Friday, December 12, 2008

Fesbuk, Skajp, & Jugo-nostalgia

I haven’t written in nearly a month, but much culminates in my mind these days as I finish PhD applications and the winter solstice and holidays near. Indeed, the time passes and the chaos of city life infiltrates my concentration. My teaching, life, and socializing are pleasant, but my time to write my thoughts seem fewer!

Thus I think to share some noticeable differences between Macedonian and American culture that have come to mind lately. Oddly enough (though perhaps testimony to where I spend some of my time), I’ll begin with Facebook. It’s the social networking application that most Americans and Macedonians I know use, with whom I’m “friends” on both, so is a good place for observation. I’d say the main uses of Facebook, besides collecting friends and communicating with them in personal messages, is to share updates (eg, Justin is…), photos, articles; to join causes and clubs of sorts; and to chat and write on people’s “walls.” How we know about what everyone’s doing, however, is not just through what I write them or they write me, but through the main page when one logs in. We see who’s posted, written, or joined what, who’s single or married now, what pics of friends of friends can be seen. That’s interesting enough—that we see into other people’s worlds so easily via the internet.

Yet a difference I’ve noticed in Facebook usage among the Macedonians and other friends in the region I know is that they’re not active on it in the same way as Americans. Whereas most Americans I know are more inclined to update their status with sarcastic remarks or personal comments, write on other people’s walls, change their relationship status, or share news articles, I see my Macedonian friends do so less often. Instead, they setup their accounts with less information and use them to chat and join causes. But with high speed internet readily available these days, it’s not for lack of connectivity. Instead, it seems that Facebook has a unique cultural utility, representing a different culture's characteristic behavior. That is, Macedonians are very inclined to communicate, and use the application mostly for that. Americans are also inclined to communicate, but more so to seek attention (and dare I suggest boast?) by sharing personal comments, pictures, and thoughts for all friends to see. To vouch, I know my Macedonians friends are often online because I’ve been at their places and seen them huddling over the computer, using Facebook to communicate with friends. Not to mention those who have access to it all day at work!

But another very interesting aspect of Facebook usage here is the more political and nationalist causes people support or “become fans” of. I’ve seen friends support the “I feel Yugoslavian,” “Unite SFRY,” “Mother Teresa was Albanian,” and somewhat conversely, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta.” I’ve seen “I love Macedonia,” “I love Kosova,” “Macedonian Sun,” “Macedonia United,” “Stop Greek and Bulgarian propaganda against Macedonia and Macedonian People” and in another realm, support or opposition to politicians and/or accused war criminals. And as a good segway, I’ve even seen fans of “Skype.”

Usage of Skype here is worth noting as well, as the free (when computer to computer) internet calling service is also used in a unique fashion. Because people are charged per minute on landlines and mobile phones yet they have unlimited internet, they use Skype to talk to local friends—to plan the evening or just catch up. In contrast, in the US we have unlimited talk on landlines and nearly so on cell phones, so I’ve only used Skype to communicate with friends abroad, just as I use it now to communicate with family back home. But I’ve got some Macedonians friends on Skype as well, and they occasionally pop-up with a chat message or ring to say hello, even if they’re just a five minute taxi ride away.

Thus it is that human adaptability and consumption go beyond getting used to conditions and technology and using them not just for their initial purpose, but instead in new ways that seem most effective. Do what you can, where you are, with what you’ve got…

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