It’s clear I don’t like silly ways to engage students, such as trying to act their age, but obviously there are non-comical ways to try to engage students, to go out to them without trying to be like them. Chat reference is one way. Facebook might be another.
Today in class we briefly discussed Facebook and the fact that they and many other students spend a great deal of time every day “Facebooking.” I tried to pin down just what Facebooking entailed for them, but clearly it was just about everything social these days, from communicating with friends to playing games to stalking people. It surprised me just a little because Princeton is a relatively small, completely residential campus with around 5,000 students and the opportunities for non-virtual interaction are plentiful.
I admitted to them that I had a Facebook profile that I don’t do much with, and one student whipped out his iPhone, found my profile, and sent me a friend invitation within about 30 seconds. “You see how much time I must spend on Facebook,” he said. I joined Facebook only because a colleague here sent me an invitation to join. Since I like him, I went ahead and created a minimal profile. I’ve never sent a friend request, but once I joined several other colleagues noted it and sent them to me. That was fine. I’m not sure they’re all friends, but they’re certainly people I’m friendly with and like. Then came old friends from past lives who discovered me. That’s one thing I do like about it. Though it doesn’t help me keep up with them any better, it lets us both know we think of the other sometimes.
Then came the friend request from a librarian I’d never met nor heard of, or at least didn’t remember. Had I met this person before? Were we in library school together? Met at a conference? Served on a committee together? I didn’t think so. But I didn’t want to offend by turning down the request, and it’s not like I’m Stephen Fry, so bombarded with these requests that they would overwhelm me. Also, I realize that it doesn’t matter if Facebook friends are real friends. So I accepted. It so much easier to be undiscriminating online. I’d probably even accept a request from you if you sent one.
But what about the students? Would I use Facebook to communicate with them? To tell them more about myself or find out more about them? I’ve mentioned how freaked out some of them seemed when I told them I’d looked them all up on Facebook before the semester began to find out more about them. It seemed like I was stalking them in their own environment. If I encouraged students to “befriend” me, would they see it as appropriate, or just creepy?
I’m coming to the conclusion that it might seem more inappropriate than not. It would be encroaching on their territory, as if I had walked into their dorm room or something. They have a space apart from old people, and if there had been Facebook when I was a freshman in college, I doubt I’d have wanted old people to invade my space. So while I would gladly accept any friend request from a student, and do occasionally actually befriend students, I would never encourage students to make me their “friends” so I can communicate with them and keep track of their lives and tell them all about the library. I don’t want to be socially connected to students in this way, and I don’t think they would like it either, especially since my profile page is so boring.