I have to say from the outset, I love Facebook. It's not without it's flaws, like all of us, but I think anyone who criticises it too much simply shouldn't use it. I have one friend who comes and goes from it every now and then. He said it has turned him into a "lazy friend." I can definitely see how this is possible, after all, you simply need to log in to catch up on what most of your friends have been up to lately, you don't even need to contact them if you don't want to - it's that simple. You also get reminded when your friend's birthdays are coming up and you can write on their wall instead of putting the date in your diary and labouring over birthday cards, which is SO last century! (Check out this article in The New Yorker on the same topic).
I think the main appeal for me is that, as an expat, I live a long way away from everyone I love. I like being able to see photos of my friend's babies, and reading about my cousin's recent trip to Europe, or the wedding of an old uni friend. I probably wouldn't know about any of this stuff if it weren't for Facebook. I might sound like a lazy friend who can't be bothered keeping in touch any other way, but the reality is I'm a busy friend. We're all busy, and sometimes it's easier to write a quick status update than an email detailing the minutiae of our lives for each of our long-distance friends.
Sometimes Facebook a little intrusive and voyeuristic, but I make sure that I only accept friend requests from people I'm actually friends with - people I genuinely want to keep in touch with. Here lies one of the problems with social networking: far too many people use it as a form of consumerism. They base their self-worth on how many friends they've accumulated. You meet them on the street one day and have a chat about how cute your kid is and the next thing you know they want to be "friends." I do believe that networking is an important part of building a new life in a foreign country, as we are so valiantly trying to do, but do I really want random neighbours and colleagues having access to my photos from last Christmas? Or have them knowing that last night I made a kick-arse gnocchi carbonara? I try to avoid giving away too much normally, and I tend to avoid others who like to share way too much, but where do you draw the line? Who do you let in? And what do you do when someone is offended by being kept out? The biggest question is, can you really count someone as a friend if you're "friends" on Facebook? For now, I can say yes, they're all genuine friends, but I don't know how long it can stay that way.
In this day and age where everyone has a blog, a Facebook profile, connections on LinkedIn, and a Twitter account, and where so much marketing and networking is done online, you feel like you need to have an internet presence to achieve almost anything. I was recently part of the Sydney Writer's Centre blog awards, and one of the things the judges looked at was the way bloggers used social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, to promote their blogs. Basically I would've scored a big, fat ZERO in that category, because apart from linking to the occasional post on my Facebook page I didn't do any of it. None of it comes naturally to me. Self-promotion has always been a challenge and it seems anathema to me to befriend someone or make a connection in the hope that my blog will be promoted and it'll boost my "traffic." But then again, isn't that the whole point of social media and networking sites?Perhaps the whole "you promote my blog and I'll promote yours" mentality is the new Tupperware party or recipe swap: we're all in it for something, so what's there to lose? A connection is a connection after all.
I know that there's a lot that I don't know and if I can't use social media to my advantage then I may as well get out of the game, so to speak. I recently joined Twitter, and I felt like how I imagined my Nanna felt the first time she used a mobile phone, because as much as I love my laptop and my blog, at heart I'm old-school. Until I got an iPhone for my birthday last year, I still carried an address book and diary around in my handbag, and even now I still dutifully transfer the birthdays from one calendar to the next every December. I like handwriting Christmas and birthday cards, and heaven forbid, I do still pick up the telephone (a landline no less) to call people. I have been trying to touch base with an old friend for a week now and we emailed, we chatted on Facebook, we tried Skype, but we kept missing each other. Eventually he called me using Viber, another new fangled technology, but it was still great to actually hear his voice on the phone. Sometimes, I truly feel like all these new ways of connecting make it more difficult to actually, genuinely connect. And there are times when I wonder if they're all just a number of different ways to be rejected - it's like highschool all over again.
But, having said that, I do like Facebook and I use it liberally, because I like knowing what my friends are up to and I can choose who I interact with. It's not an old-school way of keeping in touch, but for now I can be selective and keep it as simple as I like. So the guy who used to throw spitballs at me in English class was rejected, but some very dear friends who I lost touch with are now, and I'm very grateful for it, back in my life. I don't base my personal success on how many Facebook "friends" I have, or how many people follow me on Twitter, and I like it that way. Unfortunately the success of A Mummy in a Strange Land may be riding on my ability to promote it across the internet (or are the kids calling it "the web" these days?) and that's a far more difficult task than writing a few posts every now and then, or remembering someone's birthday.