I don’t know what posessed me, but I decided to join Facebook last week.

…as though my prior forays into Social Networking were so successful…

The first few days are overwhelming. I am suddenly in touch with hundreds of people, many of whom I haven’t seen in thirty years. I attended a number of schools, which means I have a much larger circle of people to reconnect with than most others I know. Add in the various online communities I participate in, and it becomes a wide circle of people.

It’s great fun to surf through the players of your own personal history, and see what everyone else has been up to. Most won’t admit it, but the first thing people do when they join Facebook is to see what various ex-crushes and high-school sweethearts look like. The next thing is seeing whom they still might be friends with from the old days. It’s one of the great guilty pleasures of the internet. It’s even more fun if you’ve managed to keep your looks, and can show off a good-looking family and a successful career.

Some of the people are difficult to recognize… I think Facebook ought to develop some kind of forensic app, an age regression software that will show the middle-aged men staring out from their poorly-shot profile picture as the young teenagers in uniforms they once were. Even worse are the members who are unwilling to show themselves at all, and instead post pictures of their toddler, or a favorite cat.

I have to admit it’s a joy to reconnect with some old friends. I find that my instincts were right. Some are living interesting, engaged, and involved lives, whereas others… are posting pictures of their favorite cats. There are some I always thought were a little “thick”, and lo and behold, their hobbies and affiliations bear out what I had already suspected. But in most cases the common ground that made someone my friend has remained in place, and we have moved along the same trajectory over time.

Much more difficult is the Friends of Friends phenomenon. Every time you reconnect with someone, their friends see the connection. Well, many of them will then send you a Friend Request as well… At first I accepted all of the requests, and my network grew exponentially. Size may matter to a teenager, but it has become quickly apparent that I value quality over quantity. I am now “Friends” with people I barely know. It’s these people that are often the most active… they enjoy their network action, and will comment on everything incessantly. Some of it is funny, occasionally it’s stupid, most of it is irrelevant, and all of it is a huge distraction.

I’m not above this kind of behavior, by the way. You can only see someone’s profile if you’re Friends with them… well, I’ll send a Friend Request to people I didn’t know that well back then, but I want to see what their lives are like these days. I figure I can “cancel” the Friendship later (Facebook won’t tell ’em) but in the mean time I get to see if they’re still as cool (or artsey, or sporty, or intimidating) as they were back then.

But I am ruthless. I will begin “unfriending” people by next week. I’ve already started turning down various invites, especially those of teenage kids. Some of my friends have offspring with their own internet accounts, but I have no interest in filtering what I say… and I am even less interested in what they did last weekend. I have now moved my Facebook link to Internet Explorer. I use Firefox for serious work, whereas the other browser is reserved for spare time activity and frivolous surfing.

Nonetheless, the final verdict is positive. It is proving to be a fun way of staying in touch, and Facebook is well-written… the granular privacy settings that allow you to grant different types of access to virtually every member you’re Friends with ensures that you can have some fun, and still look like a serious business person at the water-cooler on Monday morning.


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