26 August 2008


Name: Giuseppe Verdi
Nickname: Mean Joe Green
Friends: Marilyn Horne, Dolora Zajick, Plácido Domingo
Interests: Politics, Shakespeare
Motto: Pari siamo!

It will come as no surprise, from a guy who makes his pocket money by writing about opera, that my success rate is poor at keeping up with current trends in popular culture. Generally, if you want to know when to bail out of your investment in a given trend, you need merely look to me. For example, Madonna was a worldwide phenomenon by the time I took an interest in her — when I saw Truth or Dare. The picture overwhelmed me. I became an instant fan, roughly one decade too late. Almost immediately, the rest of the world lost interest in her. She, like so many other women I could but shall not name, has never recovered from my crush on her.

Mine is not a reliably anti-Midas Touch. I didn’t manage to kill off certain other trends, though I’ve been inarguably late in adapting to them. Other people are still using cell phones, for example, though I waited years before buying one. E-mail seems to be prospering quite nicely, despite my initial reluctance to participate in it. It remains to be seen what will become of Facebook, the Internet networking service, though I feel certain that, so long as I refuse to inscribe myself, it will prevail.

Suddenly, all of my friends have joined Facebook and are writing me indignant messages demanding to know why I haven’t joined. Without joining, I can’t access the site. I can’t know precisely what goes on in Facebook, and thus I can’t know what the appeal is. From the outside, it seems redundant. My friends are already my “friends.” I am in relatively frequent contact with all of them. Do I need Facebook to facilitate communications in which I already engage? What’s more, aren’t there technological advances enough as it is?

I have a blog (as you may have noticed), and so if you are Sally Boldt or Jimmy Swenson, or any of a number of my old friends, you will Google yourself like a normal person, see that I am thinking of you, and write to me in response, even if I haven’t written to you lately. Really, I’m doing my part already.

Madonna: She may never forgive me the harm I’ve done her.

And if I have written to you lately, and you haven’t answered, I doubt that Facebook will light the fire beneath you. No, Satan is lighting that particular fire. (It’s called Hell, and it’s where anyone goes who doesn’t answer my mail.)

“Ah,” say my friends, “Facebook makes it so easy to get in touch with people you haven’t seen in years.” This is interesting, but it presupposes a desire on my part to be found by those with whom I no longer communicate. That desire is in reality quite limited to a very few people. If my long-lost college roommates really want to get in touch with me, they will Google me, or themselves, and arrive at this blog, at which point it will be easy to contact me. (Are you paying attention, Jonathan Foell?)

Meanwhile, another friend of mine finds herself being stalked by a former beau on Facebook. I am unaware of having any stalkers; I prefer to live in ignorance.

Facebook seems to function also as a means of introduction to strangers who share your interest in model trains, or training models, or whatever. My personal interests are so eccentric that I’m not sure I want to know anyone who shares them: do I want to join any club that would have me for a member? And am I really comfortable telling strangers about my fetishes?

Moreover, some of the happier occasions of my life have been those moments when a common interest was revealed unexpectedly. I recall fondly a night when I attended an interminable opera by Philip Glass in the company of several friends who wanted desperately to keep up with the times and who did so by going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I found the piece anti-theatrical and nearly anti-musical; I was bored stiff. Retreating to the lobby for a cigarette, I ran into one of my companions, whom I didn’t know well at the time.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“It ain’t Rigoletto,” I replied.

She drew herself up and snarled, “I like Verdi!”

“So do I! He’s my favorite composer!” I exclaimed. And on the spot Rena Grant and I became the dearest of friends (indeed, I’ve often thought that it was primarily my love of Verdi that prompted Rena to excuse my many lapses in intelligence, politics, and countless other realms), without the benefit of any networking service. Would the pleasure be the same, if the connection were made by other means?

Not a character from an opera by Philip Glass

Whatever people do on Facebook, it seems to demand a great deal of time, which, between dial-up and my writing career, I can’t afford. Moreover, I note that certain iconoclasts among my friends have joined other, more obscure networks, and now write inviting me to join those. Clearly, Facebook alone is inadequate.

Yet even as I lay out thoughtful arguments against joining, I know it’s only a matter of time. Peer pressure will be too great to resist, and I’ll tire of explaining my continued and protracted abstinence. Eventually — some time next year, perhaps — I will sign up.

And then you will know that the phenomenon has run its course, and it is time to do something else.