Ah, Facebook. Everyone uses it. And everyone uses it differently.
Here’s how I use it: to promote my gift blog, Find A Toad. I have a modest (but growing) number of fans, and I get decent feedback, way more than I received just by my mere existence on the blogosphere. I often use it as what I term “shameless self promotion” for my other writing projects. I also use it to keep in touch with all sorts of friends and acquaintances from past and present. These are not my best friends. Half my really good friends don’t even use Facebook. Plus, I see those really good friends all the time, so they can find out my “status” simply by speaking to me (hey, it’s old fashioned, but talking still works). No, I stay in touch with people from college, friends from high school, or people in the neighborhood and community. I might never speak to them on the phone or visit them in person, but it’s lovely to find out that they’re doing well. Usually.
That “usually” is the reason why some of my good friends refuse to go on Facebook. They don’t trust that they won’t be “found” by, say, an ex-boyfriend or childhood nemesis. They don’t want to relive history. They say they have no time, but they really have no desire to put themselves in such a vulnerable position. And they’re not wrong.
This fear of unwanted visitations from the past isn’t unfounded. I have a policy of not “friending” any ex-boyfriends. I just don’t think any good comes of it. That, however, doesn’t prevent those ex-boyfriends from doing a search and sending friend requests, or becoming a fan of my blog and leaving comments (nice ones, thankfully, but it was still slightly creepy). These online close encounters are almost always uncomfortable, especially since it usually ends, after a pleasant enough email exchange, with a friend request yet again that I have to politely ignore.
Perhaps the strangest thing about Facebook, though, is the fact that there are ghosts. My best friend from college never joined Facebook; she liked her anonymity, and felt that Facebook would be invasive. I always respected that. Tragically, she went through a horrific depressive breakdown that ended in her suicide. She left behind two young boys and a husband, plus countless friends and family members. It was shocking and terrible. But what I found equally shocking was the “tribute” Facebook page and group created in her honor. In life, she wouldn’t have touched Facebook with a ten foot pole, but in death, without her permission, she’s on there, smiling.
Yet another example of this online afterlife is another college friend. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and fought it for years. She posted on Facebook, mostly about her three children but sometimes about treatment. She died last year, but her profile lives on. I actually received an update from her after her death. It rattled me. And since at least one of her children is old enough to be online, I wonder if she will ever encounter her mother’s ghostly internet presence.
There are consequences every time any of us put anything online. I mean, I’d rather not write a status update about traffic or PMS or intestinal distress, and then get hit by a bus and have that be my last online statement, forever preserved. Thus, I’m pretty careful about what I post. I love seeing pictures of my Facebook friends’ kids, but I rarely post any shots of my child (I have no really good reason for this. It’s not a safety hang up or anything like that). I post my relationship status, and am always amused when couples I know who’ve been married ten years are suddenly “married” on Facebook (the comments are always high comedy).
As far as Mommy type connections go, Facebook is a great place for them. I can trade post suggestions with other “mommy bloggers,” gaining more audience for all our work. I get updates regarding many causes I care about, and have recently become Facebook friends with a bunch of people in my aerial arts class. It’s delightfully schizophrenic; one minute I’m recommending a post about private school admissions to moms, and the next I’m talking about aerial trapeze techniques with a 22 year old.
Perhaps the biggest downer about Facebook? The friend who just won’t stop being completely irate about politics or religion. Frankly, even if I agree with the person, I have limited patience for the constant online rants. Like at every party, there’s always the person who won’t shut up. Luckily, on Facebook, all I have to do is click the “X” and make them go away. Recently, I used this tactic on a rather testy day when a Facebook friend I barely know posted what a great day it was for California, now that there’s Ronald Reagan day. She’s entitled to believe anything she wants, bless her, but I don’t want to know about it. Click.
If only dealing with other annoying things was that easy. But that’s the point of Facebook. It’s quick and easy and fairly superficial. It allows you to make sweeping announcements to massive amounts of people in seconds. And, if you manage it well (this isn’t time consuming, trust me), it can benefit you in wonderful ways. Simply put, social networking works for this mom.
Jenny Heitz has worked as a staff writer for Coast Weekly in Carmel, freelanced in the South Bay, and then switched to advertising copywriting. She now writes about gift ideas and products on her blog, Find A Toad (www.findatoad.com). Jenny’s op-eds on education have been published recently in the Los Angeles Daily News (www.dailynews.com). Jenny also writes for the Los Angeles private elementary schools blog, Beyond The Brochure (www.beyondthebrochure.blogspot.com). She has served as a guest blogger for The Well Mom, Hybrid Mom and The Twin Coach. She has a BA in Journalism from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Mass Communications from San Jose State University. Jenny has a 9-year old daughter and teaches Pilates. She lives in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.