You Have a Lot of Friends

In a few months, Facebook will go public with one of the biggest IPOs in the history of the world.

I have very little understanding of what this actually means. Even the hundreds of articles on the topic don’t offer much. There will be stock for sale. It will be worth money, and Mark Zuckerberg will be even richer.

Facebook claims to make 85 percent of its revenues from advertising. Add that with its other ventures and it pulls in about a billion dollars in profit. The numbers are cartoonish, and I’m inclined to believe them, but it is difficult to weigh the true ‘value’ of Facebook.

It is without a doubt the most powerful social network in the world. Its market penetration is uncanny, and it reigns as the defining website of this age of computing. Google, with its infinite reach and ability to be all things, is not a single webpage that has come to define the internet.

What makes Facebook so vital, so powerful, is that its true value is in its users. The product itself is reliable, solid and easy to use. The site, however, is used to facilitate relationships. If you value your social circles, you value what Facebook has to offer.

Where Twitter rapidly spreads news and information and humor, Facebook spreads news about everyone you know. That’s a powerful thing, and the powers that be know it. No one else has managed to replicate just what Facebook can do, and that’s why it’s worth an absurdly large number of dollars.

All this connectivity has changed much of what we do and who we are. Much like anything involving humans, things can go awry. It’s far too easy to pick out stories where bad things happen because of Facebook. The site is an extension of human interactions, and a large percentage of people on this planet do dumb things. The message, not the medium, is the problem.

Mass communication is available to anyone with a cell phone or internet access. It’s a powerful, dangerous thing. Mix in immaturity, poor decision-making and a flicker of irrationality and you’ve got bad news. There’s plenty of bad news to be found online. Anyone who has slipped into a Twitter wormhole once or twice can tell you that.

The value of communication, however, is worth all that head-shaking. It has to be.

Just over 13 months ago, I was added to a Facebook group by a friend from high school. The name was stunningly simple: Leukemia, with a dash and his full name after that. This was not the Arsenal fan club or some “When I was your age” group from high school. Far from it.

My friend, Jon, had acute leukemia. He had found out a few months before that, but after being admitted to the hospital again he decided to make a formal announcement. The group’s purpose was to offer updates on his treatment and keep everyone in the loop. He was going through bone marrow transplants and had put his pursuit of a degree in architecture on hold to fight for his life.

I graduated from high school almost six years ago. Jon was two years older than me. We met in gym class. I, an underclassmen, had no business being friends with someone like him, but gym classes are funny that way. He played bass and I played guitar. We used to talk about bands as we ran the indoor track that circles the gym I cover basketball games in for a living these days.

Admittedly, we weren’t great friends. We never hung out off school property and had no other classes together. There was a battle of the bands I went to one time, but not much more than that. But he was a nice guy and he seemed to like talking to me. We stayed in touch.

And then we didn’t. Things happen, you move on with your life and despite having dozens of mutual friends you never actually get together. We went to different colleges and befriended one another on Facebook at some point. I’m sure there were “Happy birthday!” posts between the two of us, maybe even a conversation or two if we ran into each other at the mall.

Life goes on, and then one day you catch up on things. Sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

The updates were inconsistent and varied in content. Jon was amazingly upbeat about things, and I was encouraged when I saw an update about his improving symptoms. People ‘liked’ each status. I liked the good ones. In mid-July, he left the hospital, and in September he marked the one year anniversary of his diagnosis.

The good news soon became no news, however. Things happen. Sometimes you forget about your Facebook friends until that little blue globe turns red and you see what’s new. Life goes on.

In mid-January, just over a year after I was added to Jon’s group, his brother took over posting updates. Jon was in the ICU at Roswell and sedated. Almost every day, his brother would give an update. The numbers in the group continued to grow. Jon got worse.

As January turned to February, my nights were spent working and waiting for a Facebook notification to pop up regarding the fluid in Jon’s lungs or his white blood cell count. It became a terrifyingly routine part of my day, but as I read messages of support from his friends, my friends, it seemed to make sense. There were good days and bad, and I cheered each minor victory along with the rest of his friends.

On Wednesday, I woke up to the news that Jon passed away. I was shocked, but it wasn’t all that unexpected. After all, I had followed Jon about as closely as you can follow someone you haven’t seen in years. It was, nonetheless, crushing news. People aren’t supposed to die at 25.

Something sticks out in the hundreds of posts and liked statuses I read over the last 13 months. In the first few days of the group someone, a complete stranger to me, posted the following:

damn jon.. look at this page you have a lot of friends!!

He did, and in the end I’m glad I was considered one of them. Facebook, of all things, let me back into Jon’s life in a way I could never have imagined all those years ago in gym class. I’ll forever be thankful that I was given the gift of knowledge, of understanding his fight, along with 275 other people on a website.

Because of Facebook I know I have a wake to go to today. I don’t know what that’s worth, but it’s a value I can absolutely feel.