The e-mails started appearing sporadically several months ago. As they became more frequent, I began to pay closer attention. It seems they were invitations from the wildly popular social networking website Facebook, sent by friends who’d recently set up their own pages. Now they were trying to get me to do the same.
I’m in my 30s—early 30s, that is—and I’ll admit, I didn’t know much about Facebook. I knew it was similar to MySpace, another online networking resource, though. And as I always do when I want the lowdown on something I’m not hip on, I asked a younger friend. “Everyone is on Facebook,” she informed me.
Then she showed me her profile, with its more than 200 “friends.” She connects with all of them through her page.
The next day, I continued my Facebook inquiry with co-workers. One told me her teenage daughter gets requests from her pals’ parents asking to be “friends” with her. Another has a bunch of divorced friends—all 40-plus—who use the site as a matchmaking tool. (Move over, eHarmony.)
So who’s responsible for this phenomenon, anyway? Looking for the answer, I (naturally) turned to Google. Mark Zuckerberg was in his sophomore year at Harvard when he founded Facebook in 2004. Back then, you had to have a college e-mail address to join—no adults allowed. Within months, students around the country were cyber-socializing through the site. The following year, Facebook embraced high school kids, and by September 2006, the site had lifted its age restrictions completely.
Now, Facebook is the sixth most trafficked site in the U.S. and tops in photo sharing, with 150,000 new users signing up daily. The fastest-growing demographic segment: 35 and older.
Never one to miss out on a trend, I reluctantly signed up. Once you submit your high school and college alma maters and the years you graduated, Facebook automatically seeks out members you may know and the networking begins in earnest.
I felt like I was taking a cyber-stroll down memory lane, discovering classmates I hadn’t seen in more than a decade. In less than a half hour, I learned that my best friend from grade school was engaged, that an old boyfriend’s wife had another baby, and that the high school sweethearts no one thought would make it are still married (happily, I hope). Thanks to Facebook, juicy tidbits I would’ve had to actively seek out via the rumor mill are right at my fingertips.
Truth be told, Facebook ought to be called “Boastbook.” It’s basically a vehicle for presenting your best self and bragging about all the glowing highlights of your life—with pictures to prove it. It’s like a reality show where you already know all the characters—sometimes for decades. And like reality TV, it can be addicting. I know plenty of people who log into Facebook repeatedly throughout the day to check for new friend requests and other updates.
A month into my Facebook experiment, the thrill remains. I’m still adding new friends, writing on “walls” (if you don’t know what that is, you’re obviously not on Facebook), tagging friends in photos, reconnecting with people I might not have communicated with in my adult life—and having fun doing it.
Now I understand why the frenzy caught on so quickly. Sure, it can be a frivolous and mundane place to piddle away your time. But with the real world and all of its complexities looming, frivolous and mundane is exactly what you need sometimes.
When she isn’t on Facebook, Tara Behan is Main Line Today’s senior editor.