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Friday, May 1, 2009

On-line Angst

I laughed out loud after my daughter created a Facebook account for me on Wednesday and about thirty people from my high school class popped up. I’ve dragged my feet about social networking and when two of my dearest friends/college roommates joined Facebook and suggested I do so too, even though the thought of regular contact with them appealed I still paused. After all, we have email.

However, in addition to the encouragement of these friends, in my recent networking activities, the pervasive theme with regard to finding either success as a writer or a job (or with any luck some combination of the two) is that it’s all about exposure. Therefore I’ve embraced LinkedIn and have plenty of contacts there, and Lord knows I’ve opened myself up to anyone who can find me via Middle Passages. I’ve even included a link to Middle Passages on LinkedIn. (How’s that for techno-doublespeak?) On top of this, I’m a Google maniac, searching everything and everyone, including myself, and I’m out there in some pretty direct ways. If you Google me right now you’ll find my LinkedIn profile, an on-line story with regard to our daughter’s adoption, and the recent Boston Globe Magazine article that highlights the fact that I am unemployed. Given that all that intelligence on yours truly is already public, what more is there to make me cautious about Facebook, other than my fear that it could become obsessive (which judging from the time I’ve already spent looking up people, is legitimate)?

Even though I’m smart enough to withhold unflattering pictures or comments, I am aware that with membership a certain loss of control arises, so the openness of Facebook continues to worry me. But on Wednesday, after one more person told me that from a career networking and writing point of view, Facebook could be an additional asset, I gave in.

Once registered though and scrolling through profiles of my high school and college classmates, I suddenly understood my anxiety. Before I logged onto Facebook, the “world” that discovered me on the Internet was either professional (via LinkedIn) or for the most part, anonymous. For example, there is a comment on-line related to one of my articles in Adoptive Families from a stranger, which in an odd way felt safe to me, at a time when most of my family didn’t know I had written it. A little harder to swallow were the seven comments on-line from the recent Boston Globe Magazine article, a few of whom didn’t appreciate my take; and one that was particularly nasty. I inhaled deeply on discovering those, but could move on with limited alarm because I didn’t know the authors. After all, these are the sort of “one time hits” for which I have to develop a tough hide if I’m going to continue writing. By joining Facebook though, I’m opening myself up to people I know with opinions that matter to me and whose criticism, if received, will sting. I guess it behooves me to ensure that in what ever way I appear on the Web, I can stand up to any scrutiny my on-line persona may encounter.

So as of two days ago, you can find me there in social network-land with my two friends and another link to Middle Passages. I think though, that rather than industriously “friending” old acquaintances, I will just sit back for a while and see what happens. The “on” line between my personal and professional selves is feeling pretty blurry these days. God knows how I will cope when I figure out Twitter.

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