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Brent Giesen

The Benefits Of Social Networking

While playing a board game with some cousins at a recent family gathering, I noticed my 12-year-old cousin Abby sitting in a corner typing with purpose on her laptop computer. I figured she must have an important homework assignment due soon.  I quietly walked up behind her and glimpsed at the computer screen, intrigued by an assignment that could demand so much attention.
      She typed “my family is so lame.”  I figured it must be a book report on one of those teenage angst vampire novels, but upon further inspection I realized she was typing on the website Facebook.
      As I sat back down, I told her to give her fingers a rest and join us in the next game.
      “Board games are so boring and old,” she said.  “I can play better games on Facebook.”
      When I told her I did not have Facebook at her age, she furrowed her brow and cocked her head as if confused.  When I continued to tell her that I did not have access to the internet, her jaw dropped, and it appeared brain aneurysm was imminent. 
      “What did you do?” she asked.  “Did you have text messaging on your phone?”
      “Do you mean, how did I keep in touch with friends?” I asked.  “We biked and—“
      “No!” she interrupted.  “What did you do, like, for fun and stuff.”
      Growing up in the early nineties was rough, no doubt.  I didn’t know it at the time though.  I thought that biking a mile to a baseball field and playing ball for five or six hours was fun.  That was social networking in 1992.  My friends and I would meet at the ballpark and chat about everything from girls we had crushes on to what teachers we hoped not to get in the upcoming school year.  When it started to get dark out we would bike home and go to bed, all without touching a mouse or keyboard.  We didn’t even use phones, we just showed up at each others houses the next day when we wanted to do something.
      “That’s dumb!” Abby said, after I explained how I had fun as a 12-year-old.
      I started to believe her.  She began ranting in only a way a 12-year-old girl can, and all I could do was listen and nod my head.  Knowing I would not be able to get a word in, I reclined in my chair and surrendered the next thirty minutes of my life to a long winded diatribe on the benefits of social networking in the year 2009.
      For instance, I didn’t realize that you could begin dating someone and dump them the same day, all with the click of a mouse.  That is possible on MySpace.  That would have come in handy when this good looking girl, Jenny, dumped me in the sixth grade in front of the whole class.  I thought that picking my broken heart up off of the floor in front of snickering kids helped build character and confidence, but I could’ve avoided that lesson and the pain that came with it all together.  I learned that today when you get dumped online at worst you may get a mean classmate instant messaging you with cleverly placed numbers and symbols depicting faces mocking you.  You can turn the number eight, a parenthesis, and a bracket into a face with a tongue sticking out.  The closest we came to anything that ingenious was getting the calculator to spell “boob” when you turned it upside down.  
      “You just have to go to Twitter,” she said.
      With Twitter you can go on vacation and while you are still lying on a beach in Mexico you can post pictures and updates of what you are doing so everyone back home knows what a great time you’re having.    My uncle told me that Abby spent a total of two to three hours a day on her family vacation updating her multiple blogs.  Some might think that is vacation time wasted.  I think they are wrong.  When I was in Las Vegas earlier this year I could’ve blogged every time I won big at the blackjack table.  I went midweek, so most of my friends were in the middle of a grueling workday while I was having fun.  I know they would’ve loved to take a minute or two of their time, every hour on the hour, to keep updated on how great my life is.  
      Or would they?   I asked Abby, “Do these constant updates have tendency to annoy people?”
      “Who cares,” she replied.  “And sometimes, the point is to annoy them.  Duh!”
      “I see,” I said.  I definitely have friends I’d like to annoy.
      Abby showed me some sample entries, or tweets as they are called.  [Authors note:  These are actual tweets on her page]
      “Super hungover.  I must’ve puked about ten times last night.”
      “I hate being on my period.  I hate my boyfriend, he can be so clueless.”
      “Took my dog Junior for a walk.  He went to the bathroom all over the sidewalk at the park.”  
      Is this information I need to know?  Probably not, but now I know which sidewalks and angry girlfriends to avoid.
      After praising Twitter for about fifteen minutes she finally got to Facebook, the king of social networking sites, at least for the next few months.
      “Facebook is the best,” she said.  “All my friends always gather to chat there.  I have 789 friends on Facebook.”
        I was a little embarrassed.  I have lived twice as long as she and I’m not sure I have met 789 people in my life, much less befriended that many.  I was certainly eager to learn about this better than reality world.  She rattled off the endless possibilities.  Want to buy drinks for your friends?  You can do that.  Want to become a fan of the Jonas Brothers?  Check.  Want to partake in polls about your sex life?  Yeah, I don’t know about that one.
      The best part about Facebook, and Abby left this part out, is that every piece of information you enter on the site becomes the property of Facebook, so you won’t ever lose it.  Even if your account were to somehow get deleted you won’t lose those pictures of you passed out next to the toilet with black Sharpie all over your face after your 21st birthday.
      As we sat there, she passed a drink to her friend.
      “You can pass out virtual sodas?  Milk?” I asked.
      “No, I am passing my friend Sarah a Cosmopolitan,” she replied.
      Apparently, the drinking age in Facebookland is much lower than the drinking age in the real world.  I just hope they are able to get virtual cigarettes, because nothing goes better with a virtual beer than a virtual smoke.
      I left the family gathering excited to get home and create a Facebook account.  Maybe I’ll find that girl who dumped me in high school who said we would always be friends.  Or that guy from my dorm freshmen year that punched me in the shoulder and called me a “wussy” every time I saw him.  I’ll definitely look up my Aunt Judith because she posts daily updates about her kid’s high school sports and activities.  It’ll be like one of those great detailed letters people send with Christmas cards updating everyone on their family only I will get one everyday.
      Finally, if you have a Facebook account search for Brent Giesen and send a friend invite.  That’s G-I-E-S-E-N.  I have a long ways to go to catch up with Abby’s friend list, and I only have thirty or so friends in real life.

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Brent Giesen grew up in the small farming community of Belle Plaine, MN.  After high school he attended the University of North Dakota for two years before moving to Minneapolis and transferring to Metro State.  He is now a senior, slowly but surely inching towards a writing degree. Besides reading and writing he enjoys music, sports, and spending time with his dog outdoors.