Last week Facebook informed me that one of my "friends" was having a birthday. That friend was my father. We've been friends for awhile now, I guess our friendship really bloomed when he drove me home as a newborn from the hospital.
With his brand new iPad for Christmas, my father became the final member of my immediate family to enter the world of Facebook. Or as he refers to it "The Facebook". Occasionally I'll mention an event and he'll say "oh yes, your mother showed me the pictures on The Facebook".
He'll be using his iPad mostly to read the newspaper. For the past 50 years he's had a choice between the daily tabloid which is printed in a city 300 kms away and a twice weekly local newspaper. He will now move to a virtual explosion of icons and app subscriptions. In the palm of his hand will be hundreds of links to literally thousands of stories, newspapers from all over the world. As a bloke who has spent his entire life living in a rural community in South Australia, technology has made the world a shed load smaller. I can't imagine him ever giving up the local paper (I still read it myself) but I can definitely see some additions to his reading.
It was late 2005 when I signed up for Facebook, our relationship has changed a lot over the years. It began as a way of keeping in contact with friends on the other side of the world and sharing photos of the little travellers with my family. When I went back to work it was used as a recruiting tool, and then it became all about sharing and receiving information. What I enjoy the most about Facebook now is the links, the information that gets forwarded, the jokes that are made and the insight provided perhaps from a complete stranger. I can choose to ignore or choose to read, but it's my choice. In the past fifteen minutes I've read why I shouldn't text and walk, watched the worlds coolest flight attendant, and seen a picture of the fog in Beijing this morning - it was taken by a friend as she cycled with her children to school (I used it for this blog post).
For a traveller, social media can perhaps become a little bittersweet, while it's great to scroll through the photos of the wedding, the new nephew and a close up of the Sunday roast - it's another reminder of what you're missing. If you're a long term traveller though, you'll remember the days of waiting weeks for the next letter and gasping at the telephone bill after that drunken international call was made. If only you could remember what you said.
I remember making my way through the ABC store on each trip home, clunky video tapes were stuffed in to suitcases, we were desperate to hear a familiar accent and be able to contribute to the "have you seen it?" conversation on the next trip home. Now, for half the price, it's a matter of a download and we're watching Paper Giants, The Slap and Red Dog.
Can you remember waiting for 15 minutes for the pixels to download? Last week after watching my parents push their faces up against the screen while singing Happy Birthday on Skype, I felt an immediate urge to send Mr and Mrs Skype a thank you note. I wanted to explain what they'd given me when they came up with their marvelous invention.
Thanks to social media there have been times I've seen and read about events in Australia before my parents and friends have. Election results have arrived instantly, sporting events are streamed live and thanks to Mark Colvin, who I don't think ever sleeps, I'm provided with constant news links from his @colvinius twitter account. The Daily Beast, The New York Times, The Huffington Post and The Guardian provide constant information, and a neat little application called Flipboard has rolled it all in to one and made me the editor-in-chief of my own little social media magazine.
Facebook may not be for everyone, but perhaps like anything social we just need to our clique, my glass of bubbles is your vodka tonic. If Twitter and Facebook are not your thing it's possible you're like my husband who scoffs at the idea of time lines and status updates but makes a daily pilgrimage to Linked In. Or maybe you're like my girlfriend Penny who barely "switches her Facebook on" but is a regular on Words with friends.
Whatever you're up to, there's no doubt that social media is here to stay.