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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Social Networking

Meredith Broussard has a funny piece on the Huffington Post this week about why she hasn’t joined Facebook, but I’m here to tell the redeeming Facebook story of the week:

Twenty-two years ago, when I was leaving the Botswana village where I served in the Peace Corps (pictured right), my best friend and neighbor Mmadithapelo told me, “Eileen, I love you, but you are never going to hear from me. I am a terrible correspondent.” It was good she warned me. Although we did exchange letters every few years, I wasn’t disturbed by her long silences, at least not until the letter she sent several years ago that mentioned some vague “troubles.” By then Botswana had the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, and although the country has done much to combat the disease since then, life expectancy has still plummeted. When my next several letters went unanswered, I assumed the worst and wondered often about Mmadithapelo’s two children, who are a little older than mine.

So along comes Facebook, which has replaced computer solitaire as my favorite time-waster. On a whim I searched for Mmadithapelo and instead found five people with her last name, two of whom identified themselves as being from Botswana, one from the village where I lived. This by itself was amazing, considering that in the eighties my village had no reliable phone service, no paved road, and no electricity (except for a few generators at the clinic, the chief’s house, etc.). I wrote to the two Batswana, unsure of the etiquette of asking if they knew my friend, especially since it seemed likely they were related to her. When I didn’t hear back right away, I assumed the worst again.

Then one morning, as I sat with my laptop at my favorite spot at my favorite Philadelphia coffee shop, I got a friendly email from a young woman on the other side of the world. When I asked about Mmadithapelo, the young woman responded immediately: “She’s my auntie. She stays in Orapa.” Within minutes we had exchanged several messages where I impressed her by remembering a little Setswana (the language), and she promised to get me my friend’s contact info. The exchange pretty much made my week, partly because I am so happy at the prospect of connecting with this particular friend, and partly because it is exciting to link this important phase of my life to all the other phases that normally seem so removed from it.

For me, the amazing thing about Facebook is the linking of the many disparate pieces of the crazy puzzle that has been my life so far. A scroll down my Friends list reminds me of childhood, high school, college, graduate school, Pendle Hill, my kids’ nursery school and grade school, my Quaker community, my Philadelphia writing community, my blogging community, and now my time in the Peace Corps. Not even at my wedding have so many parts of my life been represented in one place. As Meredith points out, there are boundary issues to this social networking stuff (I have a few ex-boyfriends and ex-students on my friends list, which is kind of funny.), but on the whole I’m glad to see the faces of people I care about lined up together, even if they don’t know each other, though it turns out that in many cases they do. I like feeling connected to community. It’s one of the things I learned to value in my village in Botswana.


Blogger naturalmom said...

I was making the very same point about Facebook to someone the other day. Thanks to FB, I'm in touch with people I haven't seen or spoken to in years. It's not like we've renewed the level of contact we used to have in most cases, but at least we know tidbits about what is going on with each other and we think of each other more often as a result. I think that's a good thing.

Cool story about possibly reconnecting with your friend in Botswana.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

Very cool story.

8:58 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

I had a similar conversation (via Facebook and e-mail) with a Quaker friend who works on websites and such systems as Facebook professionally. She was showing me how Facebook sites are/can be used for pr and advertising, in both useful and worrisome ways, partly because we feel that these 'friends' are a community.

9:08 PM  

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