"Your sister has just played a 33-point word I've never even heard of!" I tell my husband.
"Mel!" I say. I have three sisters-in-law in Australia and play this scrabble-type word game with two of them. Mel lives in Perth. Biz lives in Camden, also in Oz. Her daughter and our niece had a sore throat yesterday, which isn't surprising when she works so hard in her young business, what with five children also demanding her attention. I feel as though we are involved in each other's day-to-day lives, far more than we were two years or ten years ago. We no longer share only the big life events, the New Year phone call, the wedding photos. We also share the grumbles and joys of family life in all its minutiae and this sharing brings us closer.
All this happens on Facebook.
While I was still working, I steered clear of this site. I had heard of it, as I had of Twitter and the infamous Beebo which regularly was the venue for vicious slanging matches between teenagers who seemed to think they could abuse one another online without consequence. Since I began my new life, however, I have become a great fan of Facebook: I follow sensible practice and limit my number of friends; I restrict the readership of my posts and I don't write anything on my status which would be harmful if, indeed, it were to be seen by someone other than my intended audience.
I often talk about Fb with friends and family who are still very reluctant to join. The big mystery for them is why I would want to use a social networking site rather than phone or meet someone. The only way I can begin to explain is to describe how I use the site as the base not only for far-flung family contact about little things you would never remember to say in a phone call; but also for my intellectual growth.
In the last 24 hours, Facebook has linked me to the following activities. I have used it as a shortcut to the blipfoto journals of several photo-taking new 'friends'; I have kept up to date with the activities and future gigs of Brass Jaw and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra; I have shared with my Fb friends a couple of inspiring TED talks I have listened to. I have perused Rafa's latest post and read the Tennis Now update. I have followed one of @theplayethic Pat Kane's excellent links to Carol Craig's blog on the Centre for Confidence website and enjoyed several articles in The Economist and other political journals which I hadn't read and wouldn't have taken the time to subscribe to myself. I have kept up to date with stimulating posts from Action for Happiness, Charter for Compassion and the Mindfulness Manifesto, all of which feed to my status (the word used for your 'own' bit of Fb). I have listened to a 1980 performance by Weather Report and laughed at a video clip of a cat climbing over someone during a sun salutation in the yoga studio! I've had to question my responses to several articles on KILTR and The Scottish Review, discovered via the recommendations of other Facebook users.
And yes, I have kept up with the latest news from Strictly Come Dancing.
The essential feature of my life now is lifelong learning; I want to have my brian ache as much from the demands I put on it as my body aches after yoga! This is where Facebook comes in. It is no more a substitute for my university classes and face-to-face family contact than a Kindle is for a book, but it is a gateway ... a shortcut ..... to a network of experiences which stimulate my brain. Fb fires up the synapses!
The snapshot above only touches the tip of the joyful iceberg which is my Facebook experience. I use the messaging facility of the site instead of emailing friends and contacts; I have renewed contact with individual former pupils from classes as far back as 1976 who 'found' me on Fb. I have shared all the photos I want to share. I have sought advice or the answer to a question and been flooded with answers. I know where every snowflake or hailstone in the Central Belt is falling.
This is just the start. In five years, there will be a bigger, better, newer, more stimulating way of keeping this level of social contact. This is the exhilaration and excitement the future holds. If you're 60+ and convinced Fb isn't for you, my advice would be to sit along with someone like me and actually watch us use it. See how protected you can make yourself, how easy it is to limit your friends ... you just say, "no". See what a massive range of activity it introduces you to by shortcuts. It isn't perfect, and the endless fine-tuning changes to the site can be irritating, but it can be wonderful. It links you to a world of ideas and people which then encourages you to go off on your own into further reading, listening, watching and researching.
I have another sister in law who lives half an hour away. We'll be seeing her later today. But when we were arranging today's meeting, we realised that she wasn't up to date with a piece of great news: my older son has a new job!! Now, Mel and Biz in Australia knew that within hours of his interview ...... thanks to Fb!