I have been on Facebook (FB) now for a bit over a year and a half. While hardly possessing the Friends List of some people (who knew there was a 5,000 person limit?!?), I am rather comfortable with just over 200, with dribs and drabs dropping on to it each week. For the past year or so, I have been amused to think about the wonderful array of people on that list. The more I think about it, though, the more I think that FB really does provide a marvelous window in to the lives of people. It also redefines, or perhaps demonstrates in new and interesting ways, what we think of as "community".
On the first point, as a way of entering in to discussion of the second, taking even a casual look at those folks on my list might just give an insight in to who I am. The people on the list run the gamut. I have people who I knew growing up, but lost touch with over the years. I have people on the list I have never "met", but with whom I have become quite close. I have people who live across the street from me. I have people who live across the country. I have folks who share my political views. I have people who would disagree with me on pretty much everything. I have folks I work with now, a couple with whom I've worked in the past. I have past and present members of churches Lisa has served. Family, of course, is well-represented. I even have a famous name or two on my list!
What this tells me is that I have pretty catholic tastes in those with whom I choose to associate. Friendship, it would seem, transcends all the various barriers that we would erect to limit it.
In a larger sense, it seems to me that FB clarifies something about how we interact with others. Our friends, old and new, well-known and casual, dear and all-but-forgotten, are people with whom we choose to associate. These choices tell us about ourselves. These choices also tell us that, at its most basic level, community is not so much about accidents of birth or where we end up living because of work, or money, or the quality or depth of relationship (however one defines such slippery terms). Instead, at its most basic, communities are communities of choice. When someone request to be a "friend", it takes more than just a mouse-click to make it so; it takes a conscious decision, saying to oneself, "Yes, this is a person with whom I want to associate." What I am most proud of is that, of all those on my list whom I know well (having met them in the real world or not), they all have an incredible integrity about themselves. Whether liberal or conservative, fundamentalist or atheist, regardless of race or sexual orientation, I think what unites people on my Friends list more than that they know, or are at least acquainted with, me is their preference for living a life that is whole, complete. Whatever compromises they may make with the rest of the world are means to the larger goal of being wholly themselves.
I like that. I also think this tells me something about myself, quite apart from what I may or may not have known about who I am. I am always struggling with this very issue; how do I live as myself in such a vast array of contexts and situations such as work, family, church, and casual social settings? What are the limits of interaction? How much of who I am is it safe to reveal to others?
Of course, having lived a very public life on the internet for the past four or so years has helped in this regard. I believe that my life is far more transparent now than ever. There are facets of who I am that are pretty clearly on display daily. Far more important, I am surrounded, on FB, with daily reminders not just of the importance of living with integrity, but the way so living opens up life to all sorts of possibilities. I am a better person for the people on my Friends List, precisely because this community of my choosing teaches me how to live as myself without artifice.
One final note - I think a gathering of all those on my Friends List, like a barbecue or party or something, would be one of the most interesting events in my life.