We've all seen the statistics: Facebook now has half a BILLION registered users worldwide, and is growing at an astonishing rate of 5% per month. But this week I had a very personal reminder both of its ubiquity and of what a loser I am for not being part of the Facebook world.
I received an e-mail from a former colleague and friend who now works in corporate communications for a publishing house in New York. We've been out of touch for years, and she wanted to pitch me a story. So naturally, she first went looking for me on Facebook. This was particularly logical because my name -- Rome Hartman -- isn't exactly common. It was logical for her to assume she'd find me in a flash. Instead, her e-mail informed me, she turned up something curious: TWO Facebook users named Rome Hartman, NEITHER of whom appeared to be me. One of the Romes, she said, appeared to be much older than I could be... the other much younger. She guessed, correctly, that they were my father (Rome J. Hartman Jr., age 86), and my son (Rome J. Hartman IV, age 23).
No surprise about the son; he was probably among the first million or so to join Facebook, way back in high school. But I was astonished to learn that my Dad had joined. I found out when I got a call from my other son, who visited my parents in Florida during Spring Break from college. "Dad! I just went into Grandpa's office, and I found him sitting at his computer with that magnifying glass he uses, looking at pictures on Facebook!" Dad hadn't told me, but he'd joined because one of my sisters started a Hartman Family group early this year and invited everyone in the extended family to join. He's enjoying looking at old photos posted by various branches of the family tree, and re-connecting with people he hasn't seen in years. Very cool.
So why are both my elderly father and my 20-something sons on Facebook and I'm not? Why did I delete the invitation from my sister to join the family group, just as I delete three or four similar e-mails a week from various people who want to friend me? Honestly, I'm not sure. Part of it is pure stubbornness; I kinda like not doing things that everyone else is doing. Part of it is defensive; I just can't imagine wanting to hear from that kid I haven't seen since 5th grade, and I feel very adequately wired and connected and iPhoned already. And part of it is based on a potentially out-of-date prohibition imposed by our kids. Years ago they declared that it would be extremely creepy if either their Mom or Dad popped up with a friend request; I think they just didn't want us viewing all those photos of them doing kegstands.
So here I am, hopelessly out of touch with the most important social networking phenomenon on the planet. Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Son. But you both have my number if you feel dis-connected; call any time.
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