Here's one thing I like about Facebook.
Over the weekend, I hurt my back, pulled it while scooping up some laundry. The next day I felt good enough, and that night I slept as I normally do: on my side.
The next day I could barely move. Just walking was a cause for agony.
Naturally I updated my Facebook status.
First, I was so grateful to receive notes of encouragement from friends. It meant a lot, really. But that's not what I'm talking about. What I love about Facebook is its ability to improve my connections in the physical world.
You see, that night, I had taught a class and then shuffled back to my department. I climbed onto the couch in my office and passed out. It really hurt that much. Three hours later, I awoke just in time to catch a bus home.
I looked like death. My hair was all disheveled and my skin had a zombie-like pallor. I didn't want anyone to see me. Of course, struggling to walk outside, stooped over painfully, I passed by a student. He asked, "How are you doing?" I was a bit embarrassed, thinking that I looked drunk, or worse. Then he caught himself. "Oh! Your back! I'm sorry to hear about your back!"
He'd read my Facebook status report.
That's what I love most about Facebook, its ability to help us contextualize our relationships, particularly our loose connections. In the face-to-face world, Facebook helped him make sense of my appearance and offer his best wishes for something that he might not have otherwise understood.
I know some people who eschew Facebook because of its inability to reproduce "real" friendship. But I think that dismissal misses the point. Sure, "real" friendship is better than "fake" friendship. There's no disputing that. But Facebook is a friendship augmenter, not replicant. Thanks to this resource, we know more about each other.
Some folks hear that and get paranoid.
Not me. I'm grateful.
Follow-up: Excellent article with solid numbers of Facebook growth and social impact: How Facebook is taking over our lives