Well, I finally broke down and did it. After years of avoiding the inevitable, I swallowed my pride, shredded my dignity, sold my soul, and joined the masses.
Yes, last week I set up a Facebook page.
I don't have anything against social networking sites (SNSs). In fact, I've allowed my LinkedIn network to expand slowly and organically over the years. Furthermore, I am an avowed email addict, and the only reason that I don't have Internet access on my cell phone is that I might forget to eat after a while. But Facebook, MySpace, and their ilk all seemed to be different animals. These were the SNSs of the young and hip, or as I like to refer to them, the MOUM (masses of unmotivated morons). MySpace was to real blogs what Tammy Faye Bakker was to...well, Michelle Obama. One was overly decorated, overly self indulgent, and totally lacking in any real content. And the other was Michelle Obama.
Yes, I think I'm going to start referring to Wolfsong Enterprises as the Michelle Obama of blogs. But I digress...
I had reconnected with an old high school friend through his blog (the Janeane Garofalo of blogs), and he destroyed my last bulwark of resistance. He enticed me onto the site with the promise of seeing many an old colleague and friend. Curiosity final won out.
The moment I entered the site, I felt as if I had stumbled upon a trap door to a secret underground world where all of my old acquaintances were hiding. I stepped through the magic door, and suddenly all my old high school buddies, college buddies, grad school buddies, and my rabbi were waving to me from the open bar. "Zev!" they all seemed to shout, "We were wondering when you'd make your way down here. Have a drink!" It was, and still is, a bit unsettling.
Naturally, it wasn't long before I downloaded the most flattering picture I could find of myself (the one from last summer AFTER I lost some weight) as well as a couple pictures of my family. I only downloaded two pictures because my wife values her privacy a whole lot more than I do, and she gets very squirrelly and grumpy when I mention her by name on my blog. So, I am now a lot more careful about what information I share about my wife 'Brunhilda'.
In fact, it was many days before I admitted to my wife Helga that I had set up a Facebook page. She looked at me as if I had reported proudly, "Hey, guess what? I just got a tattoo, earring, ponytail, and a High School Musical lunchbox. Don't I look cool?"
"Isn't that for college students?" she asked. "Well..." I answered...and then I shared with her my first impressions from my week on Facebook. In fact, these are Zev's Quick Observations About Facebook.
#1: FACEBOOK IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG.
According to a 2007 Forrester Research report, 74% of young adults (age 18-21) have a profile on some SNS. Compare that to 53% of teenagers (ages 12-17) and 25% of adults (ages 18+). About 42% of young adults use Facebook compared to only about 8% of adults. Facebook certainly appears to be a young persons toy.
College students primarily use Facebook as a social activity, that is to view and discuss people's profiles. According to a 2007 article in First Monday, for most young adults, Facebook is primarily used as a "friend function," that is "Accepting, adding, browsing through, or reviewing friends; seeing how friends are connected; showing friends other individuals." College students also use Facebook as a virtual directory of contact information for friends they already know.
My theory is that in the next 5 years, the percentage of adult users on Facebook will skyrocket. The reasons are fourfold:
- Facebook no longer requires a university email address. Therefore, the doors have been thrown open to EVERYBODY.
- All the young adults currently on Facebook will eventually become old adults, and they will take their Facebook accounts with them. Once an email addict, always an email addict. The same goes for SNSs.
- Many adults need a networking site that is less stodgy than LinkedIn but less tacky than MySpace. (Take THAT Rupert Murdoch)
- Adults have an even greater need than young adults for a networking site that puts us in contact with friends old and new for the simple reason: WE ARE OLDER AND WE KNOW MORE PEOPLE.
Q.E.D. Facebook will soon belong to the 40-year olds. Of course I'll be an old man of 50 when that happens. But I'll be a cool, happenin' 50-year old.
#2: ANONYMITY REQUIRES A CONSCIOUS EFFORT
In the days before the Internet, anonymity was an inevitable and unfortunate result of the lack of a tangible network of local friends and family. Many people asked themselves, "If I died, how many days would it take before people notice?" Maintaining a public identity required constant activation energy.
And then came the Internet and Web 2.0 with email and SNSs. I worried that my father-in-law (i.e. Thelma's father) was headed for near obscurity when he retired and dropped his daily contact with his university crowd. Then he discovered email. Now his social life is richer than my own.
In other words, you have to be constantly vigilant just to stay hidden. It is too easy to create a Google Spoor.
By the way, Google Spoor--the trail of information one leaves on the Internet that is visible through a Google search--is my own term and my own concept. You may use it in your daily discourse. Just remember that you heard it here FIRST.
#3: PRIVACY IS A DELUSION
Identify theft is a real threat in this country as evidenced by the increased number of TV advertisements for free credit report sites. And yet, many SNS users post enough information on their Websites for a moderately talented identity thief to deduce and steal their Social Security Number. In fact, over 80% of Facebook users post their name, birthday, hometown, high school, and email, as well as posting potentially incriminating information about their personality, such as favorites, interests, political views, and relationships. Facebook allows its users to set privacy settings restricting viewer access, and although 84% of users reported that they knew of the privacy settings, only 48% actually made use of the privacy settings. In fact, 54% of Facebook users have added friends that they would not consider friends.
In other words, in this day and age, no one can use the excuse that they did not know they were revealing too much personal information. We all know. We just don't care.
#4: BY CONTROLLING OUR LANGUAGE, SNSs ARE CONTROLLING OUR THOUGHTS
The moment I got on Facebook, the system started telling me who my friends were. "Zev is now friends with Bob." Really? Bob (not his real name) was my college roommate. I've known him since the 8th grade. He was one of my groomsmen at my wedding. And only now he has become my friend? "Zev has become a fan of Tom Lehrer." Hello, I've been listening to Tom Lehrer since I was 12. But only now that I've clicked on a link am I a true fan.
The most insidious aspect of Facebook is the Update Status. Unlike a blog, in which the writer may spend hours wordsmithing his intelligent discourse or arguing a cogent theory (or just sayin' stuff), the Update Status allows us to report our immediate deeds and thoughts. My first Update was, "Zev is typing that Zev is typing." I thought it would implode the system. It didn't. All it did was wait for me to tell the world something else that I was doing. And now, before I go to bed, I have the opportunity to tell my network of 'real' friends that I am going to bed.
Eventually, keyboard interfaces will give way to direct neural taps that allow us to telepathically connect to the Internet. When that happens, we will be able to report to the world everything we are doing and thinking as we are doing and thinking it. And what's to stop the download from going both ways?
"Zev Winicur is feeling Hungry. Zev Winicur has become a fan of Burger King. Zev Winicur is now ordering five BK Veggies. Zev Winicur is now a fan of Pepto-Bismol."
It could happen.
#5 FACEBOOK--LIKE EMAIL, NICOTINE, AND GAMBLING--IS ADDICTIVE
Clinical discussions of Internet addiction go back at least 10 years. Yes, even CBS news reported on the phenomenon last summer.
Let's face it, I'm doomed. I'm becoming a Facebook junkie already, and I've only been on a week. I'm giving up my privacy, my every move is being scrutinized by high school acquaintances, and a computer is telling me who I'm allowed to be friends with. The best that I can hope for is that my father-in-law never discovers this beast. On the other hand, maybe he can become friends with his daughter...Muffy.