My parents use Facebook differently than I do, mostly because of generational and life stage differences. They limit their friends to a small number of people they are close to in real life. Their primary reason for joining Facebook was to keep up with me while I was living in Nevada. I know several people who are similar in their Facebook mentality: keep your friend number down, limit posts to a few times a week, just use it to check in on what a handful of people are up to.
Then there are people on the opposite spectrum. I have a few Facebook friends who I think have friended everyone they’ve ever met. I’m not sure I understand this mentality, but that’s their choice, and since it doesn’t impact on me or society, what do I care?
I’m somewhere in the middle. As a rule, I only friend people I’ve actually met and have some sort of relationship with (former students, fellow Peace Corps volunteers, classmates, etc.), but there are a few exceptions. For example, I accepted a friend request from a Canadian who shares my love of etymology. I’m glad I did because he posts word puzzles every day, and I love to try to be the first to answer.
More than just entertainment, I view Facebook as a networking tool. People who are retired or have incredible job security don’t really need to network, so they use Facebook differently. And while sites like LinkedIn are generally better for career networking, Facebook can also be useful, sometimes even more useful depending on circumstances. There’s no harm in letting your friends know you’re looking for work or increasing your blog readership by posting it to your wall. Plus there’re all the other ways you can use networking, like seeing if anyone knows a good mechanic or if anyone has travel advice for a trip to D.C.
There are some people, of course, who have no use for Facebook. They are happy to only interact with people in person, and that’s fine. I have made a recent convert, though. When my nephew toddled off to college, my sister-in-law could see the benefit of having that means of keeping in touch. Phone calls are great, but Facebook is free, allows sharing of photos, and doesn’t require both parties to be available at the same time in order to communicate. Indeed, having friends in other states and countries makes Facebook a necessity for me if I want to keep in touch with them. I can’t afford calls to France. And especially with friends who live in countries where letters might get confiscated or lost or take weeks to arrive, Facebook is a far superior means of communication. I can’t tell you how exciting it is when my cousin posts a new photo of my sister in Turkmenistan.
But, Facebook certainly has its drawbacks. Some people get sucked into games that consume their lives. Suddenly ten minutes turns into three hours and they send so many Candy Crush requests that their friends have to stage an intervention. There are others who are concerned about Facebook monitoring their activity and keeping data on them. I personally don’t care about this because I’m a narcissist and think the whole world should know that I like Danger Mouse cartoons and guys with long hair.
Depending on how a person uses Facebook, their page can reveal much more about them than you would normally know. Often personal interactions at work or school or church are limited due to time and the amount of people there. We all know that when we’re at those places and people ask “how are you?” they’re expecting a brief, positive response. However, if they’ve seen on your Facebook wall that you’re going through something, they can then make it a point to offer you words of comfort or ask “how are you?” in a way that indicates they really want to hear your extended, honest answer. I know this because it happens to me on occasion. People from church approach me about a Facebook post, or I approach them about something they wrote, when normally our interaction would be a brief exchange of pleasantries before we each went off to do the same with someone else.
Sometimes, though, you learn more about a person than you might like. You discover that the funny, laid back guy from work posts nasty, bigoted quotes from Christopher Hitchens and the sweet little old lady from church posts nasty, bigoted quotes from Rush Limbaugh. And your brother-in-law believes a lot of wacky conspiracy theories. What do you do when these posts show up in your wall? If you’re like me, you have the following dialogue with yourself.
Ugh. How can this person believe this stuff? I’m so tired of seeing their dumb posts. Maybe I should just hide them from my newsfeed. (Note: It would never occur to me to unfriend someone just because I disagreed with some of their posts.) But, Maresha, do you really want to be the sort of person who only ever exposes themselves to parrots of their own views? It's not good to insulate yourself and remain static that way.
Ultimately I just acknowledge that they think differently. Maybe I engage them in debate, maybe I don't. A couple times in the past, I've written a blog post positing my opinion on the subject. Then I move on to the next post in my feed which is inevitably an adorable animal doing something cute or someone's latest quiz results. And I just have to take it to find out which Bewitched character I am. I hope I'm not Mrs. Kravitz, or worse, Dick Sargent Darrin.
Facebook, like pretty much anything, can be used well or poorly. One of the best ways you can use it is to embrace the diversity of ideas you encounter there. You shouldn’t be agreeing with everything all your friends are saying, because if you do it means one of two things. 1) You have limited your friendships to people who are just like you. Whether on Facebook or in real life, that’s a really bad idea if you value growing as a person. 2) You and your friends only post inane stuff, like kitten videos and inspirational quotes like “Smile! You’re a person!” Those things are great and all, but I would argue that Facebook should also be used to spread awareness of issues you care about and to provide a forum for civilized debate. (Granted, this is probably only doable on your actual wall with people you know, not on random Facebook pages like Militant Monarchists for the Separation of Curds and Whey.) What makes it great is that friends from different spheres of your life who would never meet each other in person can chime in on a topic, and it really is fun to see them interact.
Because you know you're curious: Ismail, Facebook video.