Everyone has heard of facebook, Mark Zukenberg's amazing bazillion dollar creation. Originally intended for the college crowd, it has been overtaken by Boomers (us older folks) and the Millenials (tweens and teens and twenty-somethings). Facebook members are estimated to reach one billion, worldwide, in 2012.
It's truly a polarizing concept. Some are convinced it's a complete waste of time; others cannot live without it. For this second group, it's their favorite way to "connect" socially, and can be done from anywhere so long as you have a computer, laptop, iPad or smartphone.
Some were innocently lured into this social network arena to see pictures of friends or family. Others to keep tabs on the activities of grandchildren who otherwise rarely communicate. Many got involved to find and re-connect with old friends from high school or college, especially those who have slipped off our radar over the years.
Like anything else in CyberLand, facebook has its own lingo. One must learn about walls, posts, pokes and likes, along with the challenge of conversing with people from your past you don't remember.
The whole point is to accumulate Friends: the one with the most friends wins. It's comparable to being Prom Queen or Big Man on Campus in high school. In fact, older users are transported back through time to the "good old days" of cliques and being accepted by or excluded from the "in" group.
Naturally facebook has groups. Some are formed to bring together people who grew up in the same town. Others because of pets, political views, culinary tastes, etc. One must be "invited" to be part of a group, so there's the built-in appeal of belonging that is such a powerful human attribute, even though we may have little else in common with other group members.
Each group has an Administrator who makes and communicates the rules to members, lest they violate the protocol. Once again, the whole spectrum reigns here -- from easy-going groups to ones with rules and penalties.
The worst thing that can happen to a person on facebook is to be "un-friended." As a lackluster participant of this social network, I've been un-friended a number of times. The first time for not being "interesting" enough; the last time for knowing too much.
It's easy to while away hours late at night, enjoying jokes, YouTube videos (musical or otherwise), adorable pictures of animals; interesting articles from myriad sources to enlighten us on any topic.
Then there is the lure of all the pictures: pictures taken when we were kids; travel pictures capturing images of exotic places; photos by people who are artists with a camera; silly pictures that make us laugh.
There is definitely an upside to this stealthy usurper of our time as we continually find special people: ones who enhance our lives because of who they are or what they share; ones who are intriguing enough to advance to regular email correspondents; ones from our previous lives who bring gifts to our current lives.
There is also a significant downside to this addictive electronic time waster.
Fifty percent of the hard-core facebook people log on solely to play games that have been created especially for this subset of the "ultimately bored by life." Some are only played for fun, but others are far more serious. Game creators have found ways to convince people hooked on these games to pay real money (via credit card) to purchase such things as farm supplies or hiring someone to water their virtual garden.
Some believe the United States would have more advanced green energy programs if our talented electronic wizards were more focused on that endeavor. Instead, computer geeks rake in big bucks, paid by Silicon Valley firms, to create games luring facebook junkies to spend money enhancing their "virtual lives" from the comfort of computer keyboards.
It is a commentary on the level of dis-interest in contemporary issues held by large segments of our population. In 2003, we were glued to our TV sets watching "Shock and Awe" in real time. Less than a month go, the last soldier left Iraq with virtually no one paying attention.
When the Penn State scandal hit the news, few people on facebook were interested in commenting. "We come here for fun," they wrote. "We are here to escape the realities of our lives and the world situations."
Who wants to read about little boys being sexually assaulted in showers when people come together electronically to playfully "poke" each other?
In 2012 we'll have national elections that will affect the direction of our country for the next four years, with potential actions and decisions outlasting the terms of elected officials. Will the electorate be able to make informed choices? Or will it be little more than a crapshoot because voters are choosing to spend their time on facebook rather than reading newspapers or keeping informed of what's going on in the world around them?
Will 2012 be a replay of 1970, prompting an echo of the public sentiment expressed by Walt Kelly -- creator of Pogo, a popular cartoon character?