Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Voluntary Virus

Fire and Rain - James Taylor (mp3)
Ghosts - Fanfarlo (mp3)

Most of the time, when we talk of the Internet and things “going viral,” there’s this sense that those of us who get sucked in are somehow victims. As if we unwittingly or unknowingly caught this contagion that’s out there in the open, like germs floating through our shared cyber-oxygen.

This week, however, I have witnessed the singularly biggest voluntary virus of my techno-life. A fellow high school alum, two years my junior, started a Facebook Group (newly redesigned to show up in your stream) with the title of “If you went to (our school), you remember when...”

He started this group last Saturday night. July 30. As of Monday morning, it had over 300 members. As of Tuesday afternoon, it was quickly approaching 500.

This isn’t a public page. It has a moderator. The only way you can get in is to be invited or to request, and he’s only accepting members who attended one of two local high schools.

This one group is the single most explosive and dangerous and amazing and successful social media outreach campaign our school could never have ever devised on its own because we are, as an entity, afraid that exactly what is happening might happen.

Which is to say, at least ⅔ of the memories and stories and commentaries which populate the group are grossly unflattering. They talk of drinking, smoking, partying. They talk of bad teachers, awful teachers, incompetent teachers. They brag of illegal activities, immoral activities, merely wild and crazy activities.

And we’re not talking a few pages. On Monday, I expanded all comments and opened all posts so that every comment to every entry from the start of the group onward was exposed, and it became an 86-page PDF. By Tuesday night, it was closer to 130 pages. Members are adding comments and “starter memories” to the site at the rate of 10-20 each hour.

A vast majority of the group’s members are graduates between 1986-1996, although as the group grows, so does the age range, little bit by little bit.

It’s become this huge, instant, online, multigenerational campfire.

We’re all sitting around it telling stories and naming names from our memories, and everyone else is reacting to them. It’s bigger than the biggest church camp campfire I’ve ever seen. Firewood keeps piling on, and the flames keep generating plenty of heat and sparks, and the marshallows keep roasting, and the cheesy Kumbaya songs keep playing (sometimes in rounds!).

Best of all, there’s no counselors. It’s just campers, free to say whatever the f*#k they feel like without giving a flip what the stupid adults say.
Unfortunately, I’m one of the adults. I’m like that camper who had to grow up and become one of the camp’s leaders, and I’m squatting behind one of the trees on the fringes of the crowd, hiding from the heat and the light, but enjoying the ecstatic communal nature of the event as best I can from my secret vantage point.

If I reveal myself, I’m required to represent the school rather than my former student self and my former student memories.

The longest single thread, by far, had reached 110 comments by Tuesday night and focused on the surreal suicide of a student some 20 years ago, an event that was simultaneously very public yet also shrouded in mystery and rumor and myth. I’ve read every comment, many of them twice. Some are grossly inaccurate. Others come in and try to correct, to offer their versions, their memories. The collective, amazingly, gets close to the truth of things once you read them all together, even if some of them prove to be either naive or insensitive or just excruciatingly idiotic.

Several guys confessed that they got very emotional just reading through the comments, as did I. I knew the boy, and I remembered hearing about it as a freshman in college, and I remember reading the detailed confidential investigative reports when I started my job. I wanted so badly to tell some guys they were full of crap and others that they had most of it right, but instead, I had to just read, and take quick, gaspy breaths, and stay hidden behind that tree.

I don’t know how long this campfire will last, when the kindling will disappear, when the campers will yawn and dissipate, making their ways back to their cabin beds before their parents come to pick them up in the morning.

I only know that, no matter how long it goes, it’s been the single most amazing cyber-campfire I’ve ever seen ignite on my computer screen, and it’s been absolutely, perfectly imperfectly beautiful.


Anonymous said...

eef we no can get to it, we no can comment on it, amigo

Billy said...

Dear AnonAmigo - Your point is all too valid. If this summer is any indication, no one must be able to get to anything we write about, which would explain the complete absence of comments. (/whine)

Daisy said...

Makes ya wonder what we did with all our free time before Face Book

troutking said...

Can you join if you worked there during that time period?