BOOMERS: JOIN FACEBOOK. NOW

Real story. In college and for several years after I had a good friend named Jeff who was the boyfriend and then husband of someone who had lived on my freshman dorm floor. We were really close. After they got married it was often Jeff, Iris and me. I dated guys just because they were friends with Jeff, and wouldn’t that have been perfect—Jeff and Iris, Linda and X. Well, that never happened. After college Jeff went to medical school (and I was in graduate school and Iris was basically doing nothing). For someone who wasn’t a spouse, I spent an unreasonable amount of time sneaking into the emergency rooms of various hospitals with pizza and beer nights when Jeff was “on call.”

At some point, after Jeff was already a psychiatrist with a practice (I remember going to purchase the couch for his office with him), Iris had a psychotic break, and my husband really didn’t want a completely crazy person sleeping in our living room. Besides, it’s pretty hard being friends with someone who thinks she’s being following by little Japanese boys wearing baseball caps. Then Iris and Jeff got divorced. (Cutting Iris off isn’t something I’m proud of.) Jeff remarried a really nice woman, and for a while they lived on the same block as my kids’ elementary school. But we fell out of touch.

And yet, I always kind of figured that Jeff was there and that someday I’d just give him a call and we’d simply pick up where we left off.

Then, about two months ago, I was writing a short story with a character addicted to drugs. Doing some research on the internet, I came across some medical papers Jeff had written—drug addiction was his specialty. Then I came across something else: an obituary. Jeff had died of cancer. In 2008. In other words, this guy that I expected to call up someday had been dead for nearly three years.

I was bereft. It was unimaginable. I still can’t quite absorb that he’s dead.

However, this blog is about something else entirely, and the story about Jeff segues into my argument. I’m not being heartless. It’s just that the story illustrates what I want to say:

BABYBOOMERS: GO ON FACEBOOK.

OK. Another story. For the past many years, every May 12th I have an email exchange (or now a LinkedIn message exchange) with my friend Roy Rosenstein, a professor at the American University in Paris with whom I was close, close friends in graduate school. Roy was probably among the most brilliant people I have ever met. He also hated children. Nevertheless, he was tolerant of the fact that I had them—but that was pretty easy considering he started living in Paris even before he got his Ph.D. (Roy knows about 10 languages, including Russian and Chinese. He also is a collector of books. No, more than that. A true bibliomaniac whose bookshelves proved too heavy for the ceiling below his library.) Eventually, with me all caught up with little-kid things and Roy buying books and speaking French, we lost touch. Then he showed up on LinkedIn. And today I had the bright idea that he might be on Facebook. So I “friended” him, and this just appeared in my profile wall: “Linda and Roy Rosenstein are now friends.”

Roy mentioned in his LinkedIn mail that he’s promoting his newest book, and I have no idea what it is about. When I think of Roy, I see in my mind a pixie-ish guy with brown hair and beard. Last time I saw him, five years or so ago, he was graying. I don’t know what he’s thinking, what he’s doing. But I know he’s there. He’s someone who is deep in my heart, and now I can reach out to him anytime. Through Facebook. (And, yeah, LinkedIn.) He’s not about to go missing.

I do have a lot of friends my age on Facebook, but I’m just as likely to hear, “oh, don’t talk to me about that stuff.” A woman I know who went on Facebook just before her daughter got married—“for the pictures,” she said—whined that she really means to get off of it, because what does someone like her want with Facebook? What good does it do, she says, except to give people access to pictures?

Well, she’s right about the pictures part. I got to see my great-nephew’s smile five minutes after he lost his first tooth! My daughter shared pictures of a new dress she was about to buy. But there’s other stuff too. I know what news articles my son is reading. Beyond stalking my family: Facebook is a wonderful door to the amazing world of children’s book illustrators I know. On Facebook I am “friends” with some literary greats who post interesting articles and insights into their craft. There’s the fun stuff, too: yesterday a friend posted a photo collage of side-by-side images from Disney’s Cinderella and the recent “royal wedding.” The 30-year-old next door puts up pictures of her food whenever she goes out to eat. Through Facebook I have become treasuredly close to my husband’s cousin’s wife because we write back and forth. We see each other, too, and make phone calls, but Facebook is there, and we’re there, and it’s like opening your window in a small town, and shouting “hello” to your neighbor across the street.

Baby Boomers who decry Facebook as silly and unnecessary need to realize that they are cutting themselves off from a tool that promotes community and connectivity in a world where people move away and lose touch. I will be the first to say that to be on Facebook, one has to be a bit savvy because there are privacy issues and one does have to protect oneself against identify theft. But you know what: Facebook provides pretty simple instructions. They used to be arcane, but no more. (Just know that the default settings are for Facebook’s marketing’s benefit, not yours, so you do have to spend ten minutes or so changing them all. Type into Google “How do I make my Facebook settings private?” and you’ll get links to many step-by-step guides, as well as YouTube videos if you prefer visuals.) It’s also a given that Facebook changes its rules every couple of months. So you have to keep on top of things. But you can “like” (subscribe to, in other words) various groups that will keep you informed about changes by sending you messages. Finally, you have to know that if you receive a message from a friend promising to show you something gross (“Look what this woman found in her Happy Meal”) or salacious (“real naked pictures of Meghan McCain!”), promise to tell you who has been looking at your Facebook profile (Facebook says this is impossible), or telling you to click on a link to watch yourself age—it’s all spam. The “app” will go into your “friends” list and put the phony link on their pages. Mostly these things are nuisance. Some may contain code that will infect your computer. So don’t click on anything that seems strange or whose source you can’t trace.

In my next blog, or the one after, I’m going to give a real “Getting on Facebook” lesson for Baby Boomers. Because we can stay in touch. Because we need to stay in touch.

And by the way: You can comment at the end of the post instead of emailing me or commenting on my Facebook. For those of you out there whose comments  I managed to delete, sorry. I do appreciate your words and insights.