BY DAWN ROBEY
Have you checked your wall today? I have, and so have most of the 82 people on my friends list. The social networking craze has taken me under, and I am thoroughly addicted. MySpace and Facebook need their spot in Webster’s because they have found their way into the daily lives of millions of people But is social networking as professional as it is entertaining?
According to Webster’s, social networking is the process of using a computer to connect people who share personal and professional interests.
The idea that the internet can be used to contact old friends, co-workers and business associates is not a new one. One of the highest uses of the internet is for social networking purposes and America is a strong believer in networking.
Resumes are posted on networking sites. Employers have begun to “check out” the personal sites of potential new hires. Parents, schools, jobs, and law enforcement agencies have all learned that social networking can be useful in learning the in’s and out’s of a person without having to ask face to face.
In 2003, MySpace was launched as “a place for friends.” The site provided a personal web page to its users where they could post their comments, concerns and generally express their individuality. By 2006 the site became so wildly popular that it was voted the most used social networking website in America and obtained its one hundred millionth account in the same year.
Since then, however, MySpace has lost a lot of its popularity. With the advent of newer, more streamlined social networking sites, MySpace has dropped to what I like to call a “whining forum.” It has become a place for tweens and young adults to vent their frustrations about life, the lack of liberty and the pursuit of unhappiness. The gripes presented range from who kissed who’s boyfriend to why Mom has such an attitude problem.
The social networking aspect of the site has been drowned under these complaints and many adults have lost interest in the “kiddie play ground” that MySpace has become.
A year after MySpace was launched, Facebook was invented and released to the public. Facebook, like MySpace, promotes a social network for all ages and interests. Yet, the site was considered more user friendly and adult oriented. Created by a 24-year-old college student, Facebook took off, much the same as MySpace, and now connects millions of people over millions of miles.
We all enjoy connecting with old friends, complimenting pictures and voicing our opinions through our keyboards, but where is the line between social networking and a sniveling popularity contest? It seems that as a networking site gains popularity, it loses its appeal to the professional world and therefore much of its credibility as a reliable source of personal and professional information.
I have come up against a few social networking roadblocks myself. After posting an invite to a Saturday night party, my employer kindly reminded me (via my Facebook wall) that I had to work the following Sunday and if I arrived inebriated, it would result in a pink slip. An innocent Facebook post prompted a threat to my job, and what my employer didn’t know was that I was the designated driver for the evening, and there was no inebriation in my immediate future.
This is where the line between personal and professional social networking becomes blurred.
I question whether or not Facebook will follow the same path as MySpace. The site’s layout and applications obviously lead to a more professional atmosphere than MySpace’s flash and popgun appeal, but the content posted has become more and more personal. Professionalism is pushed out in favor of party schedules and emotional baggage The blend of work and pleasure becomes a difficult mix to uphold.
Yet Facebook has done a much better job of keeping that balance. It still hosts web pages dedicated completely to businesses, with only members of that workplace community allowed to join. Co-workers can connect over lunch break and find out what an associate three thousand miles away is working on. College students can share notes and class comments over their walls.
Facebook has the potential to keep the line in the sand between personal and professional, but if that line blurs (as it did with my boss), I worry that social networking is more entertaining than professional. If Facebook becomes another MySpace when will the cycle of whining forums end? Will networking lose its professional edge and become taboo, like chat rooms have?
If so, we had better watch what we say on Facebook, for it could very well mean the difference between a pay check and a pink slip.