I'm Rejoining Facebook. But What's Next?

The other night I was driving my 17-year-old daughter, Grace, and her friend Tessa to a concert. A song came on the radio, and Tessa laughed. "I think I first heard that song on MySpace," she said, "back when we all had MySpace." Both girls broke out giggling. I broke out sweating.

Eavesdropping from the driver's seat, that simple sentence really struck me. She had said it so casually, because it was so casual to her. "Back when we all had MySpace … " The implication was before they all ditched MySpace and moved on to other social-networking sites like Facebook or Twitter or Flickr or Tumblr, or, now, Google Buzz.

For me, a navel-gazing member of the mainstream media who thinks about me a lot, it was poignant, for me. Put aside the idea that entire companies float or sink based on the fleeting whims of teenage girls. Her tossed-off comment was nothing less than a withering assessment of the industry I chose to work in more than two decades ago.

"Back when we used to read magazines … " I thought to myself as I drove along. I could easily imagine someone saying it. Actually, I don't have to imagine it. People are saying it by the thousands every month. To those of us who started in journalism pre-Internet, the idea of no paper newspapers or magazines sometimes feels like the end of the world.

But most people don't care. To our readers, it's just a natural evolution. Sure, they used to read on paper, until something arguably better came along, like perhaps the BlackBerry you're reading this column on right now. Or a Kindle. Or the unfortunately named iPad.

And as we consider our fate, we old-school journalists tell ourselves over and over that it doesn't matter how it's read, as long as it is.

I also find hope in the knowledge that we've lived through this brand of anxiety before, many times. I remember, about 10 years ago, we were certain that NEWSWEEK was doomed because our archrival, Time, was merging with that unstoppable tech juggernaut and free-drink-coaster distributor America Online. "Oh, no!" we thought, "this whole dialing up the World Wide Web on your phone line is gonna be huge!"

And so it was, for a bit, but fast-forward a decade: one recent morning a colleague here forgot to turn down her computer speakers and all of us were startled in the "cubicletorium" when we heard a very loud "You've got mail!" The comedians in the office (OK, it was me) chimed in: "So you're the one who still has AOL," and "I haven't heard that in forever."

New threats to the old way appear almost daily, it seems. Some pass by innocently, and some stay around to wreak havoc. The lesson is we've got to adapt or die.

To do my part, I recently caved and signed up for Twitter. My instant assessment: Twitter is cool, but annoying. The sanctimony and preciousness of some of the Tweets sicken me two to three hours every day.

I'm also taking this opportunity to announce that, yes, I am rejoining Facebook after writing a column last year about how much I loathed it. But I am not a hypocrite. I am doing this for the sole purpose of shamelessly hawking my column in a new marketplace that prizes how loudly you speak as much as what you say, which is a good thing for me.

To you haters who might think my cynical embrace of these Web tools still makes me a hypocrite, I say consistency is the—wait, bear with me. I'm looking it up on Bartleby.com. Here it is: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Thank you, Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to my online Google dictionary, a "hobgoblin" is "a small grotesque supernatural creature that makes trouble for human beings."

The truth is that journalists of my ilk and age sometimes feel like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, the classic Phil Hartman Saturday Night Live character. He worried about demons typing inside fax machines and said, "Sometimes when I fly to Europe on the Concorde, I wonder, 'Am I inside some sort of giant bird? Am I gonna be digested?' "

I don't know if we'll be digested, but I do know this: when I told Grace that I was thinking about rejoining Facebook after a year off, and that I wanted to write about it, her instant response was: "Wow. That's such a cliché, Dad." She's not alone. Twelve months ago, when I quit on Facebook's fifth birthday, the NEWSWEEK commenters openly mocked me. Heckman13 wrote, "Facebook has you. You will be back." One of my editors said I was just "a chain smoker chompin' on Nicorette. We'll be seeing ya soon."

JohnSmith35 wrote: "Glad you've found your place, drinking yourself to death in a local bar." Well, JohnSmith35—if that is your name—guess who's still alive? Ha! Revenge is a dish best served cold.

I have some misgivings about my plunge back into social networking. (Has there every been a more loathsome, coldblooded combination of words?) Some days I feel like I probably can't keep up. In the meantime, I like to think back on happier times, when a bunch of us at NEWSWEEK hooked up this mod new program called Prodigy. I still remember my hipster user name: 7849472343942123. It was in the '90s, but it might as well have been the Pleistocene era.

Using this incredible software and a phone line, I logged in for the first time on the great WWW. About a half dozen of us watched while a picture of the moon l-o-a-d-e-d ever so slowly from NASA's Web site. We gathered around my computer, and oohed and aahed. It was wondrous.

And then we went back to work compiling last week's news for reading next week, blissfully unaware that we were witnessing the big Internet bear's nose poking under our warm and cozy old-media tent.

Now we're indignant if we can't listen to Pandora at the same time we're working on a huge pdf while TweetDeck is updating in the background and we're flying our plane around the world on Google Earth.

It's hard to imagine at the moment, but all of this will seem quaint too in, say, July. At least it will to Grace and Tessa.