04 January 2009

The dark side of Facebook

Until now, I mostly stayed away from social sites like Facebook and MySpace. I flirted briefly with MySpace when Weird Al began his account there, but the interface was so horrid I deleted my account after a while. Then an online acquaintance invited me to Facebook about the same time I found out my next high school reunion was being discussed there. So I joined.

Wow! So this is where everyone I've ever known has been hiding online. I've found people from grade school – well, only because they also went to high school with me – to college – well, mainly because I was still in touch with them – to past jobs – now some of those were surprising. In this respect, it's great; I get to find old friends I remember fondly and find out what they're up to these days. I've only been able to do this sporadically until Facebook. And I've found it to be incredibly addictive. I've found friends I haven't seen high school graduation, my old band director, and the boss from my first full-time job, all of whom have been kind enough to accept me as a Facebook friend.

But there's another side to this coin. You start getting friend requests, too. Some might be from old friends you just hadn't searched for yet. Some are from classmates, but you were never close. Some are from people you'd done school activities with, but you'd mostly forgotten. And others . . . well, others you happened to go to school with, because you can find them in your old yearbooks, but they weren't in your class and didn't seem to be in any of your activities. What do you do then? Did they "friend" you because you inspired them from afar? (Be nice if they'd said so in a message with their request.) Did they have a secret crush on you? (That would be flattering to know, too.) Has your brain become swiss cheese when it comes to 20-year-old memories and you just don't remember that one class you had together? (Maybe.) Or are they just trying to accumulate as many Facebook friends as possible? (Most likely.)

I'm still new at this, so I'm unsure how to handle it. I hate to ignore someone that I did at least go to school with. But on the other hand, I don't really want someone I have little connection with being able to see all my information, either. I guess my main problem is this paranoid notion that I was somehow important to this person at one point and I don't want to snub them. Is there accepted etiquette for this? It seems rude to ask. (But then, it seems rude that they didn't say, too.) There is, at least, the plus that if you ignore them, they don't get a message saying you've done so. (But it's easy to figure out if they're paying close attention.)

At least it's taught me one lesson. If I'm friending someone I haven't seen in a long time, I make sure I include a message with my request to help jog their memory.