x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

I have converted, but Facebook cannot fill all the gaps

I was loath to join Facebook. Now that I have for selfish reasons - including to publicise my novel - I am able to maintain connections with far more "friends" than I could on my own.

By now 500 million users of Facebook worldwide and countless readers of old and new media know that Mark Zuckerberg, the social-networking website's co-founder and CEO, has been named Time magazine's Person of the Year for 2010. Time cited the 26-year-old "for changing how we all live our lives".

In my household, that's certainly true. My wife and I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to yank our daughter off the computer. An addiction, Facebook taps into an atavistic need to remain connected, to know what's going on at all times (lest you miss an opportunity to bag a sabretoothed tiger for dinner). Whenever we ask our daughter to get off the computer (and come to dinner, finish her homework, join us for a movie or go to bed), her rejoinder is: "But Ayesha [or someone] just came on."

I was loath to join myself even though many friends - real ones, people I actually was in touch with via regular old electronic mail - were using Facebook to communicate. Partly I thought I'd be opening myself up to hearing from people I really didn't care to hear from. But in September I joined the masses, for purely commercial reasons. Facebook will be the most efficient way to let out details of when my novel comes out next fall. (Announcing it in a newspaper isn't a bad way either, I guess.)

Cynical publicity motives aside, Facebook's been kinda fun. I am able to maintain connections with far more "friends" than I could on my own.

There's a reason for this. There is a limit, after all, to the number of people you can keep track of in your life. That's Dunbar's theory, which tops at 150 the number of people with whom any one person can maintain a stable relationship.

On Facebook, you can have 5,000 "friends".

One of the features of Facebook I enjoy the most is notification of my friends' birthdays. All users, upon signing up, indicate their birthday (year optional, thank God!) and through some kind of programming wizardry, we are notified when a "friend" has a birthday coming up.

I religiously send greetings. This week, for example, I have sent birthday wishes to Trudy in Montreal, who's turning 60, and my cousin Linda in Massachusetts, who I think turned 46. Today is the 49th birthday of an old high school friend, Karen, also back in Massachusetts, and whom I haven't seen since my 20th reunion. Won't tell you when.

Monday is a special day. It's December 20 and that's my sister Monique's birthday. I remember so clearly the day she came home. I was nine. I could only hold her if I was sitting down. She had such a full head of black hair, such a round face and her skin had what we call olive tones. She was such a cutie.

And I teased her mercilessly as she grew up. "You were so cute! What happened?" Of course, what I really meant was that she had changed, had grown beautiful.

Monique would be turning 39 this year. She died in 1997. She was struck by a motorcycle while standing on a small road between a couple of tiny villages in eastern Scotland. The rider was her boyfriend and Monique was standing in the road taking pictures of him as he came over a rise in the road; but he was going too fast and couldn't control the bike. He didn't see her.

Hers is a birthday I don't need Facebook for.

rbeauchemin@thenational.ae