In high school, like most Columbia students, I was nominated for a number of superlatives: “Most Likely to Succeed,” “Most Likely to Be President”—and my personal favorite, “Biggest Facebook Stalker.” Despite my best efforts to win, I ended up two for three. I lost the Facebook superlative fair and square to the infamous high school gossip. “Whatever,” I thought. Shy but surreptitious, he made up for a lack of real presence with his rumored blog full of scandalous emails and Facebook posts. At least that’s what I told myself.
But these days our online presence isn’t so far from reality, especially at Columbia. We use CULPA to determine what classes to take, Twitter to read up on the occasional IvyLeagueBitch #whitegirlproblem, and the all-powerful Facebook for just about everything else.
They say Facebook isn’t good for you. I say Facebook is your friend—and it knows you better than most of your real ones. It knows who you’re thinking of before you manage to type out two letters of his or her name. It knows which of your friends’ stories, events, conversations, and FarmVille showdowns you want to hear about.
For me, Facebook even helped cipher my college path. Like most, my freshman year was spent in a minor major limbo. For two semesters I sampled everything from economics to sustainable development to math, and to no avail. Over the summer, however, I had a minor major revelation—minor in that it was in large part due to a Hollywood flick. I’m not going to lie: After watching “The Social Network” for the fifth or sixth time, I figured I should give Zuckerberg’s field a try. I read the Bulletin description, checked out the courses, and it was settled. I was majoring in computer science.
But does Facebook really define our generation? At first thought, that’s pretty embarrassing. We can’t be defined by a site on which we spend hours every day clicking through meaningless pictures and scrolling down a “news” feed. We can’t be defined by the number one distraction from everything productive that we’re supposed to do. And we surely can’t be defined by those times we subconsciously start typing “www.faceb—” in the URL box when we meant to go to CourseWorks.
Alas, we are so defined. Facebook defines us as a more connected generation of young people capitalizing on the power of social networking to rally behind causes and protest Wall Street and become politically aware.
But the buck doesn’t stop at the global stage—Facebook has the ability to make or break our individual images. Your Facebook image matters. So worldly issues and magnanimity aside, let’s focus on a positive Facebook habit that impacts us personally every day: furtive stalking techniques.
Facebook stalking is not a crime, but it can be your downfall if you don’t go about it properly. Remember getting your freshman roommate assignment? Odds are you immediately searched for him or her on Facebook and carried out a Standard Stalk. (In the unlikely event that they didn’t have a Facebook, your job was done—they must be really weird.) You looked for a few key things: who they took photos with, interests you might have in common, interests that turn you off, relationship status, etc. You may even go so far as to break down the way they type—a person’s punctuation on Facebook says a lot about them.
The dangerous part is when you meet them in person. It goes without saying that you do not offhand bring up what you found on Facebook. That’s creepy. If you want to utilize the encyclopedia knowledge you’ve acquired from your roomie’s profile, you must do so creatively. Find subtle ways for them to bring up their bizarre obsession with Ayn Rand or that time during beach week when they chugged clam juice. If you know you’re both “leaning conservatives,” casually mention your support for Jon Huntsman.
If you use your Facebook knowledge with good intention and subtle technique, you’ll come out with a friend. Use it blatantly and you’ll come off as a creep. The concept of a Facebook restraining order does not officially exist, so don’t put someone in a position where they need one from you.
Down the road you’ll think that your hyper-concern over Facebook stalking was ridiculous. You would have been best friends with your roommate anyway, right? Wrong. Your Facebook image and your knowledge of his or hers not only expedited the process, but it prevented key commonalities and bonding points from getting lost. At the tender early stage of any acquaintanceship, online impressions carry decisive clout.
Frankly, I’m glad I don’t have an ambiguous blog showcasing my Facebook findings. I may not be the “Biggest Facebook Stalker,” but I like to think I’m a prudent one. You should be too. Take advantage of the Information Age, but tread carefully; both the benefits and consequences extend far beyond the online realm.
Arvin Ahmadi is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in computer science and political science. He is a Spectator online staff developer. Tech Etiquette runs alternate Tuesdays.