Tuesday, July 08, 2008

In Your Facebook

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.

22 comments:

Brenda said...

Facebook now has a feature to stop those undesired requests - you can either block all requests from an application (so that you're never invited to play poker again) or you can even block all invitations from certain people. Hope that helps.

Ms.PhD said...

I feel the same way. I decided to block all the game applications because that's not what I'm there for (and what postdoc has time, really?).

Mostly FB makes me feel old and stodgy before my time. And I HATE the ads.

Scientia Matris said...

I'm clearly getting old(er). I ignored a request from one of my grad students on facebook. He's the only one in the lab to do so, even though they're all on it and chat about it frequently.

He's a lovely fellow and we get along very well etc but it was a boundary I wasn't prepared to cross. Once he's finished, it might be a different thing. And no, it's not because he's a he. I have another grad student who is just about to complete and I'd do the same on facebook with her.

I mean, I can't trust my dear old friends not to alert my grad students to my errant ways...!

Anonymous said...

I'm clearly getting older too (mid 30s, postdoc) - I haven't found the time or inclination to even look at Facebook.

PhysioProf said...

So far, I am still successfully resisting. I need another mechanism for wasting time socializing like I need an extra hole in my head.

The History Enthusiast said...

The idea of adding as many people as you can so you can look popular is really more an undergrad thing. Most of my friends don't use Facebook in that way.

I'm 27 and I use Facebook to keep in touch with actual friends from college and my M.A. institution, so I often deny requests from people I only sorta know. I feel a little too old to make new friendships with people who are 18...it just feels weird. If you don't want to friend someone, you aren't pressured to do so. Really, it is what you make of it that matters. Use it however you like.

Stephanie said...

One really cool application is the bookshelf, which lets you see what books your friends have read and their reviews. You can also list the books you've read and are currently reading, along with short reviews. Most of the Facebook applications are pretty annoying though...who had time for all that???? I guess I have time to read this blog but that is a learning experience for my future :)

Anonymous said...

will you write my papers? TIA!

Joanna said...

I am an older student, and at first Facebook made me feel old. But then I found a lot of people from high school and my early 20s who I'd lost touch with.

It's been a great experience. I'm used to thinking of myself as some weirdo freak of nature because I didn't get married or have kids and I went off and did what I wanted with my life.

Come to find out, A LOT of the women I knew in my teens and early twenties did the EXACT SAME THING!

How about that? :-)

Professor in Training said...

This morning I actually had a friend request from someone I knew from my undergrad days. Not sure how she found me as I'm now on the other side of the world. We only had a couple of classes together, weren't very close and haven't seen each other since 1993 so I'm not sure why she bothered ... it took me ages to place her name and even longer to recognize her from her profile pictures.

Kaija said...

As a "nontraditional" grad student, I'm not considered part of the general Facebook generation, but I have to admit I'm a convert (and trying to avoid becoming an addict). As with ANY tool, you can find ways to use it constructively. I have my privacy settings pretty solidly set, I don't allow applications, and I am very selective about who I friend. However, I really enjoy being able to easily stay connected with many friends, family members, and colleagues as well as share pictures without having to make people sign up for one of the photo websites.

You mentioned a lot of what I consider good practices for using any social networking site. I also use my pages and posted items to put up stories about science or women in science, or just political commmentary/things that interest me, and am delighted when someone I didn't even know that well/or someone who I didn't even KNOW was interested in feminism comments or starts a discussion. I try to make my FB page reflect ME.

My younger brother claims that FB is the "laziest way to stay in touch with just about everyone" and other than that, it's just a whole lot of fun. The internet CAN be fun again! ;)

The Bear Maiden said...

LOL. I read you because your world is so vastly, enormously, galaxies different from mine... but one thing we have in common is Facebook! For a long time, though, I resisted. I resisted because Facebook is more for people who went to college and have lives, MySpace is for everyone (and I do mean everyone) else. And I liked the anonymity of MySpace.

But I'm hooked on Facebook. I play "You're a Hottie" regularly, and I am addicted to Bumfight, and I send flowers and shoes and Victoria's Secret bras, and I Superpoke. And I'm 43... (I think they get your age from when you sign up) and the ads crack me up! Because they really get to you: "Overweight at 43!?" they scream at me. And it almost got to me, but then I realized, hey wait a minute... I'm actually losing weight on my own thanks to karate, and, hey, it's only marketing.

But I am utterly and completely amazed at the pictures people will upload of themselves... drinking, flashing boobs, and we're talking folks closer to my age than college....and they use their real names!!!!!! I thought the "low-lifes" on MySpace only did that.

Facebook is enormously entertaining, and at the moment I'm completely obsessed. But I have a lot of free time on my hands right now...

Oh yeah, and I've found some people that were worth finding...

Ψ*Ψ said...

My friends are so scattered that Facebook has become essential for keeping in touch. I like that it allows you to separate people into lists--I have a long one just for chemists, and the majority of them are blog readers who decided to be friendly.
Applications are annoying but easy to block. It's the ads that get to me, though. Despite being an American woman, I DO have more interesting things to think about than my jeans size.

Vodalus said...

My favorite application is the "Friend Wheel". It's just a small java map demonstrating how your various groups of friends interact. You can adjust the color settings to show who in your circle has the most connections to others in your circle. I think its just really neat to see a literal representation of the social network.

Vodalus said...

Also, about poker: he probably just gets free digital chips for spamming invitations.

Gaia said...

I have a policy of accepting friend requests from graduate students and ignoring those from undergrads. I have to admit, though, that I feel a slight resentment about having to censor my Facebook page because one of my students may be looking at it, since it is a great way to keep up with distant friends and old high school/college/grad school chums. I suppose I could ignore the grad student requests, but on the other hand maybe it's a good way for them to see that professors are human and have lives/histories outside the lab.

Ψ*Ψ said...

gaia: you know you can set up a limited profile to display for certain people, right?

Isis the Scientist said...

Facebook has been a really great resource for keeping up with friends I had in grad school, but I often find requests from students. The ones that make my soul hurt are the ones from the students I know are not doing well but are generally decent human beings. The last few times I have taught and received friend requests, I have thanked my class before begnining lecture and told them that while I am flattered I don't think it is appropriate to be their friend until after the semester is over. Usually by then the novelty of being my friend wears off and I don't get the second request.

Anonymous said...

I was a reluctant convert to Facebook, and now am completely addicted of course (although I also don't do any of the applications/games). I'm a postdoc between two labs, and both labs have facebook groups- in one the PI is a member and in one the PI is not (which is pretty consistent with other aspects of their mentorship styles). The groups are mostly grad students, postdocs, some affiliated junior faculty, and lab alums. Its actually a kind of fun way to keep in touch with people who have left, and we post pictures from conferences or lab outings and things like that.

Grad Student said...

Gah, I have taken to tagging all of the "Are you 28 and fat?" ads as offensive. Because the "fat" photos usually look like me.

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...

This was an easy one for me. I mentioned over a casual meeting with a group of my undergrad (research) students, "I've been thinking I should get on Facebook". They said, "Don't". I mentioned it again a few months later. They said the same thing. That settled it for me.

I didn't really ask why and they didn't really say why, but I trust them with so much else, I decided to trust their judgment on this one.

Always-a-Student said...

I, too, am a recent convert to facebook. I thought I was doing well with a myspace page, but I found out that the young "kids" in undergrad don't use it that much. I resisted facebook, but they really do rely on it to organize study groups, major meetings, etc.

I'm an older *ahem* student and I have a system for my online life. My myspace page is reserved for family and work friends and is private. My facebook is reserved for the younger people I meet on campus during the semester. That one has much less personal information on it. It seems to work.