Sunday, March 21, 2010

Social Networking Part I: The Rules of Engagement

To be perfectly honest, when I first signed up for facebook, I didn’t get it. Three years ago I didn’t know what Facebook was. I had received a couple of email friend requests, one from my cousin and one from a close friend, and figured it was junk mail. Then one day, in July 2007, I was sitting on the beach with my friend Christine and she explained to me what it was. I was newly separated (it had been mere days), and she told me about some people who she had reconnected with on there so I thought I would give it a shot.

The version of facebook I signed up for quickly filled my page with boxes and applications, most of which required you to select 10 friends to send things too: Eggs that cracked open in 3 days, cute puppies and kitties, make your own Halloween jack-o-lantern, specialized pokes for your friends as opposed to a regular poke (and what the hell is a POKE anyway?), the fun wall and other walls in addition to your regular wall. You couldn’t comment on people’s statuses back then. If you had something smart-ass to say as comment then you had to send them a message or write it on their wall. And newsfeeds weren’t live. You got a small sample of your friends’ statuses and you could select who on your friend’s list you saw more or less of.

I figured out what was good and what was a plain old pain in the ass essentially by trial and error. And now I just don’t add any applications. No games. No pillow fights. No Farmville. No Mafia Wars. No I won't let you add  me to your family or your birthday calendar (What for? You know I am in your family and facebook tells you when it is my birthday two days before the event). No gifts. No nothing. Most of it is just an invite to bring viruses into your computer system. If you want to send me something, send me words. Words get me excited. I practically respond to ALL words that come my way. I'll even respond without being invited to respond.

Olympic Spirit: The sending of status messages on Facebook peaked Sunday at 2:29 pm PST and 2:54 pm PST during two significant goals in the Olympic hockey finals: when the U.S. tied and Canada won. More than 3.5 million status updates were sent during the time frame of those key plays, twice the pace of the rest of the day.

Facebook is my news source. It is how I found out Michael Jackson died, and Brittnay Murphy and John Hughes, and the earthquake in Haiti. It is how I got the play by play for the gold medal hockey game between Canada and the US. (I am ashamed to say that I DIDN’T watch the game. Post a 4 hour epic workout, I slept through most of it). I knew the US scored, not because someone wrote “the USA just scored” as their status, but because one of my friend’s statuses popped up and all it said was: FUCK!

Facebook has gone through about a half dozen facelifts since I’ve been on there which has been a pain in the ass in itself and everyone moans and whines (in their statuses) and says they hate the change and then, because the facebook conglomerate never listens, they adapt and shut up. Such is the way of the world. All I can say is that facebook is way more useful now than it was in 2007.

Verbal weaponry

But weird things happen on Facebook. And facebook can be very very dangerous. I have learned so much about human nature watching events unfold between the lines of people’s status and the comments underneath. My first big lesson on Facebook happened within a couple of weeks of signing on. I had friended [note the new piece of vocabulary I have added to my repertoire] a couple I knew from an activity I used to belong to but hadn’t been involved with for about a year or so. The last time I had seen them was the previous spring when they were out running at the university. After the male half of this couple agreed to be my friend, I wrote on his wall to say hello and asked him if he and his girlfriend were still going there to run. He responded back to me in a private message that, after five plus years, he and his girlfriend were no more. He then told me how devastated he was about it, that he still loved her, and then he asked me to tell him how to get started in writing.

I responded back briefly about the break-up. To be perfectly honest, I had never thought they made a good match (they’ve both since moved on – I found out on Facebook). I told him I was sorry to hear the news and that things always work out the way they are supposed to blah blah blah. I then wrote him a few long paragraphs on getting started in writing. He answered me, not in the private message he started, but back on my wall again: “Thanks for the advice Kim, on all counts.”

Uh oh.

I hadn’t been on facebook very long but I am very astute in making observations about how “things” (and “things” can be broadly defined – usually that means policies and procedures) can work to my advantage – or as in this case, disadvantage. One of the observations I had made very early on was that what you wrote on a mutual friend’s wall would end up in the news feed of all your mutual friends. The male half of the former couple I am referring to, hyper intelligent being that he is, had obviously made the same observation. He wrote what he wrote to ensure that it would be seen by his former girlfriend and to make it look like we had some special communication. And I mean, SPECIAL COMMUNICATION.

I sat on this for a day and couldn’t get it off my mind. I decided to message his former girlfriend and I shared this observation with her. I was glad I did. She had seen the message and hadn’t been surprised. Without getting into the details there had been a history of this kind of behaviour (and MUCH worse) over the past few months. Ultimately, I cut and paste what I had written to him word for word and sent it to her, not because I didn’t want her to be threatened by me but because I wanted her to see how he had twisted my words. He, of course, had been sure to tell her his version of my so-called advice which had me all hopeful and encouraging that they would get back together.

In the ever changing world of facebook, there was a period of time when you could turn off your wall comments from ending up in your mutual friend’s newsfeeds and, once I found it, I did exactly that after that episode, but in this version of facebook you cannot do that. So I am forever conscious of that when I write on someone’s wall. In fact, unless I am saying something completely benign like “good to see you, and welcome to facebook,” I rarely write on walls.

I meant that to be nice

This might be a nice bridge into a “be careful of your privacy” speech but that is not my intent here. We are adults (most of us) and we should be able to monitor our own privacy, but doing that on facebook requires awareness.

OK, I lied, it appears I’m about to go there a little bit.

I remember once sending a message to a friend or two who had themselves in those “dating” applications (Are You Interested?) where you could view other application users profile pictures and click on someone if you “liked” him. I was in that application myself for a while until I realized (just by looking at the photos and occasionally a profile that was wide open), that half those people were already married or were posting fake photos or were looking to get into this country. Well every time you clicked that you “liked” someone, it showed up in your friend’s newsfeeds. I had turned off the ability for this application to do that on my profile, but a few of my friends hadn’t. Do you really want your entire friends list, half of whom are people you haven’t seen in 20 years, to know that you are scanning profile pics for a hot face or two? No thanks.

Although I have to admit, my first escapade in dating post separation happened through said application. A guy I had known for a while came up to me in person and said, “I saw your picture. What are you doing on there? I didn’t know you were single.” To which I said, “What are you doing in there? I didn’t know you were single.” And well the rest was history even though not forever. And it happened face to face and in person in a world where I have a much greater degree of charm than I do in some two dimensional photo.

I can’t say I’ve always been careful. I’ve publicly written things I’ve regretted and deleted them seconds or minutes later. I’ve written things that have been misinterpreted which is always a danger when communicating in writing. You can’t trust that you will be heard in someone else’s head the way you were heard in your own head as you typed. I have one simple rule about that: unless you have proof otherwise, or bad history with the person, always assume that if there are two interpretations of something that has been written, the other person intended for you to read the nice version. I am getting better and learning to inflect fake intonation in what I write. But there is still no such thing as a sarcasm font.

Did I really want you to know that about me?

Everyone uses facebook and other social networking equivalents to their own purposes but I would estimate that somewhere in the neighbourhood of a quarter of my friends on "the list," maybe more, make an appearance of once a week or less often. Another quarter are on here every day but they only lurk. I only become aware of their lurking when they come up to me in person and make a comment about something they could have only seen on Facebook and I am always a little taken aback by this. And on occasion, it makes me think, Did I really want you to know that about me?

It particularly pisses off my mother, who is not on Facebook (thank God), when one of her friends sees something I’ve posted on Facebook and they tell her about it and it was something that she didn’t know.

Sometimes I take Facebook for granted. If you want to know what is going on with me, you better be on facebook. Otherwise I am not likely to voluntarily call you up and tell you. I don’t like phones. This is why facebook works well for me.

I have friends who use facebook for shameless self promotion. A few writers. Some bloggers. Several home party consultants. A few wannabe rock stars and other business types. This is OK. I wonder how they feel if no one responds or comments or if no one shows up? Sometimes I think you have to be a bit thick skinned for certain aspects of facebook. But more on that in Part II.

But my favourite Facebook friends are those that say something about themselves. Not those that are so revealing as to give me third party embarrassment on their behalf but those that are simply vague, or clever, and who show me a little bit of what is inside them. I will fully admit to spending a lot of my personal thought time daydreaming about the clever status. I enjoy when people put in the effort to tell me in their own words about their quirky perspective on life, who make me laugh at life’s irony’s because that is what’s on their mind in that moment.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Or Not.

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