The Transformation of Facebook

While much has been written about Facebook, this isn’t about how Facebook as a website or a company has changed, but rather how my relationship with it has changed. I am particularly inspired to write this this morning after reading this article by Cassey Johnston in Ars Technica.

It sounds like Cassey got on Facebook a little before me. I remember the announcement that Facebook would accept anyone with a .edu email address. Seeing as only American schools could get .edu domains, this became another case of “only the Americans get cool tech toys” (a far too common problem when living in Canada). It was maybe a year later that Facebook opened up to “foreign” universities. This would have been about 2006. At first I ignored it - I felt like I could keep track of my friends well enough through email and MSN Messenger. I eventually joined because I got an invite from a friend (Isaac) who was otherwise MIA.

The first bit was fun. I’d become friends with someone on Facebook, sift through their friends list to find more people I knew, and invite them to be my ‘friend.’ Lather, Rinse, Repeat. I joined March 27, 2007, and become ‘friends’ with 14 people that first day. My Facebook friends were people I saw frequently in real life, or wished I did, and so I had no problem sharing my thoughts and photos of my activities with them. No, I didn’t share my “deepest, darkest secrets”, but the sort of things I’d share with a friend at a party - personal triumphs, reflections on life, half formed ideas, and the like.

And I ended up at a number of cool parties that I was welcome to attend, but had not been personally invited to, because ‘everyone will see it on Facebook.’

But then something changed. Part of it was Facebook, part of it was me. The biggest change on the Facebook side was the change from a sort of ‘private club’ to a publicly available repertoire tied to my name. I did what I could to keep my profile locked down and out of (Google) sight, but I no longer trusted Facebook really wanted to keep anything private I didn’t want shared with the world, and Facebook was just waiting for me to mess up or ignore some change in policy to make everything on my profile visible to the world.

I wasn’t worried about people finding me via Google, but rather those people (particularly potential employers) making a snap judgement based on a five-year-old photo taken out of context. And this wasn’t a hypothetical concern because I’d done it.

When trying to find a job, I’d be writing a cover letter and trying to determine whether to address “Jamie” as ‘Mr.’ or ‘Mrs.’ and so to Google I would go. In the first page of results would be their (public) Facebook profile which would have their profile picture (solving the ‘Mr’ or ‘Mrs’ questions), but also pictures of their wife and two kids, plus the high school they went to and the year they graduated, and sometimes pictures of their last holiday in Mexico. Creepy.

On my own side, I grew up a little and life changed. I started seriously dating, and then got engaged and then married. As our relationship progressed and we started spending more and more time together, my need for Facebook decreased. I was less interested in going to parties to meet people. Facebook was useless as a list of possible dates. And I didn’t need Facebook to communicate with my date. And when engaged and first married, your interest in the outsider world drops considerably.

So, like many other users, Facebook does seem like either “a chore or a timesink,” depending on the day. The biggest reason I keep it is because it’s easier that trying to keep an email list for 400 up-to-date and makes communication relatively painless for me and my Facebook ‘friends.’ Things that I want to say and have permanence, I post elsewhere, like here on my blog, which is older than my Facebook profile.

Over time, how I’ve used Facebook has changed many times. Will it change again, and what will that mean? I’m not sure; only time will tell….

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