Sunday, February 1, 2009


The Post-Gazette's MacKenzie Carpenter wrote an entire piece of Baby Boomer moms joining Facebook. Kind of weird, huh? The NYT ran a piece on "friending trends recently. What would be actually interesting to read is how Facebook as a cultural phenomenon fits onto Pittsburgh's actual culture, not just Baby Boomer parents. The IT guy at my former employer told me that the average Facebook user is 35 years old and I believe it. The best part of the sidebar is the advice not to send games around and to avoid using Facebook to get a job. Ha! That's exactly the sort of tunnel vision that keeps Pittsburgh so freakin parochial.

Just this past week, I sent a recently "friended" high school classmate some job leads simply because he informed me he was out of work. Unlike the folks in the Carpenter piece, I don't think that makes him a loser or someone in need of deep interpersonal connections. It makes him someone I know who needs a job so I tried to help. That's what people with a sense of connection do for other people. That connection is based on the 10+ years we attended the same public schools and the recent reconnect on Facebook (and my having a snowday and be available to chat). Otherwise, I'd have no clue he is looking for work. Whomever thinks there should be a neat and tidy line between personal and professional social network just needs to revisit the delete key and get over it.

I personally don't do all the sending of flair, terrible towel waves, blue garden gnome, flowers, ornaments, etc but I don't get annoyed when people send that stuff to me. It is sort of like being on a Christmas card list all year round -- someone had a momentary thought to share something THEY appreciate with me. I realize it isn't a highly evolved thought to click a link, but it is nice to be remembered. There's nothing loser about it.

I will admit that the friending trends are fascinating to me. I started out with a strict rule about friending only people I actually knew in real life, not friends of friends. Then the rule stretched to people that knew people I actually knew in real life. Then the rule stretched to people I would like to know in real life, but may never have the opportunity. Then the rule stretched when the opportunity to friend Candance Gingrich, Lauren Weedman and Alison Bechdel popped up (Candace has posted on my wall so ha!). The only rule I have right now is that I friend adults only with one exception and I checked with her mother first who is also my friend. It was flattering that a 13 year old thought I was cool enough to friend. I don't friend the people I serve through work because of professional boundaries, but I do friend certain colleagues and even board members.

The interactions I have with "my friends' varies greatly, just like in real life. Sometimes I "hang out" with people for a few weeks, exchanging wall posts and jokes and playing a game of Scrabble and then I don't see them for a few months. Or I hear through the grapevine about what is happening in their lives.

Perhaps because I am a blogger and tend to make a lot of my life available for public consumption, it doesn't bother me in the least to put stuff up on my FB profile. It does amuse/amaze me how people respond. I have been unfriended for making mockery of orphans (I commented that I gave away my Terrible Towel to wrap the the frozen feet of a little orphan on the sidewalk), because my profile picture used to have the word "lesbian" in it (my own sister-in-law did that) and because I send too many group/event invitations. Oh well. What makes me insanely curious are the "unfriendings" for which I have no information -- when I see my number go down from 543 to 536, I start to obsess about who it could be and what it was that prompted the decision ... was it something I wrote? Was it something in their own lives that caused them to shed me?

The actual number is meaningless. Having 540 friends is just a random number. I'm not any more popular or well-liked because that many people linked to me on Facebook. I grew up in a pretty tight knit, identity driven community so pretty much anyone that attended WM high school will friend another one of us. That's hundreds of people alone.

The one thing I do sort of regret about Facebook is the burst of the reunion bubble. In some cases, I've been thrilled to reconnect with old friends and have began building new adult connection with them based on who we are now. In other cases though, I have been sort of "eh" about their grown up self as reflected on Facebook. I kind of wish I had kept the memory untarnished and not realized that our glory days won't translate into contemporary adult relationships.

To bring this back to Carpenter's piece, I think some of the discussion about boundaries is the interesting territory. It is a given that some people are more invested in FB than others, but the social interactions are a little hazier when you start to consider the nature of the actual real life relationships (if one exists). I had to tell a 21 year old in one of my programs that I could not FB him just like I could not give him my home phone number. Instead, I exchange email with him using my work email address to give him a sense of social interaction within a strictly professional boundary. If he would need to reach me in am emergency, we have a well defined process built into our program using an on-call system. He knows I may not check my work email over the weekend, so it really becomes another method of contact with a concrete paradigm just like stopping into my office to chat during the workday.

Clearly, I could go on. Read MacKenzie's piece and let me know what you think.


  1. I've been sending E-mail since '83, active on USENET since '88 and writing Websites since '94. I have a blog and a LiveJournal, but things like MySpace and FaceBook seemed utterly post-literate. Especially MySpace and Twitter.

    But, I finally got on FaceBook a few weeks back and have enjoyed its informality and its silliness. Just don't take it too seriously, and avoid the games.

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