Friday, June 26, 2009

Facebook angst

Until we moved two years ago, I worked at a private K-through-8th-grade school, as the librarian. I've written about it a fair bit so you probably know this. Anyway, I was there for nine years, so by the time I left I'd known virtually all the kids since they were in kindergarten.

I loved some things about being in a close-knit community, I really did. I loved getting to know all the kids over the years, I loved the village that was the staff room, where I learned almost everything I ever needed to know about being a spouse and a parent and a grownup. And I really enjoyed the company of many of the parents.

There were some things I didn't like, too: the close-knit community sometimes felt too boundary-less to me. The kids sometimes acted infuriatingly entitled. I didn't like all the parents, especially the ones who were also infuriatingly entitled, and didn't like how the structure and nature of the school sometimes left me unprotected from their (I'm pseudonymous here, and don't work there any more, so I'll just say it) craziness. When there was a solid and supportive administrator in charge, that craziness was generally buffered. But there were several years, including my last few, when such was not the case.

Anyway, then I left. Left that school, that metropolitan area, that country. I missed the kids, and many of my colleagues, and some of the parents, but, hey, whee! Clean break! I never have to see the ones I don't like again!

Except, not so much.

Because now we have Facebook. All of us. And our exes and elementary-school friends and high-school teachers and everyone else we thought was faded out of our lives forever, adrift in the world somewhere, well, they can all find us. And we can find them. And we can all be Facebook friends in the great big cafeteria/mall/staff room in the ether, forever.

I am Facebook friends with some of my old co-workers (a few of whom read this blog-- Hi! hi there!!), and that is swell and it makes me much less lonely to be in touch with them and hear how things are going. So that is really nice.

Then, a few months ago, one of my old students sent me a Facebook friend request, and I haven't replied yet. I like her a lot, but I know this student isn't fourteen, and I don't think she's even thirteen, and even though she's not my student any more I wasn't really comfortable with letting her into my grownup facebook life. Just tonight, I got another friend request from another former student. This one is a year older, and again, I like her a lot and would be happy to be in touch with her but just don't want her to see all my stuff. I figure there will be other friend requests from other former students--I wasn't a hugely popular figure, but some kids, the bookish, thoughtful ones, liked me and I liked them, and some more will probably friend me when they think about it or see me commenting on one of their teachers' Facebook pages. I need to figure out what to do about this.

Then there are the parents. I thought I had decided for myself, in my new, happily non-boundary-challenged life, that I would not friend parents from my old school (unless they were also former co-workers). But then I got a friend request from one of my very, very, very favorite parents ever, the mom of one of my very, very, very favorite students ever, and a woman I'd always liked and thought would be a good person to be friends with, but felt somewhat constrained by my professional role. So I accepted her friend request.

And now I see that of course she's friends with other parents, including a few I'd rather not have much to do with, and they will see my comments if I write on her page, and then they and I will no longer be forever out of each other's lives. They might friend me, and I don't want to friend them, but now that I've friended this parent will they be all upset if I don't friend them too?

I have to remind myself that it doesn't really matter, that they are no longer my employer or anything like it (some of them thought they were, which drove me nuts and made me very jumpy), they can't complain to the principal because I won't Facebook-friend them or because they don't like something I wrote on my page. I can friend who I want and not friend who I don't want. That I am a grownup and that--on Facebook and in real, non-Internet life--I don't have to like all my friends' friends.

I'm curious about other people, and would love to know if you want to write in comments: What do you do? If you work at a school or a church or some other similar institution, or are a parent, or just for one reason or another need to set boundaries about who you let into your Facebook-- how do you decide?


Blogger Hugh said...

Hi Els!

After a brief honeymoon period w/fb, I concluded that fb is more high school than high school. I have therefore for the most part thrown in the towel. The whole thing gives me social anxiety. On another note, glad you have found good Thai food. Much love, Alice.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Arwen said...

If you want, you can set all the different levels of access to all the different people. You can set up a limited profile. You can also block people so they don't see your comments, etc., on other people's walls. As far as their exposure is concerned, you don't exist on facebook.

In settings->privacy->profile you can set everything such that "only friends" can see them. Of course, that's not comments on other people's statuses or walls or whatever.

10:56 AM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Oh, Arwen, thank you! I sort of knew that, but have had trouble navigating Facebook's privacy settings-- I still don't know what a "limited profile" reveals or hides, and have not been able to discern it. I'll look into it further. Maybe I can friend the students, at least, and then just let them into my limited profile. And then lift it when they're grown up, if I feel like it and we're all still on Facebook.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous sko3 said...

Yup, limited profile is good--they can't see various parts of your page (usually the wall or the photos) and I recently discovered the best thing ever: you can eliminate them from your feed--so you don't get all their status updates. Helpful in getting your feed to be only the folks you really most want to keep up with.

2:41 PM  
Blogger susan said...

I haven't done it yet myself, but I understand that you can create groups within your friend list and then create access levels for that group. I'm still thinking about how I want to handle all the blogland/real life, current city/real life, former city relations on FB.

8:06 PM  
Blogger Songbird said...

When it comes to kids (my kids' friends or church kids), I will let them friend me, but I will never initiate the friending. I guess my policy is the same for their parents, though that hasn't come up as much.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Elsewhere!

I'm a lurker, friend of a friend of a friend....motivated to respond on this particular issue. I work at a college as an advisor so you can imagine the friend frenzy! I've had facebook for over two years but realized a year ago that I needed a 'separate identity' for the former and current students, not-so-favourite-colleagues etc. So that's what I did, as well as many other folks I know from academia. best regards, An Elizabethan

6:33 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Thank you, Elizabethan lurker and everyone else! All very helpful. I actually do have a separate identity for work--at one point in my job last year I worked with teenagers, and didn't want to friend them on my "real" account, so made up another one. It is extremely boring and I almost never post on it.

9:13 AM  
Blogger JODY DIPERNA said...

Oh, and people wonder why I don't f/b? I have enough stress with actual relationships. I mean, I step on toes and hurt people's feelings and just steamroll through life. In a virtual world? I'd be a menace. Or I'd collapse in a ball of anxiety. Or something.

1:25 PM  
Blogger Pamelamama said...

Yes, I have subset groups for what I call my "imaginary friends" -- only know them on the internet -- and my "remote friends" -- not really sure I want them up in my bizness.

Good luck! I'm glad to have you on my facebook!

7:34 PM  

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