Our first experience with social networks involved lecturing and grounding. It was way back in the day, when Myspace was the place to be online and our oldest child, at 13, was just too young to be involved in that game.
It was more about teens talking to each other, and if you believed the news, child predators stalking them while they did it. We told daughter that she was not allowed to sign up…and then she did. Which is where the lectures and grounding came into play.
A few years passed and suddenly this new thing called Facebook hit our radar. Daughter was older by then and was allowed to sign up, with the stipulation that I could always have access to her page. The easiest way to do that was to get my own account.
So I went into it purely to keep an eye on my daughter. Then I got friend requests from people I love. My siblings who live in other states, old friends from all stages of my life. I was very tight with my acceptance clicks and had no intention of growing my friends list. I was just there to keep an eye on my daughter, remember?
Before long I found myself checking Facebook for the purpose of seeing what my friends were doing, before I even clicked over to daughter’s page. I got addicted to knowing the daily stuff my long distance nephews and nieces were up to. I loved hearing about my childhood friend’s new job. My sister in law kept me up to date on the 5K’s she and my brother in law were running. And I got all of this information without having to make a single phone call or write a single email.
Daughter has now gotten old enough that I don’t have to check her page anymore. But now I’m hooked, all by myself. I am not a game player, I’ve never been tempted to play Bejeweled or Farmville. But I’m all over the information and picture sharing that Facebook offers.
I am aware of the issues people have with Facebook. I don’t doubt that some of the criticism is true. Who knows how ethical or unethical Mark Zuckerberg is? I don’t really trust either side’s reporting. Yes, they use the information I provide to target the advertising. It doesn’t bother me because I don’t really pay attention to the ads anyway.
And the biggest issue with Facebook seems to be privacy. If I’m not vigilant my information could accidentally become public. This is how I make peace with that fact. I make sure my page has the highest privacy settings possible, then…here’s the key…I NEVER post anything I wouldn’t want to go public. It’s not hard.
Most of my photos are pictures of my kids doing boring stuff (at least to anyone who doesn’t know us). Decorating the Christmas tree. Sledding on Grandpa’s hill. Snuggling on the couch with our dog. These are pictures I would show to a stranger in the grocery store if I wasn’t afraid they might faint from boredom.
I also keep my friends list tight. If I wouldn’t pick up the phone to call the person (meaning a friend of a friend, or someone I was never really close to and our only tie was that we went to the same high school) then I don’t accept their friend request. The goal isn’t to collect a bunch of friends (who may or may not mean anything to me). It’s to keep in touch with people I truly care about. It drives my kids crazy, that I have a huge list of friend requests that I have no intention of accepting. But by being selective with ‘who I let in’, I’m guarding my privacy (if I’m allowed to have it) and guarding my time (since I don’t have to weed through status updates from people I don’t really care about).
Another criticism of the evil Facebook empire is the fact it wastes a lot of time. Again, this is totally within my control. I can respect the fact that many of my friends get a lot of joy out of the games, but I can choose not to play them, if they keep me from being productive. In fact, I generally hide any status updates that involve games. I just don’t think it’s using my time wisely to be updated every time someone buys a new cow on Farmville, or hits a personal best on Bejeweled. The hide button is my friend.
So here’s why I do use Facebook and why I think it has improved my quality of life.
1) Let’s start with pictures. I am the crazy picture lady. I love taking them. I love sharing them. I love seeing them when others share them. And I love having access to them. Now that most of my long-distance immediate family, on both sides, is on Facebook, I know when I post the pictures from Christmas, most of my family has seen them. I know when I post a picture of my son with his school record medal from his cross country meet, most of the people who would care have seen it. I don’t have to call everyone. I don’t have to email anyone. It’s just ‘out there.’ Everyone’s in the loop at once.
And the reverse is true. When my nephews visit Disneyland, I get to see the pictures online, without my sister-in-law having to send an email attachment. When my brother-in-law, a pilot for a major airline, had Paula Abdul on his flight, and got to meet her, I found out because of a picture my sister posted on her Facebook page. If I feel a need to comment, I can call her. Or I can post a short comment right by the picture. It makes my life so much simpler. And I feel so much more informed about the people who matter to me.
Then there’s the whole aspect of ‘having’ the pictures. I love to make Christmas presents with pictures. In years past I had to call my siblings and beg for copies of their family pictures, so I could have current shots of the nephews and nieces, to turn into ornaments. Now I just go on Facebook, find the ones I like best, copy them to my computer, and print off what I want. There has never been a time in my adult life that I’ve had current pictures of all my siblings and their kids at the same time. Today I could click over to my handy dandy Facebook account and print out a current picture of each of them.
One of my nieces graduated from high school last June. In a few hours I was able to copy dozens of pictures off her Facebook page – of her with friends, her with family, her with the family dog – and send them to Shutterfly. Within a week I had a beautiful memory book to give to her, a photo book full of the people in her life. It even made the cut of the minimal things she could take with her when she moved into the dorm. It was less than two hours of work on my part, and no hassle for my sister, to come up with pictures she could send me.
2) I know, by now you’ve forgotten I even had a numbering system going. I kind of get nutty when it comes to photos. The next reason I use Facebook is it helps me to streamline my limited stay-in-touch time. Not only can I keep up with my (and my husband’s) large extended family with no long-distance bill or monopolized Sunday evenings, I can know a lot more about the little things in their lives that matter a lot, but sometimes miss the telephone call discussion list. My nephews having a sleepover. What my sister is addicted to watching on TV these days. Who is excited about which football games this weekend. It offers a level of connection I’ve never felt before.
3) I’ve never really been a genealogy person but there are people out there I get a kick out of finding and catching up with. I grew up in a foster family, so scattered foster siblings would be on this list. College friends with whom I vowed to share adjoining backyards and barbeque weekends with, but who fell off my Christmas card list as we all went about the task of building our grown-up lives, also on the list. And let’s not forget mentor women, who guided me through some rocky high school years, my Sunday School teachers and parents of my friends; it’s been a joy to ‘find’ them again, especially now that I’ve moved a thousand miles away from my home state.
4) And the last reason – it lets me know who my kids are, and who their friends are. Now we’ll circle back to the original reason I got on Facebook. The two teens I have who are on Facebook sometimes like to tease me about stalking them. I remind them that if it’s posted on Facebook, it’s basically for everyone’s eyes, including their mother’s. And when I know that their friend has broken up with his girlfriend, it’s not because I’ve stalked him, it’s because I saw it (with everyone else) on his status update.
The way they comment on their friend’s posts and the pictures that show up with their familiar faces, tell me whether my own kids are still on track and minding their manners. And the beauty of Facebook is, even if my kids are overly cautious about not letting anything incriminating appear on their page, the tags can call them out. They can’t control what pictures their friends post, and knowing that helps them make better choices in the moment.
Their friends have told me how much they love seeing what our family is doing, through my status updates and posted pictures. My teen son doesn’t discuss his family’s adventures much with friends, so by following my page, they can see what my boy is up to when he’s not hanging out in their basements with them. And their perceptions of his family (“You guys are always doing something fun”) only remind him of the pretty good deal he does have at home, when his teen hormones would make him feel otherwise.
So count me in as a Facebook addict. I don’t spend a lot of time on it in a given day but that’s why I like it. It gives me information I want and need in a very streamlined way. My teens aren’t always so thrilled that I’ve joined the party. But maybe, just maybe, some day when they have grandbaby pictures to share, they’ll finally see the value of letting the old people in the door of social networking. And in the meantime, they can know I stalk them because I love them.