Social networks: Hermit or herd?

Elaine Chan and Priscilla Chan, licensed by Creative Commons

Facebook is changing us. We use it to stay in touch with many people from all areas of our life. Often these aren’t people we know well – they’re just people we knew from one thing or another. But we can see into their lives: see what’s bugging them, what bands they like, who they’re dating and what sort of person they’re after. It’s not usually life-altering information, but it’s enough to feel like you have an idea what their day-to-day lives are really like. This is kind of voyeuristic in terms of workmates and old school friends, but when it comes to close friends or family separated by distance it is an absolute godsend. To stay abreast of the little things means you feel closer to that person’s life.

But it also changes normal relationships with friends who are in the same town. You get invited to lots of stuff via Facebook. What if you don’t log in often? What if you’re not savvy enough to set up an iCal feed for Facebook events in Google? Well then, you miss out on the party. Tough. Now, what about those that did make it to the party. How do you explain that fancy dress costume to the boss? Your workmates all saw the photos before you even got over your hangover the next day.

But wait. There’s more. There is actually a good side to this networking business. It’s like what they always say: It’s not what you know – it’s WHO you know. If you know a whole lot of people and they all know you’re looking for a new job (Status update: “Bob is finished the degree and officially looking for a graphic design job!”) then that’s a whole lot more eyes and ears and “I know someone..” conversations to get you started. Much better than searching the papers, finding only courier and snack bar assistant jobs.

Of course, this status trick can backfire too (Status update: “Tim is sick of his boss and his whiny voice.”). Teachers have been fired for saying what they really think of the kids. Not a smart move. Or worse, you could get sprung taking a sickie. You might also get fired just for lazing away too much of your day.

So, educate yourself and your friends/kids/whatever on how to lock down your social networks. Keep your address and other personal info safe, keep your secrets locked to close friends. Seriously, how much do you want your high school friends to know? Think first. Share later. Then, make sure you are happy with your conduct going public. Don’t bludge, don’t pull sickies and don’t do dumb things in front of cameras. If you do accidentally get caught on camera then chat to the person who owns the camera ASAP. Preferably ask them to delete it, but at least ask them to lock down the photo for the sake of your job.

Generally, the benefits of social networking outweigh the dangers. You might even manage to teach yourself to be a more upstanding citizen. Out you come hermits! Come play with the herd.

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