analyses of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy that have appeared on Facebook, one sociological analysis of why Hillary’s historic candidacy was illustrated in the newspapers mostly with photos of Bill Clinton and a short film that links Hillary’s candidacy to the fight for women’s suffrage.
I don’t think I’m in any danger of becoming a political social media junkie. I remain uncomfortable with the combative tone of most political posts on social media. But I also think my exchanges with my high school classmate in the Pacific Northwest point to the more positive potential of social media. He and I barely knew one another in high school and we haven’t seen one another since, but we have found in one another some similar interests and a love of reasoned discussion. As he put it in one of our recent exchanges: “It is nice to converse with you. I think we both listen and hopefully learn.” This is a “Facebook friendship” at its best.