Monday, July 19, 2010

Facebooked

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

A friend scoffed, a bit haughtily I thought, when he read about how the President’s newly formed Communications Group (I know, the name sounds so generic and so nonspecific although it does have a businesslike ring to it) intended to use Facebook and Twitter as communications platforms to bring Malacañang and P-Noy closer to the people. He thought the move smacked of populist schtick. Obviously, my friend has not gotten on board the Facebook bandwagon.

I’ve been on Facebook for quite sometime now. Truth be told, I am on many social networking sites. I do have Friendster, Multiply, and Twitter accounts, but I rarely log on to these accounts. But why I took out my own accounts on these social networking sites makes for an interesting digression.

There are those who worry about how being on these networking sites opens one up to potential invasion of privacy. I actually signed up precisely to protect my privacy and identity. I signed up to make sure I got first dibs on using my own name as account name. Not that I have illusions of being a huge celebrity (Piolo Pascual has more than a dozen Facebook and Twitter accounts, none of which are actually his), but there are just lots of people in this world with lots of time on their hands and nothing better to do who “steal” some other people’s identities. As it is, there are at least two other Facebook accounts bearing my name. I figured I might as well have an “official account” under my own name even if it isn’t that active, well, socially. I also thought the accounts would come in handy when I actually find a real need for them; I don’t know what exactly, but who knows.

Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular social networking sites today. Many television shows such as news programs now find ways to integrate these two sites into their formats. The newscast I watch in the evening ends with a segment where the news anchors read feedback posted in their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

How exactly Malacañang intends to use Facebook and Twitter as communication tools remains unclear but I can see the potentials. They can use Twitter to quickly confirm or deny rumors, or to make announcements. I presume, however, that Ricky Carandang, Sonny Coloma, and Manolo Quezon realize that Facebook and Twitter can by no means be considered formal communication channels, nor can they take the place of traditional platforms such as an actual press conference where someone provides a face and a voice to an actual statement.

But the government’s intention to use Facebook and Twitter as official communication platforms is indicative of how these two networking sites have altered the nature of communication as we know it. Facebook and Twitter have not only effectively cut across barriers of time and space but have also succeeded where other platforms have not: They have made communications intensely personal and almost intimate. Television brings someone with a message directly into our living rooms or bedrooms, but Twitter and Facebook enable someone to engage us directly in the metaphorical, nay, virtual, equivalent of a real conversation. A tweet is a broadcast, yes, but it is a broadcast specifically addressed to people in one’s personal list of followers. A Facebook status message (or shoutout) is directed at one’s “friends.” The fact that Facebook contacts are called “friends” brings an even more intimate dimension into the whole communication dynamics.

When an octogenarian aunt, who was part of the first wave of nurses to settle down in the United States in the sixties and whom I haven’t interacted with for almost two decades, “added” me up in Facebook recently, I dropped all lingering second thoughts about the wonders of this social networking site. My aunt and I have been exchanging messages since then and we’re now happily made aware of what each one of us is up whether it’s just something as mundane as what one had for dinner or something as complicated as setting up travel arrangements for a group of friends. And even more amazingly, I have made the acquaintance and have seen pictures and videos of never-before heard of relatives.

Of course it’s been quite sometime since I have been happily “finding” long lost friends and relatives through Facebook. Last I looked I had almost 1,500 “friends” in my Facebook account and let me tell you that I personally know most of them in person; the rest I know by association.

And it’s been quite sometime since I have been using Facebook to interact with my students at this college where I teach in the evenings. I’ve learned that the easiest way to send a message to a student is not to send an email or a text through SMS—but to send a message through Facebook or better still, check if the student is online and chat with him or her directly. The current generation practically lives on Facebook so an announcement about examinations or homework gets disseminated more effectively than through the traditional channels.

As a parent (and even as the uncle or older cousin who dotes on younger relatives), I have found Facebook quite helpful in keeping up with what is happening in the lives of family members. I’ve learned that being able to offer a piece of advice, or lend a book, or even just send a congratulatory message for an achievement go a long way in terms of helping boost self-esteem.

Oh, but there are drawbacks. One obvious disadvantage is that the kind of information one gets access to can be overwhelming. There’s obviously no accounting for taste and people have their own benchmarks in terms of what stuff is suitable or unfit for public consumption. But then again, it’s just easier to ignore stuff one does not personally like rather than create a big stink about it. It’s not like someone is pointing at gun at you to read an indelicate post, or view rather risqué photos.

Very obviously, these social networking sites are an abomination to people who are socially averse. If you detest being with people, or is uncomfortable giving or receiving affection, Facebook is not for you.

Facebook even got me through a column piece on a day where there was absolutely nothing worthwhile to write about. Now, if only Facebook could help me find a long lost cousin—someone who probably doesn’t even know of our existence, I would be singing paeans at the altar of Mark Zuckerberg and friends.

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