Shannon (mother of the awesome 'J') recently posted about her love-hate relationship with facebook and it got me thinking about my own love-hate with social media. Anyone who knows me INR (in real life) can attest, it's mostly a love relationship.
For all I cringe when I think about what some people are willing to share on the site (for the record, I keep my stuff on pretty tight lockdown but I also very rarely share anything that I wouldn't share on a public site... well, other than my last name), facebook has always contained many more pros than cons for me. As someone who loves to travel, facebook has allowed me to keep in contact with friends I've met along the way. For that alone, facebook is worth it.
Unlike twitter where I've made friends I didn't previously have, facebook is about connecting with people I already have a pre-existing relationship with. So imagine my surprise one lazy April morning in 2010 when I get a friend request from a name I don't recognize and a profile picture which doesn't trigger any memories for me. I check out our mutual friends.
She knows Cormac, a cousin from Armagh.
Cormac had moved to the States and married an Andrea; she had changed her last name on facebook only a few months before and I had received two friends requests for her in error. I am about to send a message explaining I was not the 'Andrea M' she is looking for when I realised that she's friends with Paddy. Paddy, a cousin originally from Dublin, lives in Galway and has never been to visit Cormac in the US. It was unlikely that this person was looking for the other Andrea.
I close the message box and went back to staring at the picture.
I let a few days pass while I mulled over who this person might be. Like me, her profile is pretty guarded so I couldn't do much snooping to determine who she is. I take the plunge and accept the request. If nothing else, it will give me a chance to snoop around her profile and figure out who she was before I unfriended her.
Chatting with my dad on the phone the next day, I ask if he knew who this Estelle-person was.
"She's Fonsie's youngest."
I had my answer. To the best of my knowledge, I had never met Estelle. In fact, I didn't meet Uncle Fonsie (Alphonsus, it has nothing to do with Happy Days) until he came to visit us in Canada when I was 15. My dad was the eighth child in a family of 11.* Fonsie was much older (first or second born, I'm not sure) and, according to my dad, had moved out by the time my dad was old enough to form a relationship with him.
Then there was some family drama. You know how large families are. Or maybe you don't which is why I have to write this. All I know about it was snippets overheard during conversations between my dad and his other siblings. I knew he existed but I only saw him when I was 15 and I haven't seen him since.
In short, Fonsie and my dad were never close and he was an uncle in name only.
And his youngest daughter (who is a few years older than me) wanted to be facebook friends.
Ultimately, that has been my biggest joy in facebook: the ability to develop relationships with my cousins independent of my father's relationship with them.
Living so far away from that half of my family, my relationships with them have always been through my dad's contact with his siblings. My knowledge was only what was passed on from their parents to my parents. If our parents weren't big phone buddies, well, I often didn't know they existed beyond "this aunt/uncle has x number of kids".
For the first time ever in my life, I don't had to be in Ireland to talk to my cousins, learn what's happening in their lives, and share what's going on in mine. I've learned more about my cousins as individuals in the last three years when I added the first one, than I ever did in the 28 years prior.
For that, Facebook, I will always appreciate you.
*We had to do our family trees for Grade 8 French and then present them to the class. Most people were done in two to three minutes. After five minutes, my teacher cut me off because I had demonstrated my knowledge of the vocabulary. I hadn't even had a chance to talk about my mom's side of the family.