In fall 2007, I contemplated the issues that confront a faculty member re. involvement in the Facebook culture, especially in terms of interacting with students on Facebook. I was - and am - skeptical that Facebook is something I want or need to be part of, but the number of requests to join and be electronic friends with my actual friends made me relent.
At first it was very strange to go to a webpage and be informed that I have 3 friends or some other low number. And then I started getting requests from students. And then I got requests from random colleagues whom I sort of know and sort of like but don't consider friends in the old-fashioned sense of the word. These are not people with whom I would correspond by email to chat about my weekend or the extraordinarily cute thing my cat did this morning.
Following the advice of my Facebook-savvy colleagues, I always accept a friend request from a student but I never make a request. I never look at a student's Facebook pages unless a student writes and says "Take a look at the photo album of my amazing trip to Sardinia" or something like that.
I have accepted most friend requests from colleagues and acquaintances, but I have declined a few (or in some cases just not responded, which is maybe sort of the same thing as declining, just more lame?). For example, I declined to 'friend' a sort-of colleague who emails me at least once a week asking me to do things for him (send him papers, write his papers, do his analyses, give him research ideas). I am not eager to increase my level of interaction with him, and the thought of his being part of my Facebook universe is too grim to contemplate seriously. Yes, I know I could adjust my privacy settings to limit his access, but I just can't bring myself to be his friend.
I also declined a couple of requests from friends of 'friends'; in each case, student friends. I know this goes against the Facebook/internet social networking philosophy of being friends with as many people as possible, but why would I want to be 'friends' with someone who knows someone I barely know? I am not using Facebook to connect with people I don't know, and I really don't want to have hourly updates about the doings of random students.
I have very little information in my profile -- just my name and location. Somehow, though, Facebook seems to know my age. My 'friends' range in age from 18 to 65, but FB has my age figured out quite well, if the ads that pop up on the side of the page are any indication. One ad is an invitation to join a social networking group for people in their 40's, and today I learned that exercise won't help me lose the extra weight I have no doubt acquired in my 40's, but drinking some sort of green tea concoction will. Another ad was for real estate, and it annoyed me because the ad text said "your" instead of "you're". I wish that Facebook would figure out that I am a professor and not show me ads with typos in them.
The best part for me has been the opportunity to reconnect with some friends from college and grad school. These friends weren't so close that we stayed in contact over the years, but are close enough that I am happy to have some way of interacting with them and seeing how and what they are doing now.
My collection of Facebook friends is a crazy mix of students, colleagues, and (real) friends of varying degrees of closeness to me, and I find that kind of interesting even if I am not taking full advantage of all the Facebook interaction possibilities. I am also pleased that I am now in double digits in terms of my number of friends. That makes me happy, although I wish one of my student 'friends' would stop sending me requests to play Facebook Texas Hold 'Em poker.
10 years ago