Don't drink and Facebook
Of all the e-mail I've received, this was the strangest. It read: "Hello, Mr. Pilewski. Would you like to order a pizza?"
I was half expecting the sender to be a Nigerian pizza chef who needed help smuggling lots of dough out of his country. But instead, it was an old college acquaintance. Years and entire continents had separated us from the time when we'd enjoyed many a pizza together. Then, just like that, we were back in touch.
Al had found me through a search engine. We spent hours reminiscing by e-mail and using search engines to turn up other people we had both known. The funny thing was: he didn't appear in the search engines himself.
A short time later, another long-lost friend contacted me just as suddenly. David and I had also eaten lots of pizza together; and again, this was someone who was completely invisible to search engines.
It turns out that both Al and David are IT experts and know how not to leave tracks. But had I not left any myself, they would never have found me — and finding people in America is now the national sport.
It starts harmlessly with sites like Classmates.com, which helps users to find everyone they went to high school or college with. At the other extreme are online detective agencies that offer to search through public and not-so-public records. Somewhere in between lies Facebook, which entices people to share details of their private lives, mostly with individuals they barely know, in a manner that is kind of addictive.
My friend Janine is amused by an acquaintance of ours who uses Facebook a lot. "Karen updates her status every three hours: 'Karen's bored.' 'Karen's taking a nap.' She does this at work; her status never changes on weekends." But Facebook can be extremely practical, Janine says. "You're back in touch with people, and you're spared the banality of small talk — 'What are you up to?' — because everyone knows what everyone else is up to."
As in real life, "friends" (people with whom you exchange comments and photos) come and go. "I had 86 friends and then I had 85, and I freaked out and had to know who'd 'unfriended' me. It was a huge-ass thing," a real-life friend, Lisa, told me. But it's not just "friends" who are on Facebook. "When people look for jobs in the U.S., they often deactivate their Facebook accounts temporarily," Lisa says. "Someone I know went to a job interview and they told her they'd Facebooked and MySpaced her."
The American exchange students I advise look at Facebook almost every day — often in an effort to police what others have documented about them. Users often "tag" (label) their photos with the names of the people in them. Embarrassing or unflattering party photos need to be "un-tagged" before they fall into the wrong hands. At our events, where alcohol is often served, the students reach a consensus on which photos are "Facebook-appropriate". Only about half allow their parents, professors, co-workers, and bosses to see their profiles.
One thing they all agree on is that I need a Facebook account. Yet everything Facebook does, I already do through e-mail, photo-sharing or actual conversation — without having to worry much about privacy or Twitteresque comments and status updates.
What will happen in a couple of years, when people have found everyone they've ever met? Could it be that they'll refocus on the people who are there for them in day-to-day life? Maybe I'm already ahead of the curve. If so, then I'd like to order a large pizza with extra cheese.