Facing the 'truth' about Facebook


November 30, 2008|By Janet Gilbert | Janet Gilbert,Special to The Baltimore Sun

My life is an open Facebook.

Facebook is an online social networking utility. For those who insist on talking to folks in person, you are probably wondering why you need an online social networking utility. I wondered the same thing.

Most days I am privileged to experience social networking gratification as a result of this column, when total strangers come up to me in checkout lines and waiting rooms with stories about their oven selection process or relatives who are movie-talkers.

But recently a very plugged-in friend told me I should get on the Facebook train if I didn't want to be left behind, professionally, on the platform of reality in the station of real people.

With Facebook, he said, I can expand my audience. I can network with other writers. Best of all, I can distract myself from all sorts of pressing things, including work, chores and family interaction, by logging on and viewing photos of the pets of people I went to high school with.

Indeed, now that I have a Facebook account, I have discovered that I can be in contact with way too many people in, paradoxically, a superficial or very personal way.

Here's how Facebook works: Users sign up for free and get access to templates for uploading photos, videos and text about your family, religious views, education and work experience. The demographic information you supply dictates which ads pop up on your page. For example, the ads that run on my page are generally about relationships ("Is your man becoming distant and remote?") or diets (The Acai Berry Secret).

I'm telling you, one surefire way to guarantee my man becomes distant and remote is to spend more time on Facebook. And if I really want to drop a few pounds, I'll just let myself get sucked into Facebook's voyeuristic vortex, and soon I'll have skipped breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But here is the lure of Facebook: You basically re-create yourself in cyberspace, with photos and words that present you precisely as you wish to be seen. Which may or may not be who you really are.

There's even a status bar that permits you to proclaim to the world what you are doing at that moment.

My status updates feature lively snippets of my day such as: "Janet is ... going to unload a fruit truck!" or "Janet is ... thawing a foil-wrapped hunk of surprise from the freezer for dinner tonight." This type of status update attracts the kinds of grounded friends I want to have.

Or does it?

It raises the question: How many friends does one really need? And can one adequately keep up with all of these friends and properly nurture the friendships?

I don't know. One of my Facebook friends was recently hospitalized. Many friends posted well wishes on his wall. But until Facebook can help me send him a real casserole instead of an icon of one, I'm just a little disappointed.

On the other hand, I certainly have enjoyed reconnecting with my high school friends - we have shared insights and photos and things about our current lives that have brought us very close. Neaj Skooc-nehoc, whose name has been spelled backward for privacy, suggested I write about our Facebook reunion here. I have to thank Neaj and the gang for several pizza dinners I have had to order in because I have lost track of time thanks to their stimulating chats about issues social, political and personal.

But then there are the friends of friends of friends who have friended me - and, in the real world, these are not really friends of mine at all. On the street, we might walk right by each other, but on the Facebook cyberhighway, we share weird, intimate windows on our lives.

So, for the time being, here's my status update:

Janet is ... not sure how she feels about Facebook.

To contact Janet Gilbert or hear podcasts, go to http://www.janetgilbert.net.

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