Friday, January 8, 2010

Facebook vs. Holiday Cards

Thanks to our trip this year (and this is the last post even loosely based on the trip, I promise) we never got around to sending out Christmas cards.  I felt - and still feel - kind of bad about that.  One friend I know is always late and wound up sending out Martin Luther King Day cards one year.  I doubt I'll do that, but I suppose it is possible.

On our return I got the huge pile of mail from the post office and found lots of cards in there.  As usual, quite a few had letters in them too, and it suddenly occurred to me that holiday cards are, in many cases, an early version of social networking.

Without wanting to offend any of my friends on Facebook, one of the things about that community is that it is largely made up of people I don't see regularly.  Of course, there are exceptions, but in large measure my Facebook friends are more distant in terms of space or accessiblity.  Many of my former co-workers are there, for example, and our paths simply don't cross anymore.  There are even a few people on that list whom I know but have actually never met in person.

Status updates from those more distant connections are a lot like those annual letters from family and friends that you never actually get to see in person.  Great Aunt Betty telling you about her year - the good and the bad - without a lot of context looks a lot like a Facebook newsfeed.

There are minor differences.  Facebook is a bit closer to real time, so I don't get an entire years worth of news all at once, for example, and most of the holiday cards and letters I get don't comment on things political or social, but I found the similarities quite interesting.  If I took all the posts from some physically distant Facebook friend, removed the political and social commentary, strung them together and printed them, I'll bet I'd come disturbingly close to a holiday letter.

Food for thought.  I keep reading articles about the wonder of social networking, how new and different it is.  Not so.  Rolodexes used to do on paper what Facebook and LinkedIn do online, and now I realize that even the status update that goes to a bunch of people is far from a new idea.

Perhaps there really is nothing new under the sun.