Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Social Networking

After contemplating it for a long time, I finally signed up for Facebook a couple of weeks ago. There has been a lot of buzz about this phenomenon called "social networking." Like many things, trends like this, particularly related to new technology, have elicited a wide variety of responses. Some have become so consumed with it that they spend hours on Facebook, looking at pictures, reading "status updates," and playing all kinds of games. I've read articles about people who have sworn off of FB because they became addicted to it. Others decry it as unhealthy in that a person's time and energy is consumed in "relationships" with "friends" they really don't know at all and have no real relationship. Since I've gotten on FB, I've been annoyed by all the games and other "apps" that you continually being invited to play. Thankfully, you can "hide" them.

For some time, I've noticed that Facebook is the main way that my own young adult children keep in touch with friends, etc. With them, email is almost obsolete - like "snail-mail," something they use to communicate with old people like their parents and grandparents. They send Facebook messages (very much like email). I also was drawn to finally get on Facebook to provide an easy way to share photos with others without having to send emails with huge memory hog files.

Then I realized that as a member of a United Methodist clergy community spread out over all of Southwest Texas, it's an effective way of keeping up with people. Several times in the last couple of months, I have been talking to a colleague who has informed me of some happening in the life of one of our fellow pastors, and I asked, "Where did you hear about that?" and they said, "Facebook."

So I took the plunge (not before I had my 24 yr old daughter who is a FB veteran show me how to set it up with all the appropriate settings). What I've enjoyed and been amazed by is being able to connect with old friends and distant (particularly geographically distant) family. I was amazed that within a few days, I had become Facebook "friends" with almost 100 classmates, colleagues, former parishioners, old friends, as well as people in my new community (particularly youth and young adults). I have my "friends" divided into several lists: clergy colleagues, seminary classmates, college classmates, high school classmates, former parishioners, local friends, and family. I now have over 200 "friends," all people I have known in one place or another in my life's journey. I have heard from people I haven't talked to or been in touch with for years.

One remarkable development is that there was this little girl who was my good friend in 1st and 2nd grade - really my "girlfriend" (as much as one could have at that stage of life) who moved away out of state after 2nd grade, which for us was over 40 years ago. For years while I was still in school in junior high and high school, I alway wondered what became of her, and what her life was like as we grew older. Once the internet came around, I even did Google searches a couple of times to see if I could find her, but to no avail. But once I got on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I searched for her by her maiden name (which was wasn't that common) and found about a half dozen people. I could tell from the pictures that most of them were young women, but one woman looked to be about the right age, and I actually thought it might look like her. I sent her a message and asked her, "I don't suppose you are the (name) who I went to elementary school in Burnet, TX in the mid 1960's? I was good friends with a girl by that name who moved away after 2nd grade....." Lo and behold, I received a "friend request" in just a few hours and then a message that said, "Yes, I am! And I remember my friend Jay in Mrs. Kroeger's class." She commented that I was the only person she remembered from way back then other than our teachers. Then to make things even more strange - she's the wife of a pastor! I thought, "This is amazing!"

As an itinerant United Methodist pastor, one of the difficult things is you move. It's hard to leave people that you know and love in order to move to a new place to form new relationships. But that's also one of the blessings. I think back of all the rich relationships I've had with people in various places throughout the years, not only in the churches and communities in which I've lived and served, but in college, seminary, and from childhood. Social networking, while not a substitute for real relationships, does provide a wonderful way to reconnect with old friends, dear people I have known in my journey; people with whom I have had a real relationship and probably wouldn't be in touch with now if it weren't for Facebook.

Just don't ask me to play "Mafia Wars," etc. I don't have time for that. I do have time to connect with people about their lives and to renew old friendships.