I am walking through apricot orchards, on my way to another dreadfully long day at Cupertino Junior High. I am shorter and younger than most of the other boys. I am night blind and I wear sunglasses indoors. I do magic as a hobby and everyone knows it. I also don't know when to shut up. And, to guarantee my total social estrangement, I am carrying my violin case. The year is 1966 and I am on my way to another serious butt-kicking at school.
Social awareness was never my strong suit. Being a geek and partially blind complicated matters. I liked school dances, but had to stand stone still in the dark or inadvertently touch the unexpected. Crowded and dimly lit parties meant that I seldom knew who was standing in front of me, whether they were talking in my direction, and if they were still there when I tried to respond. I did retire my violin for a trombone with a spit valve, a strategic move, but marching band was another challenge when everyone else turned left and I kept high-stepping right into the End Zone.
As I got older, I thoroughly enjoyed a smaller social circle. For us pre-Beatles Baby Boomers, interacting only with those within ten feet was the norm. A phone call to another town was expensive and infrequent. Writing letters required paper and stamps, which restricted communications with distant friends and family. There was no reason to talk, text, or tweet when walking alone. It was a quieter, more solitary, existence.
For decades, I was comfortable doing my own thing. Then, times changed. Facebook happened. And, from my vantage point, Facebook looked a lot like the Junior High cafeteria. Hordes of people, crowded together, sharing the highlights of their fascinating and wondrous personal lives, all apparently more noteworthy than my own. I did not want to relive puberty. What could I possibly share with the enlightened? "Hey everyone! I washed my socks and underwear this morning!"
Still, I am not immune to social pressures. My mother was right. If Johnny jumped off a bridge, would I do it? Maybe. Depends on if it was an interesting bridge. Johnny, and a billion others had taken a leap into Facebook and I got curious.
Last month, I downloaded the Facebook app onto my iPhone. I was a bit embarrassed. Something felt very unseemly about the act. I launched Facebook in the privacy of my own home, accepted all the terms, and gave away a whole lot of personal information. I did choose not to allow Facebook to rummage through my contacts, photos, or to turn on the microphone. I tried to retain some dignity. That did not last long.
For the first couple of days, I relived seventh grade. I had no friends, and no one liked me. I anxiously stood there hopeful, waiting inside the app, alone. On Day Three, the miracle happened. Someone I knew well, who was my age, who also had a guide dog, wanted to be my friend! I was giddy! A friend! For me! This kind soul suggested that I start my Facebook adventure by making more friends. What a great idea! Why didn't anyone tell me to do that in Junior High? This first Facebook friend sent me a list of mutual real-world acquaintances who were also on Facebook. I took it all very seriously. I tried to make sure that I remembered each person, reviewing any information I could find about them, and was careful in my invitations. I quickly realized that new friends bring along their friends and my list grew exponentially. Other folks, some that I actually knew, discovered me, too. I finally decided that I was a friendly guy and started embracing everybody. Group hug. Currently, I have eight dozen best friends with whom I am very close.
However, I am still a genuine Facebook neophyte. So much about this new environment leaves me floundering. I studied all 327 of the AppleVis comments about Facebook and still do not know exactly what I am doing. I think I've made progress, but I am unsure. I finally was able to enter the text into my work history, but my educational background just cannot be saved. I have also been told that my Profile picture should differ from my Cover picture and I don't know why. Most important, I am afraid to post. People on Facebook seem to share anything and everything with everyone everywhere. That worries me. I don't want to appear clueless . I want to share only the right things in the right way. So far, I have limited my comments to a number that I can count on three fingers.
I'm not the only one who needs help. I wish the Facebook user interface on my iPhone was more accessible and that it worked better with VoiceOver. I often have buttons and text disappear or seemingly relocate to new places on my screen. I frequently stumble through the various Facebook elements, rather than just gliding along, relishing the ride. The Facebook iPhone app and I could both improve.
And yet, I am enjoying the experience. I have rediscovered treasured friends that I lost many years ago. I have renewed contacts with people across the country and around the world. I'm not addicted though. Sure, I eventually let Facebook access my Contacts database, something I swore I would never do, and I did put the Facebook icon on the top row of my Home Screen. When I get up in the morning, I check the news and then jump into Facebook. I take quick peeks during the day, but I am not hooked. I can quit any time I want. Really.
Facebook has been a fun way to discover social media. It is a bit like standing in the midst of an amusement park with all the playful noise and concentrated energy. Although I generally sit quiet in the background, I do enjoy the activity around me. It is a pleasant place. Maybe, just maybe, I will venture out a little further into this new world and speak up. Or not. Regardless, it is much safer than Junior High. Here, I can play my violin again.
*** G. Morgan Watkins enjoyed a long working relationship with both The University of Texas at Austin and Guide Dogs for the Blind. He is now happily retired, pondering the difference between a Profile and a Cover photo. Morgan has written eight other blogs for AppleVis, including “Second Career: Putting retired iPhones back to work”, “Dancing In Sand: Ferrite Audio Editing on the iPhone” and “Small Differences Matter: Cleaning up with FileBrowser and the Dropbox App”.