My local newspaper recently ran a story about how Facebook.com can ruin people’s romantic relationships. The argument was that the site makes it too easy to get back in touch with former “significant others” and inappropriate contact can easily follow. It was also stated that by using the site, it is too easy to flirt with anyone and everyone.
Are you kidding me? This was one of the dumber article ideas I had come across in a long time. The statement that Facebook can ruin relationships reminded me of the saying, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It’s not the website that is causing discord and breakups, it’s the people using the site who are being shady and messing up things for themselves.
For a long time, I worked under the assumption that “social networking websites” were something silly that teenagers were into. I didn’t understand why you would want to join a social networking site unless you wanted to either gossip about the cute boys on the high school basketball team or discuss the latest developments on the life of Miley Cyrus. Who cares? I’m too old for that stupidness.
As it has become a favorite topic on the local news, I also associated the social networking sites with childhood bullying. It seemed that every week, there was a news story about a child who was being horribly cyberbullied — a kid who got ganged up on and threatened via MySpace.com. The news segments would try to cover both sides of the story, interviewing an upset, crying preteen who claimed to have done nothing to deserve the bullying, then another preteen who would giggle and roll her eyes and say she hadn’t done anything wrong. These news segments would always end with the question of “is MySpace safe for children?” I found these reports disturbing and always sided with the kid who was being bullied.
As time went on, a few of my friends started to set up accounts on MySpace and Facebook. Although they seemed to enjoy using these sites, I still didn’t understand why you would want strangers to know anything about you. I didn’t get it. When someone would ask me why I didn’t have one of these accounts, my standard reply was, “because I’m not 14.” Whoever was asking me the question would be slightly offended and try to explain the appeal, but I was never convinced.
Then a friend told me about LinkedIn.com and how excited she was about joining. This was a friend I knew wouldn’t be into the standard reasons I assumed people joined sites for, so I asked her more about it. She explained that LinkedIn was more of a professional networking tool than a social one. It was a way to keep in touch with former co-workers and offer them a possible introduction to people they may know at other companies. On LinkedIn, you were only supposed to connect to people you know and trust in the business world. As I seem to be constantly in the job-seeking market, this didn’t sound like a bad idea. My friend invited me to join, so I looked further into the site.
LinkedIn seemed like something beneficial to be a part of, so I signed up. You basically create a summary of your resume and use that as your profile. Then, you can import a contact list from Gmail (or Hotmail, Yahoo, or whatever webmail provider you may use) to see whom you know who has a LinkedIn account. LinkedIn also provides lists of people who work at places you’ve worked and people who attended the same schools as you. You can then send these people invitations to be connected. If you become connected, you vouch for your connections and they vouch for you.
I have now had a LinkedIn account for more than a year. While I can’t say I have reaped huge benefits from being a LinkedIn member, I do like knowing when someone on my contact list gets a new job. It’s always good to know people at a lot of different companies.
Soon after I got a LinkedIn account, my friend Dave started using Facebook. His wife and I actually made fun of him for doing so. Dave started playing a game on Facebook where he formed a fake mob and took out hits on other players. The more people Dave had as members of his mob, the better he could do in the game. This led to an evening where Dave kept bugging me to get a Facebook account so I could be in his mob. As I repeatedly said no, Dave went ahead and set up a Facebook account for me. This is how I ended up with a Facebook profile — through no real choice of my own.
As soon as Dave set up my account, I had requests from people who wanted to be my friends. On Facebook, “friends” are the equivalent of “connections” on LinkedIn. Apparently, you can request that people who don’t have Facebook accounts be your friends should they ever sign up. I had a few requests waiting for me.
After accepting my initial friend requests, I started to look up people I knew who used Facebook. It was after my friend list started to grow that I began to understand the site’s appeal.
On Facebook, you can update your “status” as often as you would like. Your status is supposed to be what you’re doing at that moment, but really can say anything you want. For example, right now mine would say, “Stacey Goldstein is writing about how she used to think social networking web sites were completely stupid, then changed her mind.”
It’s the status updates that make me check my Facebook account every day. I like to read what my friends are up to on a day-to-day basis. By logging on to my Facebook home page, I get to be updated on things like my friend Marie made banana bread today or my friend Curt bought a hazardous material suit to wear when he clears asbestos out of his house. I’m always up to date on what my friends are doing. As I don’t get to talk to each and every one of these people every day, I like reading this one sentence about them.
Of course, Facebook also gives you the opportunity to catch up with people you haven’t spoken to since high school. Sometimes this is good, sometimes not so much. I will admit that I have accepted friend requests from people I haven’t spoken to in 15 years out of sheer curiosity. I now know what my ninth grade crush is doing with his time most days.
Facebook has not caused me to inappropriately flirt with strangers, nor has it magically ruined any of my romantic relationships. I also have not been cyberbullied, but that may be more a product of being in my 30s instead of being 13. Nor have I become insanely jealous over old boyfriends I’ve looked up on Facebook. While it’s unlikely that LinkedIn, Facebook, or any of the other sites is going to change your life (although it could — the woman who waxes my eyebrows is now engaged to her high school boyfriend after they were reunited on Facebook), they are not a total waste of time. Being on Facebook can actually be semi-entertaining. And maybe, just maybe being a LinkedIn member will give you an edge in this terrible job market. However, I’m still not touching MySpace.