'Expert' offers tips for Facebook newbies

If you use the Internet, you ought to check out this really cool site.

It’s called Facebook. And quite a few people are using it lately.

In case you haven’t heard of it, Facebook is a “social networking” tool that lets you connect with others without the having to leave your house or talk on the phone, which, let’s face it, can be exhausting. Instead, you share pictures and stream-of-consciousness thoughts with a network of people known as your “friends.”

Now, this part can be confusing for new users, but it’s what makes Facebook unique: Only a small percentage of your “friends” will be your actual friends. The rest are acquaintances and people like old classmates and exes who you “friend” (yes, it’s a verb) primarily to show them how great your life is despite the hell they put you through in high school.

The more Facebook friends you have, the more popular you are, so you’ll want to friend as many people as possible. It’s that long list that makes Facebook so special. Where else can you stay in touch with hundreds of people you barely know or remember or really even care about?

On Facebook people share what’s on their mind with “status updates.” I rarely do this, because I don’t feel comfortable blathering on about the mundane details of my life with people who aren’t interested; that’s what humor columns are for, after all.

But I encourage you to learn the art of writing compelling status updates, because they’re so fun to read. That means being cryptic in order to create drama. Anyone can post “So mad. Had a rotten annual review at work today.” But you get more attention if you go with something vague and alarming, such as, “What’s the point of even getting up in the morning?”

The goal is to get at least 20 people to leave concerned comments. Bonus points if someone actually stops by your house to check on you.

Also, be sure to upload numerous pictures every day, starting with a shot of your morning cereal and the view out the car window, as well as tons of self-portraits, taken at arm’s length with your phone’s camera. And don’t forget pictures of your pets and children. There is nothing cuter than a black Lab, belonging to a person you haven’t seen in 23 years, standing in a driveway. Precious.

But there’s more to Facebook than photos and status updates. You’ll also see inspirational platitudes, set against sunsets and beach scenes, reminding you to forgive, to be strong, to believe in angels and to love yourself. (Yeah, these get posted by the people who don’t have cameras.) People also share funny stuff from around the Internet, like videos of a panda sneezing or, lately, ignorant and vitriolic political commentaries. Those are a hoot.

As Facebook grows in popularity, however, I admit I have some concerns. Like, what if someday prospective employers look at applicants’ Facebook pages? I’m not saying anyone would risk uploading compromising pictures of themselves or their friends holding a beer in one hand and a stolen street sign in the other — because that would be stupid — but your Facebook page does reflect your character.

Imagine the interview:

“Well, Ms. Brown, your résumé is stellar, but I couldn’t help noticing you post a lot of pictures of your breakfast on Facebook. I’m afraid we’re looking for someone who has a bit more of a life.”

And what about privacy issues? What’s to stop Facebook from making its privacy settings so confusing that users unwittingly authorize the company to share their personal information for marketing purposes? Oops, listen to me. Now I’m just sounding paranoid.

Facebook may be a little-noticed diversion at the moment, but I predict that in a few years, just about everyone will have a Facebook page, which they’ll check dozens of times throughout the day. And they’ll come to derive their self-esteem not from their own accomplishments or the abiding love of friends and family but by how many people click “like” on their latest arm’s-length self-portrait. It’s so much easier that way.

Mark my words: Once Facebook takes off, people won’t have to feel bad about being superficial and self-absorbed anymore. That will be the new social norm.

It’s going to be awesome.

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