When I first started Facebooking, I felt as if I had stepped through the looking glass into a world filled with people I knew, or pretended to know, sharing their most intimate secrets for all the world to see. I was fascinated by how easy it was to distribute photos, videos, and last night's Jay Leno clips, chronicle the details of your daily life, and create groups of like-minded oddballs (one group called itself "1,000,000 to Get Julian Schnabel to Button His Shirt Up"). Sure, this kind of open forum led to a lot of narcissistic blathering, but it also generated some delightfully off-the-wall wackiness. On Inauguration Day my stepson, Clay, and I got caught in a large crowd and struggled for hours in the freezing cold to get through the purple-ticket gate to hear President Obama's address. The next day a new group on Facebook, called "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom," detailed the woes of the thousands of ticket holders who had been stuck during the ceremonies in a highway underpass. Another, more tongue-in-cheek group appeared that day celebrating "Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat."
What really got me hooked on Facebook, though, was the "friending" thing, the addictive process of making new friends and reconnecting with old ones online. On the verge of celebrating my 60th birthday—and the inevitable intimations of mortality that come with it—I was consumed by an uncontrollable drive to reconnect with everybody I had ever known. Throughout my life I'd always found making friends easy, but I had never been very good at the caring and feeding that true friendship requires. Unlike Barbara, who is a master of nurturing a close circle of friends, I'd always let my obsession with work consume most of my time and energy. Now something inside was telling me to stop and pay attention. Perhaps Facebook could be the answer, a shortcut to reviving friendships that had long since withered from inattention.
Shortly before our Inauguration Day adventure I challenged Clay to a race to see who could accumulate the most friends. Clay was a Facebook newbie, but as a 37-year-old photographer with Facebook-ready friends all over the world, he had a huge advantage, and within days he had chalked up 100 friends and counting. Meanwhile, despite all the media reports about the recent surge of interest in Facebook among boomers, I was struggling to find prospects. For my first 100 friends, I scooped up all the family members my brother Dennis, an early Facebook user, had recruited; dozens of colleagues at work; and a host of writers and editors I knew who were also early adopters. Then it got harder. I checked my high-school classmates on Facebook. (Who are these people?) College classmates? (Ditto.) I trolled page by page through my old address books, looking for e-mail addresses of long-lost friends. (Nada.) After a few weeks of watching Clay pull ahead, I started taking anyone who was a friend of a friend and didn't look like an ax murderer. My most successful ploy was to poach friends from other friends' lists. That's how I landed Hugh Two, who was the friend of a friend from California with more than 2,000 celebrities on his list. I was in Facebook Heaven.