Now that my 20-year-old son has a steady girlfriend, I asked him the next most logical question. "Have you updated your relationship status on your Facebook page?"
"No," he explained, "I have too many friends I don't know."
Ah, Facebook. Below, Bohemian interns Cassandra Landry and Brodie Jenkins parse out its stranger ways for your gape-jawed pleasure.
I'd known for a long time that I had a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I hated the constant notifications of other people's lives—the parties I wasn't at, the obnoxious look-at-me status updates, the vexatious SuperPoke, the slightly unsettling voyeuristic quality of it all—but I loved the convenience of it. It was like a guilty pleasure, except every other college student indulged along with me, so we were all just one big shameful group.
Curiously, the longer that I stared at the glowing screen full of gossip, the more my self-confidence began to wane. At first, I didn't even consider Facebook a culprit, but after I began to overly concern myself with the images communicated through my likes, dislikes, photos and general information presented on my page, I knew I had to step away from the keyboard.
"Facebook fasts" came and went, but I couldn't hide forever. My frustration finally cumulated in the reading of "Facebook Phobia," an article published in the July 16 issue of The Boston Phoenix. The piece discussed the online phenomenon that has my generation addicted, warping our relationships as we consult profiles for personality instead of meeting potential friends in the flesh. It was comical, and I chuckled along as it listed Facebook side-effects: an insatiable need to check for messages; comparing how many "friends" people have; talking about Facebook in everyday conversation. And then I began identifying with too many symptoms for my own comfort. Next thing I knew, in a hazy, dream-like consciousness, I did the unthinkable. I deactivated my account.
Within minutes of announcing my decision, I was inundated with incredulous and stunned Internet cries. "Don't do it!" "Wait, wait, why? " Deactivating a Facebook is, of course, networking suicide. But I calmly reassured myself that plenty of functional, admirable and successful folks out there do not have a Facebook or MySpace or Twitter account. Plenty of them. Sure, maybe not as many as the 90 million members of Facebook alone, but enough.
After a (shameful) half-hour debating the consequences of such a dramatic move, I faced the tragic fate of my generation. Are we so dependent on technology and intangible luxuries that I, infinitely more complex than an Internet application, couldn't even sever the tie? I indignantly stuck it to the World Wide Web. The final, righteous click came and went (9:36pm on July 22, 2008), and miraculously, I felt better.
Weeks passed. I received a few snarky texts about my mysterious disappearance, but the backlash remained relatively minimal. I had fewer distractions at work, forcing me to actually be productive. Then the stress dreams came. With the new semester approaching, I worried I wouldn't be able to communicate with my three new roommates about moving in. Why hadn't we traded phone numbers? Is the telephone obsolete? Whatever the reason, I was suddenly stranded all alone on my island of Internet righteousness. The phantom pains of Facebook were finally surfacing.
For the first time in weeks, I considered reactivation. I shuddered at the thought. Had I failed to show the mighty Internet what I'm really made of? And then, in a flash of nirvanic clarity, I realized that, no, I wasn't weak or defeated. If anything, the time away taught me how to control Facebook, instead of letting it control me. I calmly reopened the social portal, cringing only slightly, at 10:46am on Aug. 6, 2008.
I may as well have closed my eyes and twitched my nose as I clicked away. The reactivation process is horribly easy, perhaps insinuating that many, like myself, try and fail to break away from the networking Leviathan. All one has to do is log in normally, and the lovely folks at Facebook will email a link straightaway that restores your cyberspace self in an instant. Like I never left.
I recently learned that a close friend of mine, "Trisha," gave her mom her Facebook password. Trisha's mother, "Lynn," could then access her Facebook account, her messages, wall-posts, photos and friends' profiles. What this also meant was that Lynn could freely peruse my Facebook profile as well.
My own mother let it slip one night during dinner.
"I want your opinion on something," she said over a plate of chicken and green beans, "because I can't decide whether it's weird or not."
"Mmm," I said from the depths of Elle magazine.
"Well," she went on, "I was having lunch with Lynn, and we were talking about you kids. And I mentioned that you had started to date Tim. And Lynn already knew who he was!'"
My ears perked up. "Um, how?"
"She saw what he'd written on your Facebook thingy," my mom said innocently. "She uses Trisha's account. Is that, you know, normal?"
I felt violated and furious, as though Trisha had let a spy into forbidden territory. By sharing her account with her mom, she was betraying me and all of her online peers' trust. There was no other option but to remove her from my Facebook friends. Click.
True, my reaction was overblown and hasty, even immature. But there was something behind it. Friends of mine who use Facebook were shocked that Trisha would let her mom use her account. The overall consensus, in answer to my mom's question, was no, it wasn't normal.
Parents, you are not welcome on Facebook. You may wish to understand the inner workings of this strange and magical world first-hand, but if you want to maintain any shred of respect your children deign to show you, stay far away. Facebook is young people's territory.
I know it hurts. But this is the bitter truth, one of those painful dividing lines between older and younger generations. You may feign calm indifference, but we can sense your meddlesome motives. "I just want to look at Ann's pictures from Europe," you say sweetly, but we can see through you like a pair of fishnets.
You know Facebook is off limits. Perhaps you snoop because you are offspring-deprived. The baby bird is out of the nest. Maybe the baby bird doesn't call very often. And you, the parental unit, want to know what all of your rearing efforts have amounted to. How is the progeny handling life away from home? Are little Tyler or Alyssa making friends? Partying? Partying too much? A treasure trove of carelessly shared information, Facebook may reveal what your child refuses to disclose directly.
Now that anybody can join Facebook, the temptation to sign up can be overwhelming for the curious parent. Don't give in. You'll find yourself floundering in an alien universe, where BRB, OMG, LOL and WTF replace actual sentences and status updates are gobbled up like US Weekly headlines.
On Facebook, kids display and toy with aspects of their identities, "coming out" to a new peer group (Tyler Thompson is "Interested in: men"), flirting with reckless abandon, waging savage "poking" wars, starting and ending relationships like the sleaziest Hollywood stars, putting up photos from drunken parties and self-aggrandizing events. This information is tailored for an exclusive community of teens, students and recent grads—parents not included.
If you ever had a clubhouse as a kid, you'll remember the thrill of perceived ownership, of separation and protection from parental invasion. Think of Facebook as the young adult's virtual clubhouse. An invisible "Keep Out!" sign is posted on the door. To enter means to infringe, to violate a false, but precious, sense of security.
I know it's ironic. The whole point of a Facebook profile is that it's public. We Facebook junkies fill everything out, from our religious and political views to our favorite quotes, knowing that it will (and wanting it to) be seen. I have over a thousand friends—a thousand—who can all look at my Facebook profile whenever they want. So what if Lynn gets added to the list?
The problem is that she's a parent. Lynn has seen me in diapers, watched me grow, judged, scolded and taken care of me. The thought of her secretly trolling through my photos and wall conversations makes me cringe. She doesn't belong among the ranks of 18- to 25-year-olds with whom I share my social networks.
Soon, the shit hit the virtual fan. My mom received a furious email from Lynn, demanding an explanation for my heartless behavior toward her daughter. This set off a string of confessions and accusations, which flew through the Internet abyss with Superman speed. I learned that Lynn felt estranged from me, and had considered Facebook our only means of "connection." Trisha told me that I was deluded if I thought outsiders didn't break into Facebook all the time.
Finally, exasperated and disgusted with myself for partaking in this silly drama, I repented. In an email CC'd to her mother, Trisha accepted my apology. I re-requested her friendship on Facebook. Trisha consented. She changed her password.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
A brief mosquito-infested foray into the Facebook jungle— aka a glossary
ApplicationsIt's like Pimp Your Profile. Basically anything can be added to the profile: bumper stickers, TV show and movie fan sites, quotes, pictures—the list goes on and on and on. Search for various apps through the search engine, but be wary of adding too many. Scrolling through the applications just to type a quick message is tiresome, and you'll be stuck on the computer for an hour, minimum.
Friending Just because somebody is your Facebook friend does not mean he or she is your friend in real life. Facebook veterans quickly grow accustomed to the familiar line from an unfamiliar individual: "Hey, aren't you my Facebook friend?" Over time, you may accumulate many hundreds of "friends," but you will only know about half of them and be close to an even smaller fraction. Friending someone that you have met in person, however, is a symbol of solidification, showing that you like that person and that you want to keep in touch.
Interests Just another way to hone your Facebook image, "Interests" are a personal statement. Are you boring? Then go ahead and put "hanging out with friends" or "reading" as your interests. We'll try not to judge you. Obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons? You might want to leave that out. Many go the quirky route, as in putting "Slinkies" as an only interest. Others flower it up ("star-gazing, long luxurious bubble baths, intellectual snobbery"). Put whatever you like, just try not to look dumb.
News FeedEnables the user to view every single detail of every friend's online lives: photos added, comments made to mutual acquaintances and status changes. Slightly creepy, and a great way to get sucked into the he-said, she-said whirlwind.
Pokes A poke can be anything from a friendly nudge of acknowledgement to a sexy, potentially creepy, gesture of interest. Those poked have two options: "Poke Back" or "Remove." Sound simple? It isn't. Poking is like tennis—once poked, the ball is in your court. Poke back, and the power is out of your hands. Your poke is now on somebody else's computer screen, so easily removed, so easily ignored. Poke back too quickly and you seem overly eager; poke too slowly and your friend is insulted. Always remember to poke responsibly.
Profile An Internet box-o-fun. The all-powerful profile is a page dedicated to the interests, whims, hopes and dreams of one individual. Peruse with caution.
Relationship Status0 Relationship status options are as follows: "Single," "In a Relationship," "Engaged," "Married," "It's Complicated" and "In an Open Relationship." You can also show who you are in a relationship with, though the other person has to confirm. Many silly fake relationships exist on Facebook ("It's Complicated with Chuck Norris"), but be careful before displaying a serious relationship on your profile. Breakups are made even nastier when exhibited for all to see. Not only will your status say, "Jane Doe is no longer in a relationship," but those Facebook bastards decorate it with a broken heart icon. Talk about twisting the knife.
Social Network A network simply defines the extent of your connections. After joining a college network for example, you are then free to view all profiles in that network, with respect to certain privacy preferences. Facebook does allow more than one network per profile: a city network and a school network. Have two masters degrees and a PhD, all from different schools? Add "alum" to each and multiple networks are opened. Ah, networking.
Status A little glimpse of your offscreen life, your "status" is a brief description of your current thoughts, feelings, actions or whims, and the options are endless. Laid out with your name and the verb "is," it prompts users to write something as basic as "is dying at work" or insert a line from a favorite poem: "is nobody. Who are you?" Some use the status as an alternate form of communication, as in "Jane Doe wishes you were here." But those who want to keep their daily activities off the record can always leave the status blank.
Wall - Messaging Got something to say? Write it on the wall, but remember—everyone can read it, and don't think that they won't. Consider the consequences before spilling all the details of last night's bitch fest, and send the recipient a message instead. Personal, private and perhaps comforting due to it's similarity to plain ol' email.
—B.J. & C.L.