Monday, October 5, 2009

That’s what makes horse racing—and Facebook

If I have learned nothing else by getting sucked into the Facebook maelstrom, I’ve gained a measure of tolerance.

As I write this, I have 291 Facebook friends, a quite diverse lot. With a few exceptions (some family, a few members of the Pittsburgh pagan community, a karaoke DJ, a few former co-workers and one current co-worker—and why can’t I hear the word “co-worker” without thinking of Pat from SNL?), they belong to one of three groups: high school, college and Mensa.

The network of people from high school has been stronger than I thought it might be. A few people that I knew well had the tendency to friend everyone they knew, and the friends-of-friends mushroomed into a full-blown class reunion. Some of them have pretty interesting stories. There are no clichés—the class wallflower didn’t become a movie star, and the class stoner didn’t become a millionaire—but many of them have become more real to me than they were when we were in school (which probably says more about me than it does about them).

Then there are the people from college. I’m surprised that few people from my college in general have come my way, but my fraternity has a strong presence on FB. While most of the Pi Siggers on FB are younger than I, hearing from any of them brings back a lot of (mostly) happy memories.

And then there are the people from Mensa, whom I am more likely to keep in touch with in the everyday world. Their names tell the story of my life over the last 10 years or so, and continue to.

It thrills me to see these groups intersect—to see my wife respond to a college friend’s comment about music, or to see a high school friend talk politics with a Mensan. As small as it may seem, I feel as if I’ve made some sort of difference.

At the same time, I have learned to tread lightly, especially in these volatile political times. I have found that many FB friends disagree with me on The Big Two—religion and politics. While my college and Mensa friends are all over the map, the high school friends, with some exceptions, tend to be more politically conservative, and more strongly Christian, than the other two groups. I do not have a problem with this as long as people keep things civil. I’m from the Rodney King School of Facebook—why can’t we all get along?

One of my recent posts illustrates what I’m talking about. There was a poll asking who the best President of the last 50 years was. I voted for Clinton—although I should note that being the best President of the last 50 years is sort of like winning the fifth race at Beulah Park.

There was a high school friend who agreed with me, as well as a Mensan. Another Mensan objected to what he saw as abuses of power by Clinton. Then another high school alum objected to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. It could have been a sticky situation (the Facebook thread, I mean), but I said nothing. I wasn’t looking for an argument—I just voted in some stupid poll. At one point, I felt as if I had started a bar fight and walked away. But it turned out for the best, and it made for some interesting conversation. And the high school Clinton fan wound up adding the Mensans as FB friends.

It feels pretty cool to bring people together when you don’t live in the same state.

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