Commentary: Don’t Take Away My Facebook!

By Ellen Foley Special To Channel 3000

I love my Facebook page.

I am sorry, Google. Even though you sent me the sleeker but uninvited Buzz feature, I’m not sure I?ll ever be able to leave the community that my Facebook friends share with me.

I know that many scholars and teachers are concerned that Facebook and other social media tools are creating a generation of digital freaks who can’t write sentences and think clearly. I am one of those teachers, leading a class called Introduction to Mass Communications at Madison College. I know of students who are a bit misguided by online shortcuts that get in the way of the important task of critical thinking. (For an example, check out the PBS documentary, Digital Nation.)

But puh-leazzzeee don?t take away my Facebook. I am willing to teach grammar and sentence diagramming like Sister Mary Eymard for the rest of my life if the international grammar commodity traders allow me to bank digital credits that I can cash in when using truncated sentences and bad use of the subjunctive to amuse the many generations of friends and family who jump into my life late at night via my laptop.

I am not alone. “Inside Facebook,” an independent digital report that tracks Facebook, tells us that the fastest growing segment on the social media Web site is women older than 55. We increased by 175.3 percent in the previous 120 days of the report in early February. And a recent report from the Pew Research Center?s Internet & American Life Project shows that in all groups beyond age 18, more than 70 percent of Americans who use the Internet are on Facebook.

It’s not hard to figure out why older women are joining the Facebook frenzy that originally was a tool for college students. We are not well preserved women trying to hook up. We are middle-aged women trying to connect with our friends who have had to move to get a new job, our children who are off in Los Angeles trying to be actresses, our grandchildren who are saying the darndest things and our other family members who in another generation would be calling us three times a day. We are too busy for that. Facebook me. I?ll look at it tonight.

Facebook has become controversial because it continues to hone its business model and install features that some people believe infringe on our privacy. My young Facebook friends alert me to infractions and post actions that I take to protect my privacy. It?s nice to have a virtual place where the young folks take care of the older ones.

They also send me messages through a private message feature when they really want me to know what is going on in their lives. It feels very intimate.

Many of the postings are written in code. A few weeks ago, women friends began posting colors in their updates. Black. Mauve. Orchid. Champagne. It was a game that was fun to figure out.

They were part of a viral effort to promote breast cancer awareness and one of my Facebook friends who doesn’t know me very well had to explain to me in a private email that the women were posting the colors of their bras in order to intrigue people enough to go to the breast cancer Web site and donate.

You communicate with your Facebook friends by posting information about what you are doing in your status box that prompts you with the question: “What?s on your mind?”

Sometimes it is like reading poetry or short stories. The following post is one of my favorites from a 40-something careerist male friend who is married to a careerist female friend. I’ve declined to use their names to protect their privacy. Their love for each other is evident but the chaos of their live dances on the page and reminds me of my days with preschoolers. Here’s what they answered one weekend day to “What’s on your mind?”

HUSBAND wondered in the absolute chaos of the locker room after swim lessons for his 2 kids if (it) is worth it. Then, on the ride home, with the kids shivering in their PJs in the not-yet-heated-up car I listened to them talk while they ate their snacks. Damn it, these are the best of times.

And then his wife talks back to him for all of us to see:

WIFE yes, you are right — the chaos, 3 degree days and tantrums can be a major distraction, but yes these are wonderful times.

I can log into Facebook and see my friend Chris holding her new granddaughter. I can track my own 20-something children when they stop answering my texts about dental and dermatology appointments.

I connect with people from high school, I have long conversations with friends that I just don?t have time to see right now and I even have given job recommendations using Facebook.

Researchers tell me that teens are on MySpace. But I find out what is going on with my busy brother and sister-in-law through their teen daughter?s Facebook posts. I?m glad she lets me in her life. I hope to someday teach her to write in sentences.

Perhaps the Facebook execs will ruin it all with targeted advertising that annoys us.

Just today one of my students informed our class that Google announced Buzz, the Facebook-like feature on our gmail accounts. We rushed to our classroom keyboards to find the application already working. We didn?t know that some of our friends? email addresses were being hijacked by the hasty introduction. Even though Google did cut it out after media critics wailed, I admit it felt like I had been hacked.

Facebook is fighting back with what I hear is a killer email ap that could out-google Google. We hope Facebook has better manners when that is introduced.

We just have so much to talk about. You?ll have to Facebook me.