Friday, January 8, 2010

Lost in the Brave New World

It has been more than three years since I reluctantly entered the social networking world of Facebook. I was leery of its dangerous potential for wasting huge gobs of time, and the intervening years have demonstrated that my fear was justified. But growing numbers of my younger friends were employing Facebook as their primary means of communication—if I wanted to maintain a relationship with them, I pretty much had to be on Facebook myself. Then we became members of a wonderful and peculiar little church (since disbanded) made up almost entirely of folks in their twenties and thirties, and Facebook served as the church’s newsletter. Bit by bit I waded more deeply into the brave new world of social networking.

Initially I was bewildered when people I barely knew, or did not know at all, “friended” me. I learned that the most common standard of etiquette is to say “yes” unless there is a particular reason not to – in Facebook-land, the friend of a friend becomes your friend as well. It was finally explained to me that I should not think of Facebook “friends” as actual friends; I should think of them as “contacts.” So I now have many hundreds of “friends,” some of whom are actually friends.

I check Facebook for messages several times most days. Along the way I have learned the importance of the “hide” feature. In particular, I automatically hide the cute apps (applications) and endless quizzes that some folks delight in sending my way (where do they find the time?) I have seen instances where Facebook has served useful and valuable purposes, especially when a dear friend was undergoing treatment for cancer in another state and used Facebook to provide daily updates to her many friends. I have also experienced how Facebook can build community and deepen relationships. We recently observed our 40th wedding anniversary, and I posted a picture of a very young version of us to celebrate the occasion. I was genuinely moved to receive congratulations from so many friends (and “friends”) old and new. I think it is here stay and, if used judiciously, can make a positive contribution to building community and maintaining friendships.

But. But last night I made a grievous Facebook error. I was attempting to get two friends in touch with one another, and knew that they were both on Facebook. I had never used the “Suggest Friends” function to connect two people before, and had to do a bit of fiddling around to sort it out. Somehow I managed to give Facebook permission to send a note to EVERYONE in my email address book, inviting them to join Facebook in order to see all my nifty-keen pictures (of which I have very few). Without intending to, I had spammed most everyone I have corresponded with in the past four years.

So today my in-box has been overflowing. Remarkably, a fair number of people responded to my “invitation” by joining Facebook. Others sent me personal replies explaining why they were choosing not to (in each case I sent back a note of apology). But the most remarkable note came from a woman who works in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office. She gently chided me for sending the invitation to her work email address rather than her personal one, but promised to join Facebook when she gets home this evening. I have no idea in the world who she is or why we ever corresponded in the first place. Does she actually know who I am? Or does she simply figure you can never have too many friends? If she follows through on her promise and becomes my “friend” perhaps I will find out. It is a brave new world, this social networking stuff. It is also a world in which small mistakes can instantly become very large ones. If I have inadvertently spammed you, please forgive me.


Richard L. Floyd said...

It's OK John. Mistakes happen. If it makes you feel any better I just read that the head of the FCC got his FB account hacked. Rick

Tom said...

John, I had the same experience when I sent the invitation to BI-IFEA to everyone in my address book. Humor helps.

rick in cos said...

gosh, and I thought the invitation to all 3 of my eddresses was due to some terrific photos of Lindsey's wedding!!!
You've very well described why I have resisted joining Facebook. Cindy is really on to me to join, many of our friends (including long lost) are there. But, with my job, I really don't want the public persona. What to do, what to do.....