There is a lot you can learn from facebook. Partly, this is because people will write things on there that they would never say to you in public (or in private, for that matter). facebook has enabled me to re-connect with many friends, some of whom I had not heard from in over 30 years. It is interesting to see what has become of them.
Some of them have become successful and even famous. Some of them seem to be changing the world. Others appear to have been changed by the world. Some of them state that they are thrilled to have finally found me again ... then don't post anything on facebook for years in a row. It is as if they wanted to confirm some suspicion about how I would turn out, and once it was confirmed, they had no need of further contact.
The Great Divide
I do see one great division among my friends, and that is between those who are busy doing things and those whose business is to try to get me to do or believe certain things. The first group has many subcategories, from those whose lives center around their children, to those trying to create cutting-edge art, to those who seem shell-shocked by the world and seem as if they are just trying to survive it all.
The people in the second group, for the most part, have attached themselves to a cause. The are activists. In the saddest of cases (and there are many I can think of) they have become totally lost in the cause, so that the person I thought I knew is no longer visible at all. They have become flattened out, one-dimensional.
Various causes have been embraced: socialism, environmentalism, diet supplements, Ron Paul. But in each case, the person's presence on facebook is only a mask. You rarely (if ever) get to see behind the mask. They are not on facebook to interact with me person-to-person; they are their to sell me something: a product, a theology, a service, a worldview.
Every so often, one of these "hollow men" forgets himself, and posts a status update which shows a piece of his life, in which his old personality shines through, however briefly. I typically cannot help responding to these, thinking: "My old friend is back, and in his right mind!" But I am nearly always fooled. The scrap of real humanity was just bait. The reply to my comment usually goes back to the sales pitch: Try this supplement, Come to this workshop, Watch this brand new Ron Paul video.
Some of the most creative people I've ever known have become no more than propagandists, and uncreative ones at that. It is a real pity. We shall end by having no real shared lives, talking to each other merely by posting antagonistic "Shared" quasi-humorous images on each other's facebook walls.
Of course, it is a good thing to turn this around and ask myself: What kind of facebook friend am I to other people? How often am I just parading my worldview across the width of the status update bar, like some strutting peacock, or like a dog marking his territory? And how often do I invite real dialogue? I believe that I have a lot of room for improvement.