I’m not being facetious here; I really am on Facebook. I log in frequently and have been known to post links, anecdotes, observations, advice, and snarky comments there. And it is no heresy to post these words on LiveJournal, since the two are certainly not competitors – at least, not for my purposes.
There are two big differences between the two in my mind. First, we have Facebook’s identity as a “Social Networking Site” – and by the way, I’m getting really tired of that phrase but I don’t have a better one. FB definitely lives up to that identity – heck, I’m up to 136 FB friends and counting. They cover the length and breadth of my life, from immediate family to recent friends to people I’ve never met that I only know online, all the way back to people I haven’t actually seen since high school or earlier. The notion that I can simultaneously communicate with all of those people is a powerful concept. 20 years ago, the only way you could have done that would have been to buy time on network television or assassinate a head of state. Both of those options are fraught with ramifications ranging from the financial to the legal to the moral, so sites such as Facebook really are enabling people to do something they just couldn’t do before.
The main way I use Facebook is the same way most people seem to use it – to post little mini-updates on what’s on my mind and, perhaps more importantly, to comment on the mini-updates posted by my friends. One may also navigate to an individual’s profile page and get a quick overview of their life situation – birthday, city of residence, marital/relationship status, etc., though this is dependent on how much they’ve chosen to share. Yes, there are all sorts of other features and games one may play within the community of one’s friends, but to date, I’ve felt no particular pull towards taking part in them. I figure, I’ve already got plenty of ways to waste my time; I don’t need any new ways.
Those mini-updates to which I referred may seem innocuous enough, but they are a powerful way of finding out what people are up to. For example, one of my friends often posts on what restaurants she’s going to, and with whom. It serves as a wonderful reminder to me that this person has evolved into a very different place in her life. When I knew her better, she was committed to a single life and usually very cash-poor. Now she’s married with children and, if not exactly rolling in dough, doing well enough to go out with the family on a regular basis. Just being able to know that about an absent friend is a wonderful thing to have.
I should, in fairness, mention the flip side of reconnecting with people from my past. In many cases, I have been sincerely delighted to find people from my past or to have them find me. In some other cases though, I have had people from my past attempt to friend me who I had no desire to hear from, ever. I want to say to them, “Why do you THINK we haven’t spoken in twenty years? Hmmm? It’s because we have nothing in common, that’s why! It’s because we don’t like each other, remember? Why don’t we just pretend you never tried to friend me?” Oh, I know – people can change. They can change; I can change; we’re not the same people we were 20 years ago, blah blah blah. Look, sometimes we close doors, we lock them, and we throw away the key. If you’ve transformed yourself, good luck to you. And like I said, sometimes I’m purely delighted to have people track me down, so there’s no simple formula to all of this.
But I digress. Enough about Facebook for now. We now shift our attention over here, to LiveJournal. I suppose one could use it as a Social Networking Site, but to me, its real strength is as a Writing Site. That is, I rarely write off the top of my head in LJ. I actually think about what I’m saying here. I take the trouble to use the right word (or to at least make a game attempt). I usually ponder what I’ve written and revise it a few times before posting it. Basically, it’s quieter here compared to FB. There aren’t ads and notifications flashing at the corners of the screen while I’m trying to concentrate. It’s a civilized environment where I (and hopefully my reader) can share more complex ideas and maybe even string a few together. If Facebook is about the pleasure of human contact (albeit a distant, online kind of contact), then LJ is about the pleasure of ideas that have taken the form of words. I take both of those pleasures seriously, but they reside in two distinct areas of my mind. Yes, there is some overlap, but the two sites represent different needs and different inclinations.
It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that FB has caused a lot of blogging sites to take a hit in popularity. I’d hate to see LJ driven out of business or driven into obscurity because of it, but it will be interesting to see how FB evolves over the next few years. Will something new come along and shove FB aside, the way FB is shoving MySpace aside for so many people? Or will FB stay in it for the long haul, continuing to add features and users, becoming a veritable institution, the essential stop on the internet for countless millions of users? Well, I’m no great fan of monopolies, but I also don’t know how to stop a tsunami, so I’ll stay tuned. In the meantime, both FB and LJ are presently enhancements to my life, so I don’t suppose I can complain too much.