Hey, I’ve got friends. I bet you do, too. I don’t see them very often — sometimes never. But I know what kind of day they’re having. I know when they’re hungry, when they’re upset with their dog, when they’re running late to pick up their kids. I even know when they make new friends.
I know all this because of Facebook, of course.
Like many folks my age, I’m pretty late to the game and I’m still not quite sure what makes the whole experience so … well … interesting. But I’m learning. And the more I learn, the more … well … interesting it becomes. It’s a new way of knowing people, a new way of keeping up with people, a new way of interacting with people. And, so far, on a personal level, I get that.
But these days, most of my thoughts about Facebook have less to do with how people interact with people, and more to do with how organizations interact with people. That is, after all, my job, and has been for a long time. And if you’re in my line of work — and I know that at least a few of you reading this are — I’m guessing you’re thinking a lot about this, too.
Maybe it’s just me — I am, after all, an old-ish guy — but I tend to compartmentalize all the noise that comes into my life. I process information differently depending on the source. I don’t watch commercials in the same way I watch the show. I don’t listen to an acquaintance that I barely know from another department in the same way I listen to my boss. And I don’t listen to the teller at the bank in the same way I listen to my son describe his evening at his church youth group.
But part of the appeal of Facebook for me is that the medium encourages me to find a new way of processing all that information, a way that’s far more analogous to a background hum, a hum that represents the life of my acquaintances going on and on and on, day in and day out. It’s the hum of the world going on around me, and while I may not have much of a role in it, I find it oddly comforting. It’s like the white noise that some people rely on to sleep. It’s there, constantly coloring the background, never rising to any kind of urgency.
But what if, in the midst of all those lives humming along, I get an update from the coffee shop I frequent, or the American Shakespeare Center, or some other institution that I happen to be a “fan” or a “friend” of? Sure, I know there are tweaks that I could make that would limit what information comes in from what sources, and that by simply not “friending” an organization, I can get out of Facebook more or less what I want to get out of it. But if I don’t take that step? Those messages are like an air horn amidst that reassuring white noise, and I’m not a big fan of air horns.
Some businesses and some communicators have figured out this dilemma — how to use what are essentially person-to-person networks to deliver institution-to-person messages. But for my money, the more successful they become, the more the medium changes and the more noisier it gets. And what then?
Maybe my friends know what then. If they do, I’ll hope they’ll Facebook me to let me know.