Over the next few weeks, my spirits leapt every time the Facebook notifier chimed, signaling that a message, video, or invitation had landed on my page. My regular e-mail in-box bursts with work correspondence and unsolicited ads. My Facebook in-box is all humor break, all the time. When I read my friends' updates on the news feed, I learn that one has just married and had a baby; another is in Alaska filming a documentary; another is lecturing in Australia. I now have a couple hundred online friends. There is no way I could make 200 catch-up calls once a week, once a month, or even once a year without exhausting myself. But this way, I can passively, at my own convenience, absorb the changes that are shaping other lives. Reading the updates, I discover that men and women who once were important to me still are, even if geography and time divide us. I've reconnected with people, turned acquaintances into friends, deepened the texture of my close friendships (it's amazing what your friends don't bother to tell you), and seen opportunities for face-to-face socializing multiply—as friends use the in-box group e-mail function to herd each other to concerts, dinners, and parties.
Not every user is as enthusiastic and unguarded as I tend to be. A Facebook page is a fair mirror of its creator. My shy friends shun photographs and avoid frivolous applications, while my extroverted friends festoon their pages with gewgaws, pass along viral videos and movie quizzes, and inundate me with gifts and pokes (like taps on the shoulder) and superpokes—whimsical announcements that a friend has (virtually) serenaded you, kissed you, or trout-slapped you, and so on. Admittedly, this is inane. It is also, in a word, fun.
Today a cupcake landed on my wall, a gift from a lovely woman who was my best friend, colleague, and roommate for a few unforgettable months in Moscow in the '90s. For a summer, we worked at a Russian magazine, threw dinner parties in the tiny apartment we shared, and went out dancing with friends night after night. I thought we would never lose touch. But we did, until last fall, when we remet on Facebook. Seeing the cupcake, I smiled, clicked, and sent its sender a flower. Because that's what friends do: They reciprocate...if they know how to find each other. And when I see her in London this summer, I'll bring her a cupcake in person.