A student who has often shown me really cool stuff on the net showed me his Facebook page the other day. I had heard that this was some sort of college kid network, but he said no, anyone can join now. He showed me some cool stuff like tagging pictures with names, so I decided to give it a try.

I registered - it insisted on my real name - and then had to give it my real, school e-mail address to become a member of the school network. It wanted to know all sorts of information from me, like me political pursuasion (chosen from a drop-down list going from very conservative to very left-wing). How strange to see politics as just a continuum, but this is the US. And since they didn't have left-leaning eco-feminist with part-time anarchist tendencies on the list, I just left it blank. When it asked for my religious views I at least got a free-text box where I could write that my religious views were none of anyone's business.

Now I joined some "Networks". There were already a few people from my school here, a colleague, some students in one of my classes, the student who showed me facebook. I had a choice of sending him a message, "poking" him, or adding him as a friend. Well, I didn't know what poking was, but it sounded intrusive, so I added him as a friend.

Even without him saying "yes, I know this person" I suddenly was shown his profile, with all sorts of private information, including comments that other friends had posted to his "wall" about drinking parties and such. Hmm, I didn't really want all of this information. I suddenly realized, that all of my information would be available to anyone who tried to add me as a friend - and I set off to check the privacy settings.

The default was that everyone gets to see everything. I had to go through all sorts of menus (at least they were available) in order to turn off all this information sharing. Facebook writes "Facebook is a social utility that helps people better understand the world around them. Facebook develops technologies that facilitate the spread of information through social networks allowing people to share information online the same way they do in the real world."

Nope. In the real world I choose for each individual person what information I want to share with them, rather like OpenBC (which is now calling themselves a fancier Xing) in which the defaut for a contact is just that they can send me a message. I have to approve each and every information I want to share with this person. And at least at Xing I can tag people so that I can see for myself where I know people from.

Facebook seems to have some sort of group, but this seems to be more for talking about hobbies and such. And everyone is either a friend or not - there is no space for acquaintences, colleagues, students, teachers, family. At least Flickr lets me have friends and family. And as soon as I change some information (like mark the box that I am married) Facebook announces to the world that I am married. This is normally done by writing letters to people, not RSS feed. Is this the future, people announcing changes in their relationships by RSS? Shudder.

I was rather uneasy about this, sent the student a message (by email!) to please not add me as a friend until I had thought about this. I went out and raked leaves and scrubbed the algae off the house for a couple of hours and spent the time thinking about what a friend is.

A friend is someone who likes you, just like in a great children's book I once read. Someone who will come and have a glass of wine with you and discuss the problems of the world - or your own problems. Someone you can call at 2am in the morning when you are in need. Someone who comes to dinner, can spend the night on the guest bed if it gets late, invites you to their place. Someone you are willing to drive to the airport at any hour of the day or night. Someone who will tell you if you have bad breath or are being an obnoxious pig about something. Someone who will tell you that you look nice (even if it is not true). Someone who will go shopping with you or will take part in some crazy idea you have like a cook-out on the ice or skinny-dipping in the lake at night or cooking a 7-course meal or watching old movies all night. A friend is someone you like, even if you don't agree with them politically or like their music or enjoy the company of their other friends.

Friendship is not a transitive relation.

So I deactivated my Facebook account. I'm a member of enough of these networks. It would be cool to find some friends from school, but I have actually found most of the ones I cared about - and the rest are on my missing persons search list. The rest of my schoolmates didn't care about me when I was in school, so why should they care about me now?


bikhado said...

Hear hear. First of all, I did a search on 'deactivate facebook' and came through to your page. I found it a little disturbing that folks I didn't quite care about in school (and vice versa) were eager to add me onto their 'friends list' beyond the first 'hi, what are u up to conversation', there was nothing more to say so much akin to the way we store hundreds of numbers in our cellfones and only use about ten, my interaction was more between 5 or so out of 100 'friends'. More still, the irony of someone preferring to wall stuff as opposed to emailing baffled me...anyhow, thanks for the space to rant. David

WiseWoman said...

The weird thing is - I am back. My students coaxed me to come back in by showing me the cool stuff they could program the API to do. I had to re-join in order to test it.

I rather let it lie until this summer, when a member of a course I was attending decided we needed a Facebook group. Suddenly we had wall writings and comments and links and pictures and videos all over the place.

I was going to deactivate it again, but then I found the Scrabulous plug-in and discovered a brother has been on Facebook forever. I normally spend all facetime with this brother playing Scrabble, so we have had a pair of games going since August. Sure, it takes us weeks to finish it, but it is *so* much fun!

It is strange, however, to see the comments being made and the changes happening to my "friends". I would really prefer to hear all this by letter or over a glass of wine....