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anne_mikolay_120The old adage, “Don't talk to strangers,” no longer applies – if your kid is on Facebook, that is.

Anyone with teenagers in their lives knows what Facebook is all about. The online social networking site is key to the social lives of today's generation. To mark Facebook's recent five year anniversary, founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, recently stated: “Facebook has offered a safe and trusted environment for people to interact online, which has made millions of people comfortable expressing more about themselves.” Exactly how safe is a website that connects people with people they don't know...and, at times, with people they shouldn't know?

I have never understood the need for Facebook, and the all important Facebook “status” that allows members to reveal their feelings on any given day. Why does today's generation feel compelled to tell the world what is going on in their daily existence? Why do we feel it necessary to “define” ourselves on the internet? Why do we have to know the details of other peoples' private lives? And their private lives are all over Facebook. A Facebook status, regardless of how trivial, is revealing. A simple statement like “Susie's happy the SATs are over!” may seem insignificant, but it tells the world something personal about “Susie.” Back in my day, one's personal life was private. I wouldn't tell a perfect stranger how I felt on a particular day. I would never whip out my photo album to show a stranger pictures of my friends. But kids do just that everyday on Facebook.

My kids counter my objections to Facebook by stating you can't browse through just anyone's Facebook profile unless you are in their “network..” The “network safety net” would work, I suppose, if you were personally acquainted with each and every individual in the network. The internet, and social networking sites like Facebook, is a double-edged sword that simultaneously shrinks the world and brings people together, and introduces threats nobody expected. Facebook has had its share of predators among its 150 million users; the only true safety net in cyberspace is caution and awareness.

What does the current passion for “living large” on the internet say about us as a society?  Why do we want everybody to see photographs of ourselves, our friends, our adventures? What happened to anonymity? What's wrong with an “ordinary life?” What happened to the small “stop-and-smell-the-roses” moments, those memorable occasions that definitely do not happen in the spotlight?

Perhaps one's regard for Facebook and online social networking is a matter of personality: extroverts versus the reserved. I like to listen more than talk – I learn more that way – so I will happily stand with the reserved who would rather stop and smell the roses than post photographs of them on Facebook.