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When I mentioned to one of my students that I had just started a Facebook page, she rolled her teenaged eyes.
"Another old person ruining Facebook!" she moaned.
I laughed but she didn't. Approaching fifty doesn't make me "old," just middle-aged. To my surprise, she kept going: "Facebook is for us. It's not for spying on us or for your stories about what happened in the Depression or pictures of grandkids and kittens. My mother wants to be my 'friend.' My uncle just 'poked' me. Can't you geezers get your own place? Maybe you should call it 'Wrinkled Facebook.'"
A friend (in "real life," not online) suggested I start a Facebook page to promote my recent book. As a newbie to this social networking site, I entered my name and some very basic information. Work demands quickly intruded, and I forgot all about Facebook for a couple of weeks. Then my sister, another "oldster" around my own age, e-mailed me: "Put something on your Facebook page!"
So I uploaded a recent photo and fleshed out my information--five minutes work. What could be the harm? I thought. Before the end of the day, I got a "friend" request from a college classmate I hadn't talked to in nearly thirty years ... and then another ... and then ten more ... and then five people who work with me ... and then a writer I admire who lives on the other side of the continent.
I took my laptop to bed that night. While my wife slept peacefully, I looked at pictures people had posted of themselves and their families, their dogs and cats, even shots of themselves from back in college, looking fresh-faced and innocent. I even saw myself in the background of a few of those college pictures, all skin-and-bones and floppy hair, barely recognizable even to myself. In other shots, I saw college girlfriends, still pretty nearly three decades later, and read gushing reports of the successes of their near-grown children.
I was piling up friends by the score and searching for more to add to my total. Before I realized what was happening, I had taken the laptop to bed every night for two weeks. This wasn't healthy. My wake-up call finally came when I took my tenth Facebook trivia quiz at two a.m. on a night when I had to get up at five to grade papers and plan classes.
What could be the harm? The harm is that Facebook can be addictive. We "old people" are sometimes fond of complaining about how our kids will spend sunny days glued to video screens instead of getting fresh air. "Back when I was young ..." we sometimes lecture. When we were young, something called "facebook" was a pamphlet we got at freshman orientation with names and postage-stamp headshots of our classmates. The only reason we weren't addicted to today's Facebook as a teenagers is that, back then, the internet was just a dim idea in the mind of a scientist at some government think-tank.
I've been active on Facebook for a month now, and I'm starting to learn the balance needed to keep it under control. I post a few new photos sometimes to keep my page fresh. My online friends update their status regularly, so I feel like I know them better--the ones from my past as well as the ones in the next office. And I check out pet and grandchildren pictures when my "real" work is done.
And I still find some nice surprises. In fact, I've even gotten an unexpected "friend" request from the student who originally suggested I join "Wrinkled Facebook." Guess what? She's got some cool pictures of her really cute cat.
Professor of English and Communications
Asnuntuck Community College