So many faces, so little time

November 12, 2007

by Ivan Raconteur

After years of ignoring the phenomenon, I have officially been sucked into the age of online social networking and joined the 52 million active users on Facebook.

I suppose it was only a matter of time. I am, after all, in the communications business, and online networking is all about communication.

It started simply enough. I got home late one night, and there was a message in my e-mail box from a very dear friend who lives in Seattle.

The message was a request to be her friend on Facebook.

This seemed reasonable. I have been her friend in the real world for years, and I could think of no reason not to be her friend in the cyber-world, too.

So, I settled in and set about creating my Facebook profile.

A few hours later, as dawn’s early light began to creep through my window, I had only just begun to scratch the surface. This should have served as a warning of the terrifying power of these networks.

When one embarks on this journey into cyberspace, one can provide as much or as little information as one would like.

On Facebook, the basic profile includes information such as one’s hometown, birthday, relationship status, and religious and political positions.

Then, one has the opportunity to join a network, which may be based on geographic location, school, or business affiliations.

It is a bit daunting at first, to open one’s profile and have it boldly proclaim, “You have one friend.”

This can lead to a mild sense of insecurity, and can provide motivation to go out and acquire more friends as soon as possible.

People use social networks for all sorts of reasons, including keeping in touch with friends (both old and new), sharing personal information, career advancement, and hooking up with others who share their views.

I was a bit shocked to hear a news story recently that said some job placement specialists will not set up an interview or even read a resume until they have checked out the applicant’s profile online.

This conjures up images of Big Brother, and underscores the importance of using a certain amount of discretion when deciding what information to post online.

I did, in fact, carefully consider taking the leap into social networking out of concern about how the information will be used.

As with any online transaction, there are questions about privacy, spying, and mining of data by third parties.

In the end, I concluded that the information on my Facebook profile was no more dangerous than the information already possessed by dozens of other entities, including the government, and I don’t suppose Facebook will be less able to protect data than the others.

Exploring Facebook is a bit like eating potato chips. Once one starts, it can be difficult to stop.

Soon, one begins to add photos to spruce up the appearance of one’s Facebook profile.

Then, one begins to add other fun applications, such as bookshelves where one can share information about favorite books and music.

From there, it is just a short step to add a movie review feature that allows one to rate movies and share reviews with friends.

Facebook provides a wealth of opportunities to interact with others.

Poking is very big in the Facebook community. One has the ability to virtually poke, tickle, buy a drink for, or throw a sheep at one’s friends.

One can also read news feeds to follow what others are up to.

It has been reported that some teenagers think adults should be banned from using Facebook because the young people don’t want parents to have access to such personal information as who their friends are, what movies they are watching, or what kind of music they enjoy.

Apparently, adults don’t really care whether the kids want them in the network or not.

The fastest-growing demographic on Facebook is those over 25 years old.

My friends are spread out all over the country, but, through Facebook, I can keep track of the progress of the novel that my friend in Seattle is writing, I can stay in touch with friends in Florida, and I can listen to new songs recorded by a friend in Minneapolis.

Facebook even has a messaging feature, which means I can have completely different conversations with friends in remote locations simultaneously. This can be a trifle confusing, but the thoughtful folks at Facebook make it easier by sticking the photo of whoever is speaking (or rather, typing) next to each post.

If this is not enough, one can take short quizzes to compare one’s interests with those of one’s friends.

It is also possible to add a variety of games to one’s Facebook. One of my favorites is Scrabulous, and, at any given time, I can have several active games going on with friends across the country.

I am very new to Facebook, and I am only just beginning to add friends and explore possibilities.

Like traditional e-mail, facebook appeals to me because it allows me to keep in touch with friends on my terms. We are all very busy, and finding time to get together or even call can be a challenge.

Most of my correspondence takes place late at night or very early in the morning, and Facebook provides a perfect platform.

Those who have not yet been corrupted by Facebook or the other social networking sites should proceed with caution.

It really can be addicting.

It is also a wonderful way to pass the time while avoiding things one really ought to be doing.

I was already spending countless hours each week keeping up with e-mails and monitoring news feeds from around the world.

Now, I am constantly getting poked by people who want my online attention, and the urge to poke them back can be irresistible.

There have been an average of 250,000 new registrations on Facebook each day since January. More than half of active users return to the site daily and spend an average of 20 minutes per day interacting with others.

There is no substitute for spending time with real people in the real world, but there is no denying the draw of the faces that live inside the computer.