For all that's great about social networking, anyone who has set up a Facebook page probably confronted one of the uncomfortable situations that quickly arises: unwanted friend requests. In old-world networking, who ever refused to accept a stranger's business card or phone number? But Facebook friend requests? Well, I reject plenty. Not because I don't like to make new friends, but the truth is: I am a virtual Luddite.
The Luddites didn't hate technology (they are famous for burning looms to protest industrialization in 19th century Britain) as much as they resisted the changes brought by new technology. Declining a friend request is far more polite than arson, so sorry, but it's nice not to know you.
First, let's blame social scientists. The Dunbar Number of 150 is a widely cited estimate by an Oxford University anthropologist of how many relationships a normal human can handle. So take solace when rejecting others that you are trying to preserve the quality of existing friendships. Perhaps Facebook could relieve the pressure by adding some less demanding friendship categories: "Colleagues," "Just friends" and "Oh, you again."
Fellow virtual Luddites also can take heart from signs of the vibrant life in old media in New Orleans. There's plenty of Old World activities and stuff to enjoy actual-face to actual-face in real time.
Not long after people started reaffirming friendships on Facebook, it became possible to "like" things. One can easily click a button to express support for any number of community interests, bands, groups, etc. But there's no way this will replace the old media way of "liking" stuff: buying the T-shirt.
In fact, the old medium is booming in New Orleans. If you have preferences for parade watching ("neutral ground side" or "sidewalk side"), neighborhoods and their vernacular ("Kenner, bra," "Met-Tree") Fleurty Girl (632 St. Peter St., 304-5529; 3117 Magazine St., 301-2557; 3313 Severn Ave., Metairie, 454-1433; www.fleurtygirl.net) can help you highlight your endorsement. If you like a particular local musician (James Booker, Kermit Ruffins or Lil Doogie), Dirty Coast (5631 Magazine St., 324-3745; www.dirtycoast.com) can fit your sentiments to your frame. Or if you just want to support the city with a little punk/anarchic flair, Defend New Orleans (1101 First St., 941-7010 ; www.defendneworleans.com) might be your outfitter. All of these local T-shirt designers have blossomed in the same period as Facebook. Sure, shelling out a few bucks for a T-shirt is more of a commitment, but in post-Katrina New Orleans, locals have decided to preserve a real city, not the idea of one. Score one for old media.
When CD-ROMs (now antiquated, I think) and later the Internet hit critical mass in usage, some fretted they would make museums obsolete. (They actually killed porn theaters.) Locally, however, museums seem to be as popular if not more social than ever. When New Orleanians returned to the city to rebuild after the levee failures, one of the social events that blossomed was the Thursday night Ogden After Hours series at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (925 Camp St., 539-9600; www.ogdenmuseum.org). The New Orleans Museum of Art (City Park, 1 Collins C. Diboll Circle, 658-4100; www.noma.org) launched its Where Y'Art series this year and is now busy on Friday evenings. Email and social networking helped organize the Culture Collision into an arts-organization preview Lollapalooza in its first two years, but people go to the museum to collect pamphlets of information widely available online. Score another one for old media. The Collision previewing the 2011-2012 cultural season and arts institution offerings is Wednesday, Sept., 7 at NOMA. See you there.
I'll say hello, unless I am busy on my cellphone.