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Facing a new — and somewhat scary — social setting

January 21, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
I am totally overwhelmed. I feel like it's my first day of school and I don't know where my classes are, I forgot my locker combination and I don't know whom to trust!

I just joined facebook.

It all started with an innocent enough e-mail from my friend Valery, who invited me to join a facebook group about how to save Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy from closing in May.

Clicking on the link in my e-mail, I was ushered to the facebook home page where I was asked to register. I typed in my e-mail and password, and now I'm a facebook member.

All of a sudden, up pops a new screen with names and pictures of my friends, my real-life friends, some of whom I haven't seen in over a decade! Others are my neighbors, work acquaintances, friends from a variety of past jobs. Look, there's Gordon from the News Record. And there are Kristeen's three beautiful children. And it's Dennis from college, and who's that on his arm?

Where did they all come from? (pardon the dangling preposition!) And how come I only just got invited to this party?

It's all a bit freaky, I must say.

So I discover these folks popped up because they are already facebook and also are in my e-mail address book. Because I also am in their address books (I'm assuming), this makes me their friend — I think. Facebook now asks me if I want to invite these folks to be MY friends. Sure, I click.

Now facebook wants to know who else in my address book I want to befriend. I scroll through and check the boxes next to people I think might have a clue what facebook is, and a few who don't but I'd like to invite anyway.

I feel pretty good about myself at this point. Nine people already have accepted my invitation, facebook informs me. Woo hoo! Let's get this party started!

After I invited my real-life good friend Phyllis to be my facebook "friend," however, she told me when I passed her office — located around the corner from my desk — that she's "not allowed" to join.

"Huh?" I said.

Seems her college-age children forbid her from joining facebook so she can't snoop on them.

"But I thought you could pick and choose whom you allow to peek on your pages?"

"Yeah," Phyllis said. "That's true, I think."

"Well, if so, then you can join."

Then Phyllis said, "But I still think of facebook as, you know, for kids."

"Well, it's not," I told her, pretty sure of that fact considering my age and the age of Valery, who invited me in the first place.

"Yeah, you're not exactly a spring chicken," Phyllis said.

"Right," I mutter. A minute later, back at my desk, a new screen popped up on my computer and informed me an older relative of mine, who is in fact a grandmother, accepted my invitation to be my "friend."

I informed Phyllis. "She's older than you. Now you have to join."

She said OK, but I don't know if I can expect her at the party any time soon.

I myself am going to lurk around as a wallflower for a bit longer, easing my way into the groove of this new social territory.

One thing I will say ... It's nice not to have to worry if I'm wearing the right outfit.


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