Life Chapters in a Facebook World

Recently the popular syndicated column, Ask Amy, addressed the concerns of a new college freshman:  their Facebook profile was too high-school oriented, and thus their new college friends might pre-judge them, preventing any “reinvention of myself.”  Amy suggests paring down the profile, deleting all the old photos and adding to it during college.  The student writes:

“Facebook is so mainstream to socialization, that I can’t imagine deleting my profile, but Facebook makes it so easy for the high school “populars,” “jocks” and “nerds” to mobilize and form cliques before college even begins.”

What’s the most significant issue here?

1. That Facebook.com, a site barely 2 years old (founded in February 2004), now has over 7.5 million college students profiled and is considered by these students to be so important.  Wow. What a huge rate of adoption!  Parents – can you remember anything else that was so critical to your freshman year in college?  A mini-fridge in your dorm room, perhaps?  Posting Far Side cartoons on your door?  Attending every single first quarter party and event?  Now, it’s Facebook.

2. That Ask Amy, syndicated by Tribune Media to hundreds of newspapers, realizes that this problem of information persistence – that your identity and what you post online follows you around – is mainstream enough to address.  In the whole spectrum of popular media, Amy is behind the curve on being hip (no offense!) so this shows that Facebook and its consequences have really arrived – congrats!

3.  That the process of growing through the chapters in our lives requires us to have space to experiment, to change, to make mistakes and, ultimately, to grow up.  Sometimes we need a clean break from the past.  Sites like Facebook present not just a snapshot, but also documentation of what we’ve been doing, and this history is almost impossible to erase from public view, once posted.  We accumulate more and more public baggage.

Suggestion to Facebook and other social-networking sites like MySpace.com:

Enable users to create “chapters” of their lives – perhaps “High School”, “College”, “Professional”, “Sports Teams”, etc.  There might be areas of your life open to all – your hometown, current photo, current favorite music, etc.  There will be areas you’d rather keep private to certain friends/groups – photos of wild parties in high school, say – which you’d rather not have appear when your potential employer is checking you out online.  But when you contact an old friend, you’d want to share with them an old chapter.  Think of it as storing photo albums on your shelf – rarely do you pull them out, but when you want them, you’re happy you saved them!

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