How social networking works

By Bruce Stambaugh

A siren woke me from my deep sleep. Even though I didn’t see it, the quickened rumble told me it was a fire truck.

I arose, and soon a second fire truck went by heading south, lights flashing in the dense morning fog. Several minutes later, a third fire truck from a station 12 miles away roared by. It was obvious there was a big fire somewhere.

Of course, I was curious about the location of the blaze. My curiosity was soon cured. My wife announced that our daughter in Virginia had emailed to ask what we knew about the fire at Martins Creek Mennonite Church.

I was stunned. I asked how Carrie knew about the fire. “She saw it on Kim Kellogg’s Facebook page” came the swift answer.

Since Kim is a mutual friend, both in real life and on Facebook, I immediately went to my Facebook page, clicked on Kim’s posting, and sure enough, there were pictures of the old church burning and the firefighters working diligently to extinguish the flames.

The scene saddened me. I could see that the blaze was serious, and I knew that the historic structure was a tinderbox.

I kept up with the progress of the fire by following Kim’s postings. I was glad our daughter had let us know. I was appreciative of Kim’s timely updates. It had to be hard on him. It was his church.

But I also had to simultaneously absorb the bang-bang way in which we had found out about the blaze. Our daughter, 350 miles away, had notified us electronically of a fire less than three miles from our house.

An ironic pall clouded my thoughts. It wasn’t that it was wrong. But there was a certain ambivalence to the entire process. It felt like the same uncertainty that had kept me from originally joining the social network craze.

What I was experiencing was one of the new ways to communicate in today’s technologically driven world. I had long resisted enrolling in any of the online social networks like Facebook or MySpace. I thought they were mainly for young people. I don’t text either.

I also thought they would be too intrusive into my life, would reveal too much information that would and could be used by unscrupulous schemers. Neither did I see the sense in it. After all, all one had to do was pick up the phone and call, or email, or even write a letter, or better yet, come over and visit.

What made me change my mind? Why my sociable daughter of course. Once I realized that I was missing postings of the latest happenings with her and her family, I decided to open my own Facebook account so I could keep up with the grandkids.

I soon learned that I wasn’t the only old person on Facebook. And when friends, relatives and former students from long past began to connect with me, I felt better about the whole idea of sharing on the Internet. I still try to be both careful and practical with what I post for others to read and view.

That morning’s emotional events still seem surreal. Our daughter in Virginia knew about the fire close to us before we did. But therein lies the justification for social networking. It’s just another method for staying in touch.

Even in catastrophes like fires, social networking can instantaneously bring geographically separated people together. When used properly, that is a very good thing.

Cleaning out the inbox

By Bruce Stambaugh

I decided to begin this New Year with a clean sweep. I purged my email inbox.

The tidying was long overdue. The languishing emails had piled up into the thousands. Really. At one point I had nearly 4,000 opened and presumably read emails just sitting there. It was high time I did something about it.

Letting those electronic messages accumulate is pretty easy to do. You read it, respond if need be, and go on to the next email. It’s a process that millions of people around the world go through everyday. But I had to wonder if others let their inboxes become as full as mine.

It’s not that I don’t try to make sense of the many electronically generated communications that I receive on a daily basis. I do. I have created several folders in which to tuck the more important ones. Those electronic folders each have a particular purpose according to subject matter. Still, my mailbox remained cluttered.

I needed to rectify the situation, in part because I had actually lost some lingering emails when the mail server inexplicably malfunctioned. Imagine that. I have no idea if what I lost was important or not. They had been received so long ago that I couldn’t remember what was there.

To avoid a repetition of that situation, I decided to embark on my virtual housecleaning. It wasn’t an easy or quick process. In fact, it took me several fits and starts to complete the long overdue task.

I began with the most recent emails and worked backwards. That way my mind would be fresher about the subject matter. If I hadn’t replied and moved the email to the appropriate folder, I deleted it.

The problem was that for some of the legitimate emails, I had only opened them and not thoroughly read them. Before I could decide on each email’s demise, I had to reread it. Go figure.

Other emails required me to take some action that should have been completed long ago. I had to click through to a web page to check an account or open an enewsletter to which I had subscribed.

Some messages were offers, others required information to maintain an account or were simply communications on subjects in which I had an interest. In checking them out, some proved fruitful. Most were deemed useless. Which begs the question: Why didn’t I delete them as they arrived? I would have saved myself so much time.

Indeed, the entire effort took hours over a period of several days. I had good excuses for the irregular spurts of progress. The cyber sorting on my computer kept getting interrupted. New emails, phone calls, daydreaming, meals, naps and coffee breaks, which led to other breaks of necessity, all delayed the expunging considerably. Can you spell procrastination?

Nevertheless, I plodded along until the last forgotten email was either stored or discarded. I was actually embarrassed that I hadn’t replied to some of the rather important ones. I was equally appalled that I had left so much junk just lying around.

If these emails had been pieces of paper scattered about the office or stacked in unsightly piles, my wife would have never put up with it. Wait. Scratch that. Come to think of it, those are next on my list to do, right after I finish reading the email that just came in.