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A Mountain Perspective

Keep in Touch

Katelyn Phelan

"Keep in touch" is a phrase uttered or written in practically every farewell exchange. You would be hard pressed to find many high school senior yearbook messages without it. So, college students devised an easy way to "keep in touch" - Facebook.

I myself have a Facebook page and am "friends" with my high school classmates, college peers, siblings, and cousins. So obviously I'm able to keep in touch with all of them, right? I can write a short message on their "wall," read what others write to them, see their status updates, and look at their pictures. How great!

Though this sounds amazing, Facebook doesn't really facilitate relationships. Yeah, sure, I can see what you're doing on a day-to-day basis, but you're not personally telling me about it. We could be having a conversation via Facebook, but that's not how most people get their information. People get it from "Facebook stalking."

This phrase sounds fairly ominous, but it's a term well-known by every Facebook user. Facebook stalking is basically people surfing - looking through their profiles, reading their information, and viewing their various "wall-to-walls," or conversations with other people. Each profile has a plethora of information available: wall posts from your friends, your status updates, pictures, and general information. This information can be anything from your favorite quotes or movies, to your major, to your cell phone number, to your address.

The potential for danger should be obvious. Anything that allows people to find your address and phone number can cause problems. But Facebook has attempted to solve that problem. Facebook is organized so that you can change your security settings to whatever level you wish. At its most strict, Facebook allows only your "friends," whom you approve, to see your profile page.

Well then there should be no problem - you can control who has access to your information. But limiting friends is not something most people are too concerned with. So potentially I could accept a request from someone whom I don't really know and give him/her access to my profile. Also, there's nothing to prevent someone from making a fictional Facebook account.

In fact, I did this very thing as an experiment last spring. I created a person "Jen Miller" and friended any Mount student I could online. Many people accepted. At the end of two weeks, Jen had 400 plus friends and several messages and wall posts. Facebook also informs your friends of upcoming birthdays, and Jen even got some happy birthday wishes.

The point of this wasn't for me to have a good laugh at everyone's expense, though it was pretty humorous. I walked into several conversations in which people were trying to figure out who Jen Miller was. I even heard one girl speculating that a quiet girl who didn't speak much and had been sitting in the back of her Theology class most of the semester was Jen Miller. Another person confessed that when she passed anyone she didn't know, she wondered if it was Jen Miller.

I created Jen because I was curious to see how loose people were with their privacy. It took me five minutes to create Jen's account and not too much longer to make "friends." People accepted Jen and allowed "her" to see their profiles. Facebook originally allowed only college students to have a Facebook (you needed a college email), but now anyone can get one. Even when it was just college students though, guys would use it to pick girls up. A few weeks before I even came to the Mount, a senior guy messaged me that we should get together when I arrived.

So Facebook stalking can be dangerous, but most people aren't referring to its dangerous aspects when they make that comment. Most people refer to a kind of people surfing where you look at your friends' profiles. I mean, isn't that the point, to keep involved with their lives? You can read a conversation between two of your friends, and by doing so learn about their plans, something that happened, and so on. You can also check their status, learn how they're feeling, see their pictures and find out what they did that weekend. While this isn't harmful, it's not necessarily healthy either. Why should I ask about your Christmas Break if I already know what you did from Facebook? Instead of keeping real relationships, it weakens them.

Facebook doesn't encourage real interaction; it provides people with an excuse not to interact. With Facebook, who needs to call a friend? If I can just write a quick, efficient message on my best friend's wall, why should I call her to tell her I miss her? While Facebook seems to be a great way to keep in touch, it really harms relationships because it gives the illusion of meaningful contact. If I really cared about keeping up with your life, I should call you or get together with you so you can tell me what's new. I shouldn't be able to get this information impersonally from your Facebook page. Since I can just see easily what you've been doing since we last talked, there's much less incentive for me to call you. Facebook gives me and everyone else that excuse.

With Christmas and a new year coming, it's a natural time for reflection. If you've fallen out of touch with your friends who have meant a great deal to you, reconnect. But do it personally, not through Facebook, email, or any other go-between medium. Give them a call or, even better, see them face-to-face.

Katelyn Phelan is an Junior English Mayor at Mt. St. Mary's University

Read other articles by Katelyn Phelan