My eldest son recently joined the ranks of Facebook users and has alarmed us with the speed in which he became addicted to it. This was in fact a completely harmless addiction to the application "Farmville" (rather than the immediate embracing of virtual human interaction to our great relie) but nonetheless got me thinking.
I have used Facebook for years- before that I frequented a couple of parenting forums which I still occasionally use now. Before our second child was born Ihad barely discovered the internet but post-natal depression, a complicated baby and a move to a new area left me isolated and lonely. I craved interaction of any kind but had little confidence to break in to the local parenting circuits.
Even once better integrated I felt drawn to online communication, a "fast-food" and "safe" alternative to making the effort to go out and socialize. Somehow with less on offer ( no visibility for a start, make-up, clothes etc don't matter online!) there was less to lose but surprisingly a lot to gain. Over the past 8 years I have made many online friends, several of whom I have gone on to meet up with, some on a regular basis. I found the opportunity to gradually get to know others in this way helped me meet people I have a lot in common with but whom I might never have met in real life.
Of course online forums facilitate the meeting of like minds- and in my case provided me with much-needed support when dealing with severe reflux with our twins. So valuable have I found such sites that I went on to support others myself. One site in particular has achieved what a non-virtual organization could not- worldwide membership, sponsorship and funding through rapid promotion and campaigning. The power of social networking online is phenomenal. My friend and her s Facebook campaign at Christmas got "Rage at the Machine" to No.1 and raised £100 000 for Shelter.
But back to the question posed in the title. Facebook or Twitter? For me, the former held great appeal as a "one stop shop" online. Keep up with everyone in one place. Quickly. An even quicker fix for socializing..... and yet that is precisely the problem. We don" t all live in one big community where everyone knows one another. Our daily lives involve many groups of people, some overlap, but even when they do it is likely to be in the manner of a Venn Diagram rather an a complete overlay. We rarely say te same things, share the same information, same mannerisms etc with everyone we know. A status update on Facebook though, unless you take time and effort to change preferences, each time will go to everyone on your friend list every time. And that's not all. The popularity and ubiquitous nature of Facebook in youth culture is redefining not only the WAY our children interact but WHOM they interact with. Children as young as 8 are using Facebook and I wonder how many parents realize that through "friends of friends" their children have a window into the world of much, much older children- and adults. We try and protect out children from so much and yet it is all so "innocently" available online.
For me, Facebook has become too intrusive, too open, too all-encompassing. It's a fantastic platform through which to keep in touch with friends from all walks of life- but that's how I think I want my life to stay - partitioned, at least to an extent. One of my friends today pointed out it was scary having her dad on Facebook - how many want their parents of any age having that level of knowledge of our personal lives? Actually though, i think having your children on there focusses the mind far far more!!
There is a lot to be said for a little anonymity, and less can definitely be more. I for one forget too easily the wide audience a simple status update has which can precipitate confusion and upset all too easily! I like the brief, simple concept of Twitter, and find myself drawn to it more and more. Maybe it is a comment on my life now more than anything, the fact that there is less need for in-depth online interaction than in the past but I firmly believe that our social lives whether based on age, life stage or location are there for a reason and the potential consequences of forgetting, or ignoring that alarm me.