31 May 2009

You've been Facebooked

Much has been said about web 2.0 and the way that it is changing the way that we communicate. There are many different programs offering a web 2.0 experience but very few impacted my life until Facebook came along. I have found that it offers an amazingly easy way to re-connect and keep in contact with old friends, ex schoolmates and colleagues, but it also has its downsides.

Map of Web 2.0 courtesy of xkcd

I find that the term "friend" in Facebook is misleading as you cannot run your friendships via Facebook as it is merely another channel of superficial communication. It is also important to realise that whatever information you put on Facebook is public.

As kids we were taught that the golden rule was "never speak to strangers". It seems that the message has not been updated for the 21st century – even though you are communicating with someone you know you don’t know who might be "listening in". I was really concerned when I saw my 19 year old blonde-haired, blue-eyed sister respond to a publically viewable request (from someone she knew) with her cell-phone number right next to her profile picture. It seems that her generation's familiarity with technology (most of my peers are still wary of it) hasn’t yet been tempered by a respect for the public nature of the information.

My connection to the people that I count as my "Facebook Friends" is wide ranging. Some (few) are current colleagues, some are ex-colleagues. They are family members and real life friends, some are people I met once when travelling; some are ex-school friends and others are just acquaintances. I find the inability to differentiate between these different groups of people has severely hampered my use of the medium. I’m not sure that a status update of "Kim is playing at work avoidance" would go down well with my boss, so I would put up something more neutral.
It was a guy friend (really an acquaintance) who "took the cake" as it were with regards to status updates. One day in December George, as we shall call him, posted the following update:
George is a little scared of being alone in the big wide world.
It was only when you saw that he had changed his "relationship status" from "in a relationship" to "single" that you understood what was actually going on. Things seemed to settle down from there until March when another series of perplexing updates started popping up on my news feed:
George says "Love the world and u get f***ed! F*** the world n u get loved!!!" followed by
George is uncertain about the future... and
George needs first aid/medicine to help him heal and
George is wondering should I go, or should I stay?
At this point I was really starting to get concerned about George and thought that he had lost his job and was having to leave the life he’d build up in Singapore. The next couple of days were still concerning with updates such as:
George has changed his plans!!!
George isnt feeling good about the nexr few days...
Silence is sometimes the best solution...
Happiness is only really a way of thinking about something bad...
George thinks this world is crazy n f****d up...sometimes!
George is depressed...life is too much of a rollercoaster sometimes...

Finally he managed to turn the corner:
"Introducing the 'All new...bigger...stronger...George!'..."
The good news is that after all the upheaval he does seem more grounded and has a plan for the future. I don't know what he wanted from these posts - some sympathy? By opening yourself up like this you run the risk of being ridiculed when you are feeling vulnerable and want sympathy and understanding.

Shortly thereafter a friendship became a Facebook statistic. I suggested that she was being selfish when she put the following status update on her profile:
Pity some folks had a hissy fit when I finally re-emerged, staggering from my self imposed hermitage. Ce’ est la vie!
Said "self imposed hermitage" lasted 7 years. She never had time to catch up or go out to dinner and I always felt guilty that I was taking her away from her work in the 1 or 2 times a year that I did see her. The irony is that it was Facebook that allowed me to see how much time she was spending actually working and how much of it was spent surfing the web and playing on Facebook (and Skype and Youtube as I later discovered). When I mentioned this to her, her response was "you misinterpreted my Facebook status" to which I replied "I only have my own experience on which to interpret your updates". She responded "Then keep your stuff your stuff and my stuff mine. Over and out." That is the last that I have head from her. She obviously wanted sympathy by putting the status update out. What she didn’t realise was that that she’d neglected her real life friendships during that period and the occasional "poke" or email didn’t make a good substitute when she did deign to grace us with her presence. What I have noticed is that since this incident her visible presence on Facebook has become noticeably less. (Update End 2009: Said friend has now made her Facebook presence PRIVATE and no-one but "friends" (I was removed) can access her profile.  Now she can surf as much as she wants without feeling guilty about the friends that she is blowing off finding out)

There is so much that I could say on the topic, but I think I’ll leave it for another time as there is quite a bit to digest here. My advice is to avail yourself of the benefits that web 2.0 has to offer, but at the same time be cautious in what information you put out as you never know who may be listening in…

I found this in my Facebook news feed a week after writing this post: "More thank you cards to write. A seemingly never ending task." Maybe I should've not given you your gift and saved you the bother?

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