Facebook keeps us connected

I’ve been writing Faithful Living for 15 years and I shook my head in amazement this week when I looked back on an early column suggesting ways to stay connected with friends and loved ones. My list included pre-addressed postcards that could be mailed at a moments notice. Can you imagine? I don’t even know what it costs to mail a postcard these days. I do, however, know how to comment on the picture of a friend’s beautiful newborn granddaughter or share with family members living 11 hours away that I’ve learned an amazing lesson this spring: With sun and plenty of water, gardens grow before your eyes!

It’s all because I’ve created a Facebook page along with 200 million active users worldwide. It’s easy and best of all, free.

Created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg with fellow computer science students and roommates Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes at Harvard University, the Web site’s name refers to the paper facebooks depicting members of a campus community that some colleges and prep schools give to incoming students, faculty, and staff as a way to get to know other people on campus. Today the privately owned company employed 700 and reported revenues in 2008 of $300 million, generating its revenue from advertising including banner ads.

Facebook is a free-access, social networking website where users can create profiles (tell their story) using photos and information of personal interest. It’s also a place to exchange private or public messages with those you have approved to view your site. Each site includes a WALL, a place to post messages and comments, a POKE, which allows you to virtually “poke” or grab someone’s attention in your network, PHOTOS, where you can upload photos, and STATUS, which allows you to inform your friends of your whereabouts, actions, and thoughts. If you’re a hugger, you can send virtual “hugs” of encouragement. If you like flowers, those can be virtually sent. You can upload videos, invite people to activities, honor their birthdays, test your knowledge of your hometown and chat. There are an astounding 400,000 registered software developers who have produced over 33,000 such applications.

When my niece announced on her wall the other day that she should probably start paying rent at Starbucks, I confessed my love of their sugar-free black tea lemonades. It was a fun way to make a connection with a darling girl who would rather see a comment from her auntie on her Facebook wall than receive a postcard.

And when my childhood friend Janice posted a picture of the entire Buena High School Class of 1977, then asked our Facebook community to identify long-lost classmates, it brought a whole lot of us together online to “tag” (label those kids we recognized) then reminisce about the happy memories we share. I’ve been able to express to a growing number of childhood friends appearing on Facebook my affection for them and this pleases me.

Can people spend too much, nonproductive time on the Web site? Sure. They can also share too much information and post photos, in particular, that should remain in private scrapbooks. But I like the ready connection. This week, I’ve been praying for a friend’s dad who has been hospitalized this week. Next month I’ll pray for a college friend traveling to Uganda for mission work. Even Facebook fits into God’s plan.

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