Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Phenomenon of Facebook

This past weekend, I made the gigantic leap. I signed up for Facebook.

I never had an aversion to it the way some people fear technology in an attempt to sound cool; I just had never had the drive to sign up. Finally this past Sunday night, Becky made the jump and her peer pressure pushed me to do it (we then went out back and smoked before 7th period).

The initial process was a little overwhelming. There are links and pages out the whazoo and trying to figure out how the Facebook phenomenon worked was slightly intimidating. Not helping the situation was that on the second sign up page, the all-powerful, all-knowing computer listed pretty much everyone I've ever known complete with smiling picture.

Key to the whole process is having friends, which once both parties establish that they will in fact be friends, allows access to their personal pages. Seems simple enough, but at the same time seemed a little gym class-y. Who will pick whom? How exclusive are Facebook friends supposed to be? There are people who have thousands of friends (I think I might know 20 people in my whole life) and then there are people like my sister who have ratcheted up the security settings so high so that she can't be found that the director of the FBI wouldn't locate her.

I decided to throw out a few of those friend invitation thingies to people I was confident would accept, as I couldn't possibly handle rejection this early in the process. Blessed people accepted me into the community, and I was off and running. In fact, I was sprinting. Before I knew it, word of my signing up for Facebook had spread across a few people's pages and now I feared not sitting on-line by myself. The exclusivity issue had swung wildly in the other direction as acquaintances sought to be Facebook friends and that eventually continued into people I don't remember having a single meaningful conversation with asking for friendship to finally settling into someone I have never even heard of shooting me a friend invitation. I'm going to consult with Facebook experts to see if it's ok to reject them as friends being that it seems everyone accepts everyone in these parts.

In addition to offending these distant individuals come the inevitable clashing that is going to come with so many different friends from different walks of life coming together on the personal page. I've got two people I know don't like each other very much as friends. I've got hardcore Republicans and hardcore Democrats as friends. And this is to say nothing of the legions of you who don't pull for the Cleveland Indians.

The other oddball occurrence is the phrasing that, for example, JR and Drew are now friends! I've known JR for close to a decade but before that phrasing, our non-verbalized commitment to one another seemed incomplete. Now that he and I are Facebook friends, I feel as if we can take this to the next level - maybe hand holding. Ratcheting up the phrasing issue a notch, I was appreciative that the website reminded me that I was in fact married. Again, the sacred union Becky and I shared was lacking the firmness and long term committment of the updated Facebook profile. Not only was I married, I am now married to a Native American princess! Apparently married ladies on Facebook are known with the maiden name as their middle name on every post. Princess Bird Wolf is out seeking nuts and berries for dinner.

Probably the neatest aspect of this Facebook phenomenon is the ease with which pictures and other information are available and shared with individuals. I found out one former colleague is engaged to be married and saw photos of an individual I hadn't seen in years. As if e-mail weren't informal enough, Facebook provides an even easier medium to keep up with individuals that will make the trials and tribulations of the first day Facebook sign up worthwhile. Becky summarized well in saying that Facebook is the AOL Instant Messenger feature we all used so religiously in college souped up with pictures and other features. An evolution of AOL instant messenger, if you will, considering that Facebook has one of those direct chat things, too.

Overall, the general sentiment has been "welcome to the addiction." People tend to get caught up regularly checking their walls and their friends to see what everyone is up to. And honestly, I was checking the computer a little bit more frequently this first week of Facebook than I probably would have otherwise. That said, the content is going to be so vanilla that I can't believe that I would get permanently sucked up into a massive time warp. I don't know that I've seen a post more than two sentences, thereby limiting the depth of any post and certain topics are going to be off limits. I am not going to go on a "I hate work" rant because some employee or boss is likely to someday come across this page. Likewise, I will refrain from the "I went to a conservative radio talk show rally" last month for the reasons mentioned previously. Truly, the content will be light hearted, which will be fun and fine, though not altogether addictive.

So week one draws to a close on Facebook and it's a fun phenomenon. I kinda wish I knew who Brian Schwartz is and why he wants to be my friend, but it is nice to know that JR's first name is James.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The free money health care reform.

I preface this post by saying that I neither believe the claims that America must act right now to save the health care system nor do I believe that cost is so prohibitive that we shouldn't look at some legislation. In short, I strongly dislike soundbites that are so one sided and simple that the issue can be summarized by your political party leader of choice. My irritation with the current goings ons in Washington is the ignorance of those that this reform would most impact. Those that would be taxed to pay for it won't hear of benefiting their fellow man. Those that would benefit from it won't take a few minutes to educate themselves on what the programs would mean.

With all of this squabbling, I interact on a regular basis with those that this program would benefit at my place of employment. These individuals provide a small glimpse at what America sees and understands of the process.

In working retail with modest (at best) wage earners, many of my employees barely can afford to live paycheck to paycheck. The promise of free health insurance is incredibly appealing. Of course, it isn't free, but it's free to them, which I believe is one of the most telling communication issues of health care reform.

A couple of my employees were discussing the health care issue at work the other day with some having varying degrees of comprehension and apathy toward the scenario. One employee, a single mother, spoke very excitedly of a new government plan saying, "We'll be just like Canada where all health care is free! You don't pay anything!"

If you tell someone making 9 dollars an hour that the government is going to come in and take care of their health insurance, understandably they are excited that this burden is lifted from them. What they don't consider is the trickle down effect of those that are paying for their insurance. Those that are making money and employing them and paying these extra taxes now have one more expense that ultimately will influence the bottom line - the benefits they currently offer employees and the ability to employ the numbers they do. The political debate can come in and be wrestled with in Washington on whether it's more beneficial to have fewer employed but with insurance or to have more employed without insurance. That I'm not going to touch, but the perception that it's free is a terrible misnomer that should be and needs to be understood by all involved. I grow frustrated with the "it's good for me, be damned if I'm going to look at the bigger picture" mentality that government programs generate. I'm not anti-government, I just want people to slow down and take a look at the consequences of decisions rather than race to what's immediately best for them.

At the barber shop today, I was in a lull in between reexplaining for the nth time in five years my profession and a bad joke when a long time customer entered the shop. The man was a farmer and after some discussion said that he voted for our current president for the fact that he would receive a greater subsidy from one candidate than the other. He disagreed with this candidate on every other issue but because the government would give him something, he voted the way he did. To each his own, but the man readily admitted he was doing fine without the subsidy but that he was enjoying the "free" money. I take less offense at the vote than I do with the now repeated concept of "free money."

I wish I had some magic potion that Americans could take to see that nothing is free. Health care reform is not off limits because it costs money, but if everyone could just educate themselves on where the money will come from and what that means, then we could have a meaningful conversation on the pros and cons of such a plan. But we can't even get to that point because the top earners instantly clam up on any discussion of penalizing them for their success and the low earners won't look past the immediate gratification of what benefits them at the expense of others.

Another example, I have one employee who works to provide for her child, regularly looking for more hours. Over time, the store needed some extra help and I was able to accommodate her request for additional work. Her average hours per work increased to the point where she qualified as a full-time employee, which in turn qualified her for employee sponsored health care (full time employees are the only ones who qualify at work for health insurance). She wrestled with continuing work and signing up for health care insurance or reducing her hours to the point where she would once again become a part-time employee. Why do the latter? Because as a part-time employee who doesn't qualify for health insurance, the government would provide her with "free coverage."

Again, I am going to avoid the politics of we should go this way or that, but shouldn't we live in a society where people a.) understand that nothing the government does is free and b.) people should be willing to take a personal responsibility in what they do? I cringe at work at the barber shop, at work, and anywhere else when I hear talk of "free government" help. The government is there to help and should help, but can we all agree that all action requires money from somewhere? The discussion of whether the costs are worth it are a whole other world away - one that politicians are debating - while the rest of America wallows in self ignorance.