Is Facebook for you? No, seriously. You're probably thinking the social networking site Facebook.com is more for gabby teens and college students than busy adults, but it's surprisingly useful. And addictive. Here's why.
1. You can catch up with everyone, quickly
The way Facebook works is you sign up as a member and get a profile page. It's fully templated so all you have to do is plug in your info (don't include your address or phone number, obviously), load any photos you want to share and invite your real-life friends to be your online friends. Now you can post messages on each other's profile pages for everyone to read (i.e., "Woo-hoo! Kids will stay at grandma's! Can't wait to hit your Labour Day par-tay!"), or quickly send private messages back and forth, like e-mail. Use the Friends filter to find "Friends Online Now" so you can see who's available for near-instant messaging. For busy parents, Facebook is a fast and easy way to stay in contact with chums and pick up messages from a public computer.
2. You can find out what your grade-school best friend is up to
There are now millions of users worldwide. A whopping one-tenth of Canadians are Facebook users, and the site is growing in popularity everyday. It's a great way to get back in contact with old friends from high school, or beyond, in a nice but low-commitment way. All you have to do to search someone is type in their name. Because Facebook's growth has been phenomenal, it's not unusual to suddenly get an out-of-the-blue message or Friend Request from someone from your past within days of your signup. Don't feel like it'll be awkward contacting an old friend, it happens all the time, and it's not a big deal if you want to chat but not meet up -- Facebook is much less committal than telephoning someone out of the blue, for instance.
3. It's got a minimalist design that's not confusing
You'd feel silly on the customizable-to-the-moon (read: loud and confusing) MySpace. But Facebook has a to-the-point, streamlined interface designed originally for university students. That means every page looks the same, in an easy-to-navigate (and soft on the eyes) blue and white palette. You can focus on the actual tools you use, say, messaging, setting up meetings (you can easily start a work network), perusing photo albums or, heck, thinking of clever ways to update your Status bar. (That's the little blurb at the top of your page saying what you're up to, like, "Karen is...in a state of disbelief over the cost of one teenager's back-to-school wardrobe.").
4. It's addictively self-absorbing...which can be fun
If you're a mom, you're used to focusing on others. Facebook forces you to think about yourself. Your profile page includes your favourite movies, music, sayings, and you can also join or create clubs by interest. It's been a while since it's been you-you-you, so have fun filling out your profile, and editing it at your leisure.
5. Forget Googling, Stalkbooking is way more gratifying
But there's a darker side to all this strolling down memory lane. Ask anyone (teen or adult), and checking up on old flames and old rivals is one of the top Facebook activities. If social networking involves actually contacting people via Facebook, "Stalkbooking" is a 1 a.m. activity best done alone, early-onset midlife crisis optional. Through sheer numbers and self-edited detail, Facebook will give you status updates on more people than Google ever did. It's also much more deadly than Google because rather than oblique posts on baseball, you've got your object's vitals in front of you in gory detail. With photos. Facebooking can be a reminder of who you were, and whom you used to know, back when adulthood seemed so far away.
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6. Surprise, you don't have to grow up
Punching in at work is many a dreamer's concession to grown-up life ('til that million-dollar lottery win, right?), but Facebooking on the company dime is one relatively benign form of rebellion. It's actually a pretty good 4 p.m. time-waster (and yes, you do need those -- hey, they cut work burnout and stress!). But isn't self-obsessively updating, editing, constantly polishing one's profile, searching old friends and uploading vacation photos sort of...immature? In all honesty? A bit. But so what? Log on, and you'll find other thirty- and fortysomethings as irreverent as you. Perhaps in the group Parents Who Joined Facebook To Spy On Their Kids And Then Became Addicted.
7. Don't worry, you can say no to friend requests
As with any social networking on the Internet, don't be surprised if guys you know contact you on Facebook. No interest in communicating? Ignore their e-mails and deny their Friend Request (don't worry, they won't know: it'll just look like you never got around to replying, not that you Declined). And if you're single and they seem interesting? Feel free to meet in a Starbucks or other busy public place (tell friends where you are going, or even have them sit at a nearby table), but don't be too disappointed if he either refuses to meet you (or always has excuses), or if Mr. Fab Online is Mr. Flat In Person. For many, "doing real life" is a less attractive option than Facebook's controlled environment, where every post can be witty, every photo can be flatteringly well lit.
"The person who always chooses to communicate through the web may [have] some psychological issues," says Laura Corona, a San Diego-based web psychologist. "People who have issues with real-life commitments will prefer IM or e-mail over real phone conversations," says Corona, who has online-counseled adults dealing with web addiction.
8. It won't suck up all your time. You'll get bored with it eventually.
By all accounts, Facebook addiction is at its height right after you join. "I was checking my Facebook every 15 minutes when I first signed up, but now not as often," says Natasha Kong, a Salt Spring Island, B.C., art director. The fever pitch of addiction seems to be at its hottest when you're neck deep in searching old flames and childhood friends. Then? Often you find there's nowhere to go from there, and use it to chat with your real friends.
9. It's quirky. You can make it even more so
Those little gift icons you can give to your friends for $1? They were designed by Susan Kare, who did the original set of icons for Macintosh in 1988, which adds to its hipster cred. Since Facebook's spring 2007 open invitation for programmers to design additional applications for the site, free applications such as Fortune Cookie (ask a question, get an answer), Honesty Box (send anonymous messages and be totally honest without fear of social sanction) and Places I've Been (a world map with pins showing where you've jet-setted to) are further adding to its design-power-to-the-people populist appeal -- and smartly extending its shelf life where more static predecessors like Friendster failed.
10. Use Facebook wisely: you still should schedule face time
While critics argue social networking websites are a less authentic way of interaction than meeting in person, Facebook spokesperson Matt Hicks says the school-, work- or geographic-network-based nature of the site is "strengthening real-world relationships, not replacing them. Facebook also has applications that allow people to organize events held offline, for example," he adds. In other words, the best way to use Facebook? Don't mistake the social networking tool for an actual social network. Schmooze it, or you're misusing it. Use it to schedule face time with your friends, set up work meetings, and spark dining table conversation with your kids.
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Yuki Hayashi is a freelance writer based in Hamilton, Ont. Read some of her other stories for CanadianLiving.com, like 8 ways to blast belly fat, and Is your friend out of control?