Archive for February 21st, 2009

For some reason, writers in late middle age feel compelled to denigrate Facebook. The Globe and Mail seems particularly insistent, and hardly a week goes by without at least one of its columnists going on at length about how shallow Facebook friendships are or how trivial the quizzes and games often are. I’ve always thought that such rants are part of the general complaint that the world has changed since the late middle-aged were young; although I agree that Facebook is superficial, I’ve found it a useful way to maintain some business and hobby contacts. But, recently, I have had direct experience of another reason to appreciate Facebook: as an organizing tool for social action.

My newfound appreciation started at the end of January, when I stopped by the Edzerza Gallery while on a wander to celebrate having finished my work for the month. There, I struck up a conversation with carver Morgan Green, who told me about the trouble she and her father and the rest of his apprentices were having over their use of the carving shed at the Museum of Northern British Columbia.
After listening, I spoke fifteen fateful words: “Why don’t you start a Facebook group? Facebook has got to be good for something.”

That night, Morgan started the group “Expression not oppression” and issued invitations to all her Facebook friends to join. Within twenty-four hours, the group had two hundred members. It now has over 900 members, including prominent Northwest Coast artists such as Lyle Campbell, Ron Telek, and Ya’ Ya, and has become the focus for the discontent that many among the northern first nations feel about the museum and its curator and for the lack of respect that even prominent native artists sometimes face from the dominant culture and its bureaucracy.

Looking at what has happened, I like to joke that now I know what the pebble feels like when it starts the avalanche.

Even that, of course, is too much credit for me to claim. Apart from a few emails of support and my previous blog entry on the subject, I have really done very little, and nothing somebody else might not have been done. The truth is, the success of the group has everything to do with the carvers involved and their friends and family, and next to nothing to do with me. And that’s how it should be; I’m more than content to be part of the supporting crowd and leave the speaking roles to more suitable people.

However, because I was a bit of a catalyst, I have been following the growth of the group more than I might have done otherwise. And it strikes me that any tool that can help organize a community as quickly as Facebook did has more value than you might expect. Ninety-nine percept of everything that happens on Facebook may be shallow, but observing the “Expression not oppression” group has convinced me that the remaining one percent is powerful and more than enough to justify the rest of the activity.

Really, the late middle-agers have got hold of the wrong perspective – instead of insisting on the triviality of Facebook, they should be having a closer look at how it can be used to organize people. To me, any tool that has such a positive effect deserves to be taken seriously, not dismissed because it’s new and different.

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