Friday, April 24, 2009

More Facebook Musings: On Manners And Boundaries

The investigation continues: I'm still not sure there's much in it over at facebook, but it seems rude to deactivate the account now. It is sometimes amusing and sometimes informative. A few days ago, Rob and I on-the-spot decided to check out a local beer tasting because two friends had set their status to reflect where they were tasting beer and we figured what-the-hell. That's a cool use of Facebook. It ain't all sunshine and roses and full social calendars, however.

On Manners:
This complaint isn't facebook-specific, but facebook surely presents more opportunity for the sort of lapse in good manners that can cause hurt feelings. Rob and I enjoy entertaining in our home. We don't do it as often as we'd like to but we try to offer food, drink, and television when we are able. Sometimes the invitations are broadcast liberally. Sometimes, they are smaller, more exclusive affairs - not because we don't enjoy having a house full of folks, but because we have a limited number of chairs (literally) and a limited budget. This is not to mention plain, boring, lame forgetfulness as a reason for exclusion: I didn't click that contact's box on the email account. It slipped my mind. It was a different social circle, etc.

I was raised very strictly in a home where I was taught that one could only bring birthday party invitations to school if one were to invite the entire class. The only acceptable caveat is if one were to invite all the girls or all the boys (because 2d graders don't necessarily have co-ed parties and gender-based exclusions are okay). Any more selective invitations must be mailed or delivered to the classmates' homes because it is mean to make a show of excluding people from a party.

So how is this related to facebook? We recently had a few people over for a lunch. It wasn't a highly broadcast invitation. One of our guests, with the best intentions, I'm sure, posted a comment to my wall thanking us for the event and the food, etc. It was a lovely thought and I appreciate the recognition and thanks. But my more immediate reaction was to cringe because other people who live locally were not invited to the event and I feared hurt feelings could result. But what can you do? I can't chastize the guest - that's equally rude if not more so as the original transgression. I deleted the wall post and still worried that would be seen as rude without an explanation. Facebook seems super public, y'all. Watch out for unintended consequences.

On Boundaries:
I recently said a highlight of facebook has been finding and catching up with former campers who I've known since they were wee things learning to make 3 string lanyards and perform skits in front of large crowds without running away in terror. They are at various stages in their lives now. College. Professional schools. Working. Some older than others. Some more or less mature than others.

There are two girls I recall with special fondness. Both were a bit awkward when they were young, but no more so than your average 10 to 13 year old girl. They were loved and feared by other counselors because they could be a handful on their own and together - good lord, watch out. But I loved them because they reminded me of myself at that age. So much eager enthusiasm. Such a lack of immediate cool. Good hearts sometimes unseen behind large mouths and precocious attitudes. These girls were and are smart as hell and I recall thinking when they were young that I couldn't wait to see how they grew up and what they would do later and when/if others would notice that they had grown up.

Both are now friended in my facebook account. One is off in the world. One is in our shared hometown. Both are still vibrant, smart, and funny. The one slightly wilder girl is still slightly wilder, as evidenced by her frequent updates and frequent evenings out which are chronicled by frequent updates and photos and comments and references to what early 20-somethings do when they are out.

The urge to counsel rages inside when I see what she's up to. To be clear: she's not up to anything awful. But I want to tell her to slow down on the pictures and the references. Other people don't know her in context, don't know her past, her heart, her smarts. All of the kissy-camera faces and seductive poses. Most of these are ironic, I know. At least partly, anyway. But as a culture, we frequently put on our irony-blinders when it suits us and I don't want her to be a victim of that practice later when she wants a job that doesn't want to be associated with her extracurricular activities.

There's another contact, too, someone I know even better who mixes photos of herself in a professional context and in a social context that I think has placed herself in a difficult position, should an employer become concerned that these public images just don't add up to a good result.

But what do you do? Do you say something and risk restriction that renders you unable to follow and look out for REALLY bad lapses in judgment? Do you try to educate anyway and hope it doesn't fall on deaf ears. Do you get over it an assume this half-generation behind you will take these things differently and make their own way just fine, thankyouverymuch?

Can facebook teach anything? Should it?

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