Friday, February 19, 2010

Past Deadline: The Online Water Cooler

A lot of folks out there have nasty things to say about Facebook, and probably some of those things are merited. I’m telling you, though, if you were one of my Facebook friends, you would have been privy to gripping updates about the Fish Tank of Doom during the height of the catastrophe two weeks ago – and who would want to miss that?


What to think about Facebook. There was a day when I probably wouldn’t have been too keen on this social networking thing. Okay, actually, there probably was never a day like that. After all, I’m a communicator. I like to tell stories. I like to write. I like to make people laugh. Facebook definitely caters to my need to chat. Because I am self-employed and work from home, it has been my water cooler. When I’m feeling deprived of adult conversation, I can log on and see what people are up to and read the latest chit chat about current events and throw in a comment or two of my own.

Through Facebook I have reconnected with elementary, high school and university friends along with current and former work colleagues. I even found the girl who lived beside me until we were six. After she moved far away we were pen pals for many years, but eventually we lost touch – reuniting this summer through Facebook.

It’s kind of like glorified e-mail with pictures and a real-time feel. And if you don’t want to let creepy people see your profile, you don’t have to.

One of my favourite things is posting “status updates.” You can tell all your friends what you are doing at This Very Moment. Yes, it can be completely nauseating. Sometimes I don’t want to know about that weird pimple you have or about the disgusting thing you found under the refrigerator. Some people take it pretty literally, too, posting that they are “awake” or “at work” or “about to go to the bathroom.” I like to post fun or ridiculous status updates to see if they’ll generate conversation. How creative can I be in one line? (Sometimes not very….)

I like to think it is honing my writing skills. We all know it’s more likely killing time and preventing me from finishing the Great Canadian Novel or developing inspiring column ideas.
Nevertheless, I suppose it’s a better diversion than, say, drinking and carousing or killing small fish.

Whether you love it or hate it, you can’t argue that Facebook isn’t becoming an Internet tool du jour. We’re witnessing a revolution in the way we communicate. Corporations, celebrities, politicians, non-profits – all sorts of folks and their people are setting up profiles on Facebook and Twitter and on blogs in order to get their message out. They’re updating followers about activities, events and causes.

Sometimes Facebook is my first source for news. There have been many instances when I have logged on and have seen chit chat about something that’s happening – only to see it confirmed on the news later.

Water cooler, I tell ya.

Sure there are reasons to be careful with Facebook. I don’t think, for example, it’s a good idea to post your social insurance number, bank account numbers, all your contact info (including address) and your daily itinerary. Probably not wise to say you’re out of town for two weeks and that no one is looking after the house. It is also, in my opinion, unwise to say nasty things about your job, your boss, your co-workers, your spouse, your kids, etc. Sure, there is at least one very famous Internet person out there who launched her blogging career by writing nasty things about her workplace (Google it: Dooce), but I’d wager that strategy doesn’t work for everyone.

Be sensible about it. If you feel compelled to say something nasty online, remember that someone else might feel compelled to pass it along. It’s the Internet, people. Nothing is sacred. And if you are prone to oversharing, perhaps you should stick to writing in a diary and sticking it in a drawer. Or at least post it anonymously using your cat’s name.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to talk myself out of signing up for Twitter.

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 16/10.

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