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Getting in your Facebook

by Dear Jon
June 30, 2009

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Dear Jon,

I don't get Facebook or Twitter at all, but understanding them seem to be essential to my career. I end up having a mix of family and personal friends mixed in with non-acquaintances who share common interests. How can people follow dozens of "friends?" How often should I post without possibly offending my personal contacts or getting too personal with my "common interest" contacts?

Virtual Signature

Dear Virtual,

First of all, I can't track with too much humor in this letter. I will see if I'm up to the humor challenge as the article rolls along. However, I really like this letter. In fact, it is one I could have written myself, almost word for word. I am amazed that I, in fact, did not write it, and that this letter is an actual letter from an anonymous person unknown to me. I feel validated in all of my opinions about virtual relationsihp, including that the writer put the word "friends" in quotation marks. 

(Yes, the advice columnist is finding validation from the one seeking help. This is a reversal of roles which would be unethical if I was actually qualified to do anything.)

Second, it is safe to say that if the writer sees something about Facebook as essential to the writer's career, the writer will agree with me that computers are great. This letter is NOT coming from a technophobe. Dear Jon is no technophobe either. Computers have allowed me to publish a book without risk to myself or the publisher. That book is available through this website. That is a great idea advanced by technology. Computers have allowed me to publish a column regularly, 391 times. Computers, through the miracle of e-mail, have kept me in touch more truly with more actual friends more often than would ever have been the case if we relied on hand-written letters and phone calls. That is especially true of family.

So I think computers are great. Under my real persona I have a Facebook Page. Dear Jon may open up something like that, too.

However, computers are tools within a lifestyle. Computers are NOT the lifestyle. What some host template calls a "friend" on Facebook or whatever else, is not necessarily a friend in any meaningful way. Facebook has allowed me to "find" school acqaintences from 20 years ago and more.  These are not people I have kept up with otherwise. It is a misnomer to call them "friends" now, when Facebook remains our only avenue of discourse.

Facebook is a lounge site. It is something like what happens when we attend a class reunion. Hello. What have you been up to these 15 years. Blah blah blah. Have you heard about so-and-so? Whatever happened to him? Blah blah blah.

(Incidentally, in my real life I was editor of the school newspaper while in high school, which I attended in a different country. As we are coming up on 25 years, it is safe to say that I would be one of the "where are they now?" types, unless enough Canadians have figured out Facebook by now.)

But friends are the ones you call when you are stranded with a dead car battery on an interstate bridge. Your friends are the ones you buy drinks for when you celebrate a new job or promotion. Your friends are the ones you razz when they turn a birthday with a "zero" on the end. Your friends are the ones with whom you trash talk during sports events. Your friends are the ones whose weddings you attend if you can, and to whom you send regrets when it is impossible. Your friends who live internationally or out-of-state, are the ones you make an effort to see or to contact when you are travelling their directions, and to e-mail frequently in the meantime.

If a reader of this article is not buying drinks for others now and then, and not getting invited to weddings, and is watching sports alone, and if that reader is not the one people call when in need, then that reader might be thinking that computer networking equals having a life. This is a wake-up call: The problem is not how many virtual friends a host template can claim to have found for you in cyber-space. The problem is the lack of real friends and meaningful relationships.

As for advice to the writer: Post no more often than once a week on life events that are of general interest to those who know you. Facebook has occasionally been a short-cut for me to communicate to a wider audience than my e-mail contacts. For example, I announced the publication of my book on Facebook. The reason is that I want these "friends" to buy it.

Do some sports trash-talk when issues are ripe. Do not get medically gross or emotionally voyeuristic in terms of self-disclosure. That is a boundary issue where you need to tell apart real friends from virtual friends. Recently comic strip artist Garry Trudeau has done a week's worth of bits in Doonesbury regarding Roland Hedley's propensity to be virtually, rather than personally, involved in his own life and career. It is funny in the poignant and sad ways that Trudeau has mastered.

In other words, stay current with Facebook and those other venues of virtuality, but only at your convenience. Do not let them take priority over real friends, real jobs, real relationships. And that means, do not make Hedly's mistake and "text" in the middle of personal and work-related conversations.

I do not see how or why a career might depend on how often you post on Facebook. If that is what it has become for you, you might want to rethink your strategies. I mentioned that I tried selling a book on Facebook and guess what? It has not worked. Friends, whether real ones or virtual, do not really enjoy having their relationship leveraged for profit. You would THINK they would jump at the chance to support a struggling author whose humor will go down in history as one of the ground-breaking ingenuities of the species, making their first editions a collector's item, but no.

When it comes to so-called "warm market" selling, for some reason we make an exception culturally for candles and cleaning products sold at "parties" by pyramid companies. Even then, that person is rare whose "home business" with a warm market strategy really takes off.

On the other hand, maybe you work for GOOGLE or something, in which case I can see why "getting it" about Facebook might be essential to your career.

By the way, how does GOOGLE make any money? Is it all advertising? Really?

And can Congress pass a law banning forever from my computer, ads for teeth-whitening technologies that involve pictures of gaping human mouths? Gross. I might put that up when I launch my Dear Jon Facebook Page. I'll start a "Ban Teeth-whitening Ads" group for any "friend" who shares that interest.

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