Back from Newfoundland, where I was "unplugged" for 3 glorious full days. 150 email messages and a website update later, I've caught up.
I've been reading blogs, watching YouTube, and yes, also reading the newspaper (online) recently and I'm amazed by the hubbub about the changes to FaceBook. I don't even have a FaceBook page. I think I was once on Friendster and Orkut, but that was years ago. Between Google Talk, MSN, Flickr, Blogger, my personal website, and oh yeah, work, I can barely keep up. I stopped by my friend Jeremy's office the other day and saw that he has a FaceBook page. I came back here to my office and thought "I should have a FaceBook page too". 10 minutes later, anxiety ridden at the prospect of another website I would have to maintain, I bailed on that. I'm in computer science, and I find it easier to keep up with cutting edge academic research than with the latest online craze. What's worse, my colleagues in Knowledge Media Design, and the best up and coming researchers in my field all manage to do it somehow. I think my need to join these things comes from some strange need to fit in with these prominent young researchers, not really from a desire to broadcast my (boring) self even more. It's a similar feeling to meeting a student who excells in every class, has a huge network of friends, leads a charity he created when he was 8, and gives sold-out piano recitals in his spare time. You wonder, where the hell do these people get the time?
I know there is a lot of research going on right now about the level of connection we have to computers and the resulting disconnection from real life. I also have read lots of research examining the intricate social networks people build using new media. Another avenue to investigate could be new media and "keeping up with the Jones'". I'll volunteer as a subject.
Academia sometimes feels not that different from high school. There are still pressures to fit in: have a nice laptop, have stories about exotic travels around the world ready to tell on demand, use words like "disaffected" in regular conversation (I was called "disaffected" this week and had to look it up on WordNet), and now, at least in my area, you should have a plethora of up-to-date social webpages. Oh, and keep up with the latest novels too. I guess social networking could benefit research if you could create a community of like-minded researchers to discuss ideas, but breaking the barriers to connecting to strangers online is as intimidating to me as walking up to famous researchers at a conference coffee break.
My partner is at the other extreme: he hates getting emails and refuses any other sort of internet connection. I envy him too, but I'm somewhere stuck in the middle.
[Update: 25 November, 2006... I'm now on FaceBook! :) ]