I think I'm about the least likely person to be labeled a Luddite. In my house, I have four gaming consoles, three laptop computers, two video projectors and an iPhone … in an Apple tree. I've been online since the days of 1200-baud modems and text-interface BBS systems; today I've got Yahoo, Gmail and my own Vanity.com site (42 unique visitors and counting since 2005, woo-hoo!).
But in one important way I'm electronically retarded: I don't do Facebook.
I know, I know. Your mom has 1,400 Facebook "friends," your dad spends six hours a night playing Mafia Wars, and even your infant knows how to update his status. My editor, exhausted from forwarding me the avalanche of arts events that are increasingly being announced exclusively in Facebook invitations, is especially eager for me to explain why I insist on staying outside the leading social network's ever-widening snare.
So, I've been asked to say a few words about why I refuse to step into the Facebook future. Well, here's a word: MySpace. I was an early adopter of the former foremost social network and an evangelist for getting my fellow artists on it. I thought it could be a great tool for communicating with an audience without the expense and hassle of traditional media. And it was, until it became awash in porn spam and wannabe pop idols. Today my account sits inactive, gathering virtual dust like the relic of a doomed romance. MySpace broke my heart, and I just don't know if or when I'll be ready for another social-networking relationship.
Here's another word: Classmates.com. I got suckered into signing up for that site a few years back by my high-school alumni committee and was astounded how many old acquaintances found me as a result. Many people talk about this effect like it's the "killer app" of Facebook: Just sign up, and all your former friends and long-lost lovers will come out of the woodwork. I cannot be the only person horrified by this prospect. If we haven't spoken to each other since graduation, there's probably a reason. Nothing personal, but I'm not the same scrawny nerd I was 20 years ago (I'm slightly less scrawny now), and I'd rather not reminisce about adolescent humiliations in my spare time; I'll save the emotional scab-peeling for when I'm good and drunk at the 20th reunion, thank you very much.
Instead of spending time on Facebook, I'd rather book some actual face time. Case in point: Last week I spent an hour stalking around downtown during the monthly Third Thursday slew of art openings. I started at the Internationals exhibit at the Gallery at Avalon Island, featuring James Rizzi, Ken Hiratsuka, Paolo Buggiani and Robin Van Arsdol, who injects a taste of Keith Haring-esque NYC street style to O-town. (There's work by the late Haring, too.) In front of CityArts Factory, ubiquitous performance artist Brian Feldman was offering a free cell-phone charging service on the sidewalk (and nearly killed himself plugging in the second-story extension cord). Inside the well-attended galleries I bumped into Fringe festival super-volunteer Bonnie Sprung showing a series of Highwaymen-style nature scenes on styrofoam bricks and met painter Juan Barney and his candy-colored horse portraits, currently a highlight of Inspirations, installed by Neu America Art Magazine in its new gallery in the former Keila glass-blowing workshop.
Back outside on the street, I picked up a poster print by Lure Design at Mark Baratelli's TheDailyCity.com Mobile Art Show #5. The last stop was the recently opened Blank Space Art Lounge, where I met owner Jefrë Figueras Manuel; he mentioned they might add three-for-one Friday drink specials to their mix of coffee, fashion and ping-pong.
In the space of an hour I encountered all those people, plus too many more to name, without having to deal with denied friend requests or embarrassing photo tags. And you don't have to wait for one night each month to experience it. If you want to see Orlando's artistic social network in action IRL, just stop by Stardust Video & Coffee any day of the week. I spent most of last Saturday there, from the Daily City's live podcast at noon through the Art for Haiti charity auction in the evening (led by Pat Greene and Greg Leibowitz), with a visit in between to the adjacent Bold Hype Gallery for the opening of Rafael Santiago's psychedelic Cosmology solo show. The packed pub became a who's-who of local artists: At one point I saw DJ Nigel John, Orlando Shakespeare Theater's Shannon Lacek, UCF TV's Katie Ball, Frankie Messina of Apartment E, conceptual artist Doug Rhodehamel, choreographer Willy Marchante and dozens of other notables.
I can catch up with old friends, make new ones and be updated on all the upcoming events, all without Wi-Fi. So for now, I'm staying Facebook-free. Of course, if I really want to kill the beast, maybe I should just go ahead and join up. My participation seems to be the kiss of death for burgeoning technology platforms. Just track how fast and how far Twitter has fallen since I sent my first firstname.lastname@example.org