Justin: In the Feast of Being Able to. Amen.

Because We Were There

So the Facebook news today is an upset to the theory of six degrees of separation between any living actor and Kevin Bacon. The news is, there’s an average of 4.74 “hops” — or lines — connecting every person to every other person.

Sigh. Facebook means so little to me. Seriously, it just doesn’t hold any appeal. And yes, I have tried it. I tried MySpace before Facebook came of age and there was little there, as well.

And I think I know why.

Now of course there are exceptions to most rules, but here is what I observe. Neither I, nor John, nor Ted, nor Chad, nor any other of my old computer gaming buddies care much for social networking. Ok, Chad, a little. But the founder of Wookieepedia.com can’t be totally disconnected, right?

So, while Facebook utterly transcends all ages and generations, it has not engulfed the gamer / IT nerds in my circle of friends. Wait.. did I just say.. nvm.

So why not? Why do my mother, my sisters, and the little gray haired women at church who don’t know how to turn their phones on silent for a church service all thrive on Facebook?

Because they weren’t there in 1991. They weren’t there, on campus, just me, Al Gore, and a few dozen crusty veterans of Wolfenstein 3-D, Battle Chess, Trails West, and all things Atari. They weren’t there when Archie came online and suddenly an afternoon at the typewriter became an afternoon searching the files of ten thousand other people’s typewriters. When suddenly the sun rose and Gopher had changed the world with seemingly endless interconnected tunnels of information.

Gopher. That’s what you were when you logged in. Like a never-ending “choose your own adventure” plain-text menu. There was no thought that pictures or video would enhance the experience. We may have been among the first gamers, but we also were readers, so text-only was irrelevant to the thrill of perusing the information on a computer that was in another city, another state, or around the world.

But there was something that actually predated these two by a couple of years. Something that, at least in my consciousness, was a milestone. It was a virtual haven that mankind wandered into from the cold, dark void of the one-way media desert.

The IRC. Internet Relay Chat. The first chat rooms.

I got my first computer in 1984. The TI-99/4A had a 16-bit TMS9900 CPU running at 3.0 MHz. I played games like Munchman (you left a trail instead of ate dots), and I wrote basic programs and saved them to data cassette. Lets see, there was the one that fooled my best friend Rodney into thinking we had hacked into NORAD. Yep, he believed it. Then there was the one that, by calling the exact coordinates of every pixel, drew out a heart on the screen and wrote I Love Kim Phillips. However, the 9th grade version 2.0, I Love Trish Chambers, allowed the user to draw it themselves with the arrow keys.

So by 1991, computing was not new to me. But in college, the one-two punch of Gopher and IRC rocked my world. Sleep no longer mattered. My grades suffered. Even gaming lost its appeal for quite some time. All I knew was, after years of solitary computing, there was suddenly someone else on my screen talking to me in real time, and yes, even occasionally transferring me a file.

With the IRC you have basic commands, including flagging user names so that you are notified when they log on. And this is how I met my very first (non-gay) stalker, Julez. We met in the channel “Alternative Music”. I don’t remember anything other than that after many weeks of friendship, I was no longer pleased that I could not, at seemingly any time of the day, log onto the IRC and not have her instantly send me messages. And of course you KNOW… every sentence ended in “!” . But it was socializing, chatting, communicating, and it was amazing.

From these early days of text-only inter-connectivity to the birthing cries of Al Gore’s brilliantly conceived internet, we have been there. We were there when the first MUD servers came online and killing dragons was achieved by typing /swing sword or /cast magic missile at the the darkness. We were there when it was cool to have a low ICQ number. ICQ was an early instant messenger. We were there when a night of socializing meant 10 guys packing up their pc (including CRT monitor) and hauling them all to one guy’s house for a massive dusk to dawn gaming session fueled by pizza delivery, jerky sticks and Dr. Pepper by the gallons.

And yes, we were there, in the school computer labs, the same groups of guys, playing not just with one another, but through the massive pipeline known as T1 with others like us.

Lokey’s Minion CTF.

We have lived the evolution of virtual socialization, the new has long since worn off, the value and relevance has been established in each of our minds, and then comes Facebook. A great way to not only have our own relatives stalk us, but to have people we never really knew keep us up to date on their kids’ soccer matches or their sick husband’s bowel movements. A great way to introduce utterly inane drama into your own life by placing yourself into odd circumstances with people you don’t like, who don’t like you, but they like their Friends number.

A former girlfriend would smile at me and say, “a girl has to have a little mystery.” And she was right. Just some modicum of mystery inspires interest and intrigue. Better yet, it coincides very much with the Biblical adage that it’s better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and prove it. “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” Prov 17:28

So you see, I socialize, but not by displaying my gall stones to my graduating class. I network, but not by sending my resume to my friends list and asking if anyone knows someone who knows someone. I chat, but it is with people I can slap IRL if they get stupid. I have tested the virtual social waters for over a decade, and I am comfortable where I stand. And yes, I can appreciate transparency in intimacy, but my house windows have blinds which I greatly appreciate when they are in the ‘closed’ position.

I was watching War Games on manhole cover-sized Digital Discs and plotting how to change my Algebra grade the year Mark Zuckerberg was born.

Oh, hi. Facebook, is it? Welcome aboard.


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