Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Great-Aunts: The First Facebook

Do you remember the world when our great-aunts were Facebook? 

When your second cousin, ex-uncle, or brother's nephew on the other side got pregnant, imprisoned, or passed the Bar, you got the news like this:  his mother called her mother, who called her sister-in-law (your Grandma), who called your mother, who called you. That's how news progressed. And if there was a little editorializing along the way, well that's how family works.

Today the rules are all different. When cousin Julie's* water breaks she updates her Facebook status to Baby coming toniiiiiight!!! Also, couch for sale. Then, if you're real lucky she'll be tweeting her contractions and the first sound she hears when her husband comes to.

And your great-aunt will know this. Even though the most technologically advanced item in her home is great-uncle Herbert's hearing aid.

See, our great-aunts are getting Facebook without even owning a computer.

The family phone tree has been turned on its head. Here's how information flows through a family today: you see on Facebook that your cousin got her gall bladder removed, you call your mother, who calls her mother, who calls her sister-in-law (your great-aunt), who calls her daughter to find out why the heck she's the last one to know anything in this family anymore.

Case in point. Last summer I took a new job. I updated my Facebook page with the great news and many warm wishes came in from cousins and friends near and far. A week or so later I attended another cousin's baby shower. When the great-aunts trooped in (just have to say we have some of the best great-aunts EVER) they knew all about my new job. How? From their kids out of state--who saw it on Facebook.

Nothing makes me more giddy than when I can scoop my technology-challenged mother-in-law on the hot news for her own family. Me (innocently): Why, cousin Sophie in Georgia had her baby this morning, you hadn't heard? The photos are adorable.

I even scooped one very savvy aunt-in-law on her own daughter's engagement photos. SCORE!

Now that Facebook is facilitating cousin-to-cousin communications, the role of the great-aunt as newsbreaker is in decline. Will great-aunts be able to carve out a new role for themselves? Will they become as quiet as our hearing impaired great-uncles?

As long as there is family news, we will always need someone to add historical context, cluck their tongue, say I KNEW it! and, if you're lucky like me, offer heartfelt congratulations. So to all the great-aunts out there who have read the print-out of this blog post, I say thanks for being our Facebook for all these years. And, take a break--we'll call you when she hits 7 centimeters.

*No actual cousins named Julie were injured in the creation of this blog post. Any resemblance to actual events, relatives or locales or Julie's, pregnant or not, is entirely coincidental.

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