Now that Mom’s on Facebook…

This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in March of 2009.

…here’s what I want to write on her wall:

Dear Mom, welcome to Facebook!  I’m glad you’re here, because we don’t talk enough, and this is an opportunity to be a little more present in each other’s lives.  Mind you, it won’t, and shouldn’t, replace any phone calls or visits.

Facebook is a bit like taking the big, wide, Internet, and narrowing it down to just the stuff that your friends would show you.  It’s nice because we get to catch up with a lot of old and new friends in one place, but that same convenience also makes it a bit superficial.  Since almost everything you say on Facebook is shared with all of your friends, you’ll be saying things that you don’t mind everyone hearing,  That puts a bit of a filter on some of the meaningful exchanges that are so much a part of our true friendships.

Another big thing about Facebook is that it is the product of a private company; not a big, amorphous set of connections like the Internet at large.  And, since it’s “free”, the business model is advertising.  So Facebook is a business that makes money off of your interests and relationships. If that doesn’t sound just a little bit scary to you, I think it should.

So here are some great things to do and some things to avoid on Facebook:

  • Connect with people you know (ignore requests from people that you’ve never met!
  • Share links to useful information, but stop short of sharing stuff that says more about your personal interests than you would want the world to know.
  • Ignore most of the applications.  Our friends and family are, in general, serious and active people who don’t have time to speculate on which of their Facebook friends they would like to be trapped on a desert island with.  I routinely ignore all of the non-existent gifts and requests to do things that I really don’t have any time to do, and, fortunately, my friends take the hint and stop bothering me with them.
  • Keep in mind that, every time you include a friend in an application invite, you’re telling the company that made the application about them.  So it’s not just that so many of these things are insanely trivial — they’re also potentially nebulous.
  • Don’t go crazy joining groups.  Every time you join a group, you open your profile to all of the members of that group.  It’s better to try and contain your exposure to people that you are fairly certain you would want to know.
  • Finally, you have my email address – send me personal mail there, not via Facebook’s mail.  While the mail is useful for establishing communication with people you reconnect with, and the wall writing is fun because you share it with others and can start conversations, I much prefer keeping our personal communication in my regular email.
  • To my mind, Facebook is a fun place to catch up with old friends and share things with my community, but if I only know someone on Facebook, let’s face it, they’re not really a friend.  Friendship implies a level of intimacy that shouldn’t be subject to broad peer review and data mining for advertisers.  And Facebook should not be a place that you can’t forget to visit for a week, or more, without risking offending someone.  Used moderately, with moderate expectations on the part of youa nd your Facebook friends, it has its rewards.

The world is coming to Facebook – it’s not just my Mom; it’s also my Dad, sister, brother-in-law, co-workers, grade school friends, and an assortment of people from everywhere in my life.  What do you want to say to the people you’re connecting with?  Leave a comment!

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