By Carrie Bevell Partridge
Facebook. There are not many phenomena like it in the world. Where else can you view pictures of your college roommate's newborn baby, read a funny article posted by your co-worker, beat your best friend's score on an '80s movie quiz, wish your high school lab partner a happy birthday, watch a hilarious YouTube video posted by your cousin, find out what your girlfriends are doing or how they're feeling today through their Status Updates, and peruse messages written on your Wall by any number of your friends--all while enjoying your morning coffee?
For the first few years of Facebook's existence, which began in 2004, its use was limited to high school and college students. Then in 2006, the floodgates were opened, and millions of 20/30/40-somethings and beyond joined the network and began reconnecting with friends from all over the world. I personally joined the craze in 2007 and was amazed at how quickly and easily I was able to find and reconnect with people from places I had lived in the past, from churches, from college, from high school, and even from elementary school. Of course, I also found a plethora of people I was already currently connected to, but it's fun to be friends with them on Facebook, too.
There are plenty of skeptics who claim that Facebook is a waste of time. (Interestingly, some of those same skeptics became Facebook members anyway.) Others claim that the network merely fosters pseudo-relationships and a false sense of community. Admittedly, there is some truth to each of these claims. Many hours can certainly be wasted on the site--toying with the vast amounts of Applications that can be added to your account, browsing all the different Groups and Causes that can be joined, playing games and taking pointless (though fun) quizzes, etc. Also, the Facebook world certainly should not replace person-to-person interactions and conversations, nor should it keep you from being involved in your actual neighborhood.
On the same note, however, Facebook can serve as a means of adult interaction for women such as myself, who are stay-at-home moms or simply work from their homes and are not "out in the world" as much as others may be. It is faster than a phone call, and you can be connected at any time of the day to a number of different people simultaneously. Many women, in fact, are using Facebook to solicit advice and tips on anything from parenting to cooking to relationships to researching products. I was amazed at all the feedback I received when my husband and I were in the midst of deciding what kind of flooring to put down in our living room. It was really helpful, because I was hearing from people that I knew personally, about the different products that were actually in their homes. How's that for research? And speed!
When I was preparing to write this article, I posted on my Status Update: "Carrie Bevell Partridge is working on an article and needs to know why women (particularly) like Facebook. Feedback, please! " Within a very short while, I received 18 responses! Many of these women confessed that they are a bit nosy and enjoy reading about everybody's lives. (At least they're honest.) Others said that it's a time-saver, an easy way to feel connected to people, a great method for maintaining friendships after you've moved, an easy way to get advice from others, and a wonderful way to share pictures and updates of your children. The fact that it is free is also very appealing!
"It makes me feel I'm a part of the lives of my Facebook friends, even if they live on the other side of the country," says Julie Ingram Moody (who is married to one of my friends from college).
"I like it because it's any easy way to keep in touch with people, especially that I've lost contact with over the years. I also like it because I love sharing about my boys. It's also nice to be able to 'get away' even if it's just in cyberspace," observes Emily Burgess Carlew (a church friend from my childhood).
Ashlee (who is married to a church friend of mine from Maryland but whom I have never actually met in person) claims, "Facebook allows us to keep connections with others and get support and encouragement at the moment we need it because someone is always available. It's also fun to keep up with people that you probably would not have been able to do so otherwise. You can show off your kids and fun things they do and how they are growing, and people can come look when they have time, so it allows everyone to connect on their own time since we don't both have to be here at the same time to share a picture, thought, or something."
On the subject of why women are particularly drawn to Facebook, Kim Morgan Latkovic (a friend from high school) comments, "My guess is that women, in general, are more relationship oriented and naturally enjoy connecting with others."
If you have not yet joined the Facebook phenomenon, you really might want to give it a try. I've heard the excuse from some women that they are "too old" and that they would feel silly being on it. I can assure you, however, that age is not a factor here. Privacy concerns also cause some people to hesitate, but there are many settings options that will keep you as public or private as you would like to be. As a general rule, only those with whom you agree to be "friends" can see your profile anyway.
Once you decide to join Facebook, you will most likely be incredibly overwhelmed for the first little while, because you will start getting "Friend Requests" from all over the place. If you like, Facebook will go through your e-mail address book to see if any of those people have Facebook accounts. Other Facebookers will also be able to see that you are a new member through your high school or college information or through the "People You May Know" feature.
After the initial tidal wave of friends rolls through, your Facebook account will become as simple or as complex as you choose to make it. Just like e-mail (or any other communication), the more you put into it, the more you can expect in return. You can add every Application the network offers, or you can limit your page to simple messages. You don't have to be like me and check it three or four times a day! However you choose to manage it, I think that you will find it to be a very fun (okay, and addicting) social tool. Who knows? You might even reconnect with your long lost best friend from kindergarten.
As fun and funny as Facebook is, though, I have sincerely found it to be a means of ministry and Christian connection for me. I am able both to give and receive encouragement from other Christian mothers, in which case the element of SPEED that comes with the World Wide Web is particularly appreciated! (We've been able to talk each other through potty training frustrations, first days of school, and other emotional occurrances.) I have also been able to reach out to those who let it be known that they are hurting, by sending them messages of prayer and encouragement. In fact, as I was writing this very paragraph, I received an e-mail about a childhood friend whose sister died of cancer yesterday. Immediately I was able to send my friend a message through Facebook, telling him how sorry I was for his loss. That may sound too impersonal and informal to some people, but the fact is that I haven't seen this guy for many, many years and would not have been able to communicate with him at all otherwise.
This social network also provides easy ways for groups (such as Bible study groups, mission organizations, your circle of friends, etc.) to communicate with each other all at once. Many churches have their own pages, and I've recently seen magazine articles about the importance of pastors getting their own Facebook profile pages in order to be connected and communicate with their congregations. And to all you moms out there--if you have a teenager, you most definitely need to be on Facebook and become friends with your son or daughter and all of his or her friends, as well. (You can learn A LOT about a person through what is communicated Wall-to-Wall on Facebook!)
And as strange as this may sound, I believe that Facebook can even offer some chances for reconciliation between people. By that I mean that there may be a friend or acquaintance that you may have hurt in the past and have never apologized and made things right. If you have not been in communication with that person for a long time, you might be able to find him or her through Facebook and use that opportunity to do your part to mend that hurt, which could be healing for both of you. Not everything on Facebook has to be silly.
So whether you're 21 or 51, single or married, techy or technologically challenged, I would like to encourage you to get yourself a Facebook account. There are all sorts of great possibilities!