Okay so our latest assignment in my Computer Mediated Communication class is to join a social networking site and write about it. The point is to explain the site as if others don’t know about it at all or even what it can do. Most people would be jumping for joy at this assignment, but not me. First of all, I have been trying to NOT get involved with these kinds of sites forever (well as long as they have been around) as I really can’t see much value in them. I am so darn busy with school, family, dealing with a hyper Wheaten Terrier, and driving my kids around that the last thing I need is to start something where I actually have to post random and frivolous information about myself, and then also have to read random and frivolous information about others. To me the whole concept seems pretty pointless.
As far as having to explain what these sites do, I could just call my 20 year old cousin Tommy and ask him to give me a running commentary. He would do an excellent job of it, as I am sure he has been a member since he became eligible to join. As I am an older Generation X-er, I think I just missed the cut-off in terms of feeling a strong desire to join one of these sites. Over a year ago when I was taking another class, the people in the class who were over the age of 35 did not have an account with a social networking site; those under the age of 35 belonged to one or two. I was definitely a member of the first group.
Shortly after that class began, I joined Linkedin which is more of a business networking site, and I also ended up joining Facebook several months ago after an old friend friended me. I got the invitation to join and be her friend (I already thought I was her friend) joined, and then suspended my account as I started to receive spam from other people’s Facebook accounts. That was a pretty annoying experience. However, I did reactivate my account at the beginning of this semester because somehow I just knew that I was going to have to really friend Facebook.
Anyway, for those of you who are not familiar with Facebook, it is a social networking site, which means it can be thought of as a web-based community of people who are brought together based on some commonality. This commonality could equal friendships, or a club, or hobby. Founded in 2004, by three Harvard students, their goal was to facilitate a better way to share information amongst fellow students. The membership was expanded to include other colleges and high schools, and now anyone age thirteen or older can join. Membership has grown to over 200 million people worldwide, and their stated mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
With that said, I logged onto my account to get reacquainted. If you don’t have an account it is extremely easy to set one up. All you need to do is to go to http://www.facebook.com and you will be taken to the home page where you can log in if you have an account, or create one if you don’t. The directions are pretty straightforward to create and account, and once that is accomplished you can create a personal profile. To accomplish this, click on the profile tab and fill in the blanks. You can list your name, hometown, address, birthday, relationship status, reason for joining, your political or religious views, favorite books, movies, television shows, activities, interests, and sayings. You can also list where you went to school as well as your employment history. The other day when I was working on my account I edited my profile to show my relationship status as being married. The area that shows recent activity (the wall), stated that Anita is now married. Hey, wait a minute. Anita has been married for almost 12 years. That doesn’t make any sense. Well the wall let me comment on that and I did. The wall is the area where you post information about yourself, upload pictures or videos, and give people updates. Each member has his or her own wall and if the person belongs in your network he or she can post comments on your wall or upload photos. In another section called photos, you can actually upload entire albums for people to see. This is a pretty handy feature if you are too lazy to upload to a specific photo site like Snapfish and choose email addresses to send the pictures to. Another interesting feature is to be able to post events such as letting friends know when you will be in town. You can also send messages to your friends who are in your network.
Speaking of friends, it is really pointless to have a Facebook account if you don’t have any friends to begin with. To find a potential friend to join your network, you can search the Facebook directory via your email address book, by name, school, place of employment or other organizations. Once you find a person you know, you can send out a friend request. Facebook will send out the request to the people you’ve selected letting them know that you want them to join your social network. If they say yes, then you will have access to each other’s information. If they say no, then I guess you can wonder why they are even your friends to begin with.
Anyway, aside from friending people and keeping in touch, there are certainly many frivolous activities that you can take part in on Facebook. For example, you can join a network of other Facebook members in a group dedicated to a particular interest. I am from Red Sox nation so when my cousin forwarded the Red Sox Sweet Caroline wave and asked me to keep the wave going, I had to do it. The Red Sox group had other waves going such as the Yankees Suck wave – SWEET! You can also take quizzes such as the one I took to see how girly I really am. Apparently I am 100% girly all because of the amount of shoes and dresses I own. Well I also hike, rollerblade, canoe, and I used to catch frogs in the brook all the time when I was a kid. This doesn’t really sound 100% girly to me. Whatever. But anyway, all of this stuff that I have just described is yours for absolutely free! What isn’t free is what is called the virtual gift. A virtual gift is a little icon that you can send to your friends by paying for them with credits. Basically each gift is worth 10 credits which translate to $1 per gift. There are just so many useless virtual gifts to choose from. You can buy virtual birthday cakes, flowers, disco balls, cell phones, pink poodle skirts, corndogs, Jell-o molds, and signs that say “Kick Me.” It truly gives a whole new meaning to the saying that it’s the thought that counts.
Another feature that Facebook offers has to do with being able to remain anonymous to outsiders while still being able to communicate with your friends in your network. You have the option of being able to adjust your privacy settings so that only those who are in your network can have access to your detailed profile and other information that you post. If someone is looking for you but isn’t in your network, they won’t be able to see your personal information. Facebook, will then give that person the option to friend you, and then if you say yes, then you can begin talking with each other. The only other concern I have in relation to security issues is the fact that anyone can create their online persona and pretend to be a 13 year-old boy trying to friend a 13 year-old girl, but in reality the 13 year-old boy is really a 47 year-old sexual predator who belongs on the registered sex offender list. That is just something to keep in mind.
Well, even with all of my whining about Facebook I actually do see the value in being a part of a social networking site. We have lived in five states in twelve years of marriage and we have met many people along the way. We have our old college friends who are living in Massachusetts, and then we have all the others that we have met during our time living in all of those other states. Then of course, we have our relatives. In the old days when everyone lived near each other, we would be seeing those relatives at least six times per year, or a lot more often depending on where they fell within the food chain. But now between friends, relatives, and business acquaintances, we know people who are living in California, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Texas, and New Jersey. We also have very good friends who moved back to India last year and another set of friends who are moving back to France after living here for three years.
So now, I can see between, school, family, dealing with a hyper Wheaten Terrier, and driving my kids around, I don’t have time to pick up the phone and say hello to everyone! Also, when talking with our friends in India and France, it is definitely easier to speak with them via a social networking site versus the phone. There are some language barriers present that make it difficult to converse with them in person so to try to talk to them on the phone could become frustrating for all parties. Also, we are definitely not going to be able to fly out to India or France and see them every year, or even every three years, but if we can keep in touch with each other via Facebook then that would be a positive. Being able to see pictures of their children and hear about what is going on with their lives and being able to respond in closer to real time instead of having to hear about it from the dreaded annual Christmas letter is much more meaningful. I guess it is just the stupidity that goes along with being a member of Facebook that really bothers me. I don’t want to have 350 friends in my social network and have to keep up with their lives. I don’t want to meet my cousin’s new girlfriend by friending her on Facebook. I also don’t want to send virtual gifts to people, nor do I want to receive any. I will say that nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, or a video conference, or even a telephone call. However, Facebook can be the tool to enhance your relationships rather than have Facebook run them.