by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
When J.C.R. Licklider was working to develop ARPANET, one of the first large computer networks, he coined the term “virtual community” to describe his vision of how computer communications could link people together. In a virtual community, community members might be geographically separated but share the same interests, goals and aspirations. Through computer networks, virtual community members can work together to make the real world a better place.
Fast-forward 30 years, and Facebook is the way most people younger than 25 communicate with their friends. Moreover, it is also how they make new friends. E-mail, listservers and bulletin boards are passé in the online world of today. Social networks like Facebook have become the place where virtual communities are formed.
For those of us older than 40 and on Facebook -there is even a special Facebook group by that name for us old fogies — Facebook is more like a weekly happy hour than a means of social existence. Personally, Facebook has been a great way to reconnect with old high school and college friends, to find out where they landed and what they are doing. And it has also let me get to know some of my existing acquaintances a whole lot better.
One of my colleagues of nearly 10 years has always fit the stereotype of the shy engineer: You know when he likes you because he stares at your shoes instead of his own when he talks. But on Facebook he is ready to open up. Turns out that he loves Pink Floyd, has two children, eats often at Mexican restaurants and uploads a new photo to Facebook about every other day. He also sends messages, comments on my messages and is a very outgoing person online. We have gotten to be much better friends though our online interaction.
There is certainly nothing wrong with getting to know people better, but when does sharing information online with your friends and colleagues become too much? Or, as some call it, “oversharing.”
The latest example of Facebook oversharing comes in the form of notes where people list “25” things about themselves. The online equivalent of a chain letter, one answers the 25 questions listed and then tags 25 people who are supposed to now answer the same questions and tag another 25 people. Etc., etc. Of course, all of your Facebook friends now get to learn how you answered the questions. And these lists of questions help answer some of the most…