I don’t remember when I joined. It was possibly around May 2007, during a period of frustration and indifference towards work. I had been receiving a large number of requests from my friends asking me to join Facebook, but I ignored them as I had done with invitations to join other networking websites.
One fine day, I decided to sign up with Facebook. And my whole world changed.
I was completely drawn into the world of Facebook. Once your account is set up, you can customise your page by writing as much or as little about yourself as you wish to have displayed. You can add new applications and gadgets. You can go and seek out friends, and friends who have sought you can become part of your Facebook friends circle. You can add photos to your page, including profile pictures of yourself. You can post notes about anything and everything. You can write on your friends’ walls, you can send them free gifts or fish or flowers or baked goods. Heck, you can even send them a beer or a cocktail if you wish.
You can set your status and most people are really funny and creative when it’s time to change their status. Your status can even be changed by mobile phone, provided your mobile phone service provider is supported by Facebook. You can set your mood using cute icons. You can cast Harry Potter spells on your friends, or dedicate songs to them.
There are many groups to join – my favourite groups are the "I wish Yum Cha trolleys would circulate through my place of work" and "The Drunken Text Appreciation Society". I’m so into the whole group thing that I’m even an Officer of DUIs (Drunken Unidentified Injuries) for "Whatever I did when I was drunk didn’t happen if I can’t remember it". You can start your own group – my cousin started a group aptly titled "Changs ‘R Us"; this was his way of helping me meet most of my cousins from USA and Canada who I have yet to meet in real life.
You can create your own events, such as birthday bashes or farewell shebangs, and invite your friends through Facebook via a very polished webpage. At the same time, you can be invited to events and once accepted, Facebook can keep track of these events and give you a reminder on your homepage a day or so out from the event. You can keep track of other important dates, like your friends’ birthdays, provided they complete that detail in their profile.
There are these really neat little applications where you can throw food at your friends, or draw graffiti on their walls, or play around with their magnetic words. You can get funny quotes by George W Bush, or from characters of your favourite movie/TV show. You can design quizzes for your friends to take, or take the quizzes that are already available. You can play games with your friends in almost-real time (there is a very small time delay), and my favourite game at the moment is Scrabble – OMG, how addictive is Scrabble??
There is this really great privacy feature, which can be set to limit how much information is made available to the general public with a Facebook account. Even after a person becomes your friend, you can limit how much they see on your page.
Finally, if you don’t want to be part of Facebook any more, there is the "Eject Mailman, Eject!!" button and you can deactivate your account.
Since I joined Facebook, I have found myself going to the website several times a day to check if my friends have written on my wall or sent me gifts, or if my requests to my long lost friends have been accepted by those friends, thereby allowing me to see their profiles. I’m Facebook friends with several of my workmates, even though they are merely a few desks away from me. And yes, I’m Facebook friends with some of my cousins who live overseas, and my sister who I see once a week.
There are those who dislike the concept of Facebook and pooh pooh the notion of yet another networking website. Then there are those who, like me, love the idea and almost cried when Facebook was almost shut down by a court case. I’ve since found out that Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is being sued by his one-time friends who are accusing him of stealing the idea from them. The proceedings have been ongoing for nearly 3 years with no end in sight, so for the time being, I can breathe a sigh of relief that my addiction will not be cut off without notice or a back up plan.
A number of my friends and family members refuse to join Facebook. Their reasons range from "I don’t have a need to belong to a networking website" to "I don’t need nor want my friends to know anything about me through a website". And then there are others, mostly journos who have written everything from opinion puff pieces to researched articles about the scourge that is Facebook on people’s social skills and company resources. The latest piece to surface is reproduced below (lifted from the SMH Online website).
FACEBOOK LABELLED A $5B WASTE OF TIME
Andrew West Industrial Relations Reporter
August 20, 2007
THE next time you see an employee hunched intently over the computer, don’t imagine he or she is slaving over the office accounts or a report for the next shareholders meeting.
Employees are more likely to be whiling away the hours on the social networking site Facebook, a report says.
Richard Cullen of SurfControl, an internet filtering company, estimates the site may be costing Australian businesses $5 billion a year. "Our analysis shows that Facebook is the new, and costly, time-waster," he said.
The report calculates that if an employee spends an hour each day on Facebook, it costs the company more than $6200 a year. There are about 800,000 workplaces in Australia.
"There are Facebook groups dedicated to slacking off at work," Dr Cullen said.
"Some of them are specific to employees of a single company."
Facebook – the name is lifted from the term used in American universities for student directories that list names and photographs – has exploded as an online recreation in the past six months. Australians had taken up the trend with a frenzy, said Dr Cullen, and the country now ranked fifth in the world, behind the US, Canada, Britain and Norway.
On July 29, 195,000 people had registered for Facebook’s Australian network. Ten days later the figure had jumped to 224,000.
One anonymous enthusiast, quoted in the SurfControl study, said: "Of course everyone checks Facebook at work, duh! I don’t have neither internet nor a TV at home because I like doing more useful things with my time when I’m off work."
Another user was even more candid. "I work full time as a tax accountant," she said. "For the past two weeks I’d say I have averaged about 15 minutes of work per day."
The site has even replaced internal messaging systems and emails, themselves legendary guzzlers of work time, for communicating within offices.
Some employers were restricting employees’ internet use or blocking the sites, Dr Cullen said. But others are establishing protocols for using social websites.
One fear is that Facebook users can make company systems vulnerable to hackers.
"It’s only a matter of time before a security loophole is discovered and exploited." Dr Cullen said.
Facebook has become a staple in my every day existence. I’m logged on to Facebook for most of my working days, and several times from my home computer as well. In my defence, whilst Facebook is "on" in the background during work hours, I actually do complete my normal workload. I do not spend my working day surfing through Facebook, unlike people I know proudly state they get paid to Facebook. I don’t make hundreds of loud personal phone calls a day (so loud that everyone on the floor can hear every word being said), and I am not completing my uni assignments at my desk. And I do walk around the office to ask a question of a colleague as and when required, instead of emailing them or calling them or worse yet, writing on their Facebook walls.
So I ask – what’s the harm in a little bit of distraction that is my new addiction? Now, I wonder if Danie’s made her next move on Scrabble yet …