Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

The Geek Girls have had the privilege of working with and talking to a wide array of people over the last year.  We cover a lot of ground in our discussions and here on the blog.  I have to say, though, that there is one topic that baffles and disturbs me over and over again.  I can’t count the number of times I hear parents talk about how advanced their children are on computers and, by extension, online.  A good number of parents tell us that their kids know more about “this stuff” than they ever will and they basically let them handle it, mostly unmonitored.  I make it a point to never judge how people parent, because everyone needs to have the room to do their own thing.  But I do think that the web is no place to let a child, or an adolescent, run free and unfettered. And with the proliferation of mobile devices, the web is everywhere they are — which is, oftentimes, where parents are not.  I don’t want to mix words here – parents need to accept the expanding landscape of opportunity and potential trouble for their children, they need to embrace the technology around it and take an active role in monitoring their kids in the online space.

When I visited the Pew Internet website to get some statistics around the number of teens online I was struck by this quote in the sidebar of an article I was reading:  “Adolescents have been called “digital natives,” but data suggests that they are both comfortable with new technologies, and yet not always as technically savvy as we collectively believe them to be.”  This is sort of reflective of adolescence overall, isn’t it?  They are ready for responsibility, and yet not quite equipped to handle it all of the time. If we know they aren’t yet totally able to make the best choices, why do we give them the keys to the internet and trust they have the skills to manage anything they encounter when they’re out there? This post is probably the first of several.  This topic really requires relatively lengthy discussion and this is just a starting point.  As access to the internet becomes easier and necessary, this issue will become even more critical.  My first order of business is just encouraging the conversation. 

What is there to be concerned about if we’re separated from any potential problem by a device and distance?  Distance is easily surmountable and a device doesn’t protect you from anything.  Kids don’t think this through when they engage in behavior that their friends endorse.  Cell phones and rich media mean that compromising yourself on the web really just takes a few seconds.  And then it’s there forever.  By now, many of you have heard of ‘Sexting‘ — sexually suggestive text messages that may be accompanied by photos or videos of sexually charged behavior.  This topic is hot right now, and with good reason.  Teens are sexually exploratory by nature.  Sharing sexual materials via a computer or handheld device allows for a false sense of security.  For one, kids aren’t thinking about their futures in the moments when they might be making these questionable choices.  But when you’re talking to your teens about why this behavior is dangerous, its important to aknowledge that its not just about them making themselves sexually vulnerable, its also the fact that anything on the internet is forever.  While a sexually explicit message or photo might feel temporal today, the long term potential for damage is very real. 

Sexual predators are also a very real threat.  With global social networks experiencing massive growth, our kids are connecting to more strangers than we could possibly police.  Let’s face it, our children might have good instincts, but we know it takes maturity to really develop that 6th sense about people.  I like to think I’m a good judge of character or sincerity, and I still manage to surprise myself by investing in the wrong people every now and then.  Our kids need our help and we shouldn’t be apologetic about it.  The Geek Girls are often advising organizations about setting up acceptable use and privacy policies for social media. And yet, very few people ask about similar sorts of policies for their homes and families.  I think it makes sense.  Your family should have a set of values around acceptable behavior online.  You should be vocal about it.  Talk about what is appropriate and what isn’t and revise the list as necessary.  Your kids will roll their eyes at you no matter what you talk about, you might as well integrate online behavior.  But take it a step further.  Talk to your kids about how you plan to monitor their behavior online and what you’ll do if they push the boundaries you have in place.  Again – be unapologetic about your intention to friend them on MySpace or Facebook.  Oh yes — you are their friend! And there should be no social interactions online unless you’re right there.  In fact, here’s a list of 10 ways to keep yourself in the loop where your baby’s online behavior is concerned:

  1. Don’t allow laptops in the bedroom.  Desktops and laptops that are connected to the internet should be used in common spaces.  All teens want privacy, and that privacy can be exploited by predators.  You wouldn’t give your 12 year old the keys to your car.  Why would you give them a laptop with access to the entire world and let them take that behind closed doors?  Perhaps you’re one of the lucky ones, your child is ‘perfect’ and you doubt they are at risk at all.  It’s not your perfect child you should be concerned about, it’s the experienced predator who manipulates his/her way into the homes and heads of vulnerable folks FOR A LIVING.  They are pros.  Your perfect kid is not.  Common space means your child is less likely to give a stranger the time they’d need to con them.
  2. Share passwords.  I know, its not a teen’s dream.  But if you raise them in an environment where this sort of information is shared as a matter of practice, it won’t seem so unusual.  Start young — when they begin using the web you establish their passwords for them and that’s just the way it is.  Make it clear that those passwords will be used to monitor activity because that is your job.  Again-be unapologetic about it.  Don’t give your kids grief for info you discover that isn’t dangerous.  Respect their privacy to the degree that you can.  Only respond or react to potentially dangerous or threatening behavior.
  3. Get on the networks your children are on.  If your kids are on MySpace and/or Facebook — so are you.  Don’t let them stay there unless they agree to friend you.  Be active, but not embarrassing.  I think visible parents are a great deterrent for potential problem friends.  But again, don’t say or do anything that your kid could be embarrassed by or this space will just cause conflict and you don’t need it.
  4. If your child is totally resistant to you being around for their online party – there are software options that are so stealth that you can monitor their every key stroke without them knowing.  I think it’s important to know this software exists, but I recommend a more open and honest approach because you get your kid thinking critically about their online behavior and it will help inform the person they become as they mature.  Encouraging that kind of open communication will also ensure that your child will talk to you if someone they don’t know or trust communicates with them online in a way which might be uncomfortable to them.  In fact that is the next point:
  5. Establish guidelines around when your child should inform you of certain behaviors or ask questions.  More is better.  Give them an open line for communication.  Commit to not freaking out on them for poor judgement if they tell you the truth about a person of concern.  Perhaps they did talk to that person and now they regret it – they need only tell you and you’ll pursue appropriate action.
  6. Children should never meet anyone they meet online in person unless you have prescreened that person and are able to attend the first meeting with them – in a public place.  Because the web is so integral in our communications it doesn’t make sense to expect that we won’t be making new friends online.  But there needs to be a screening process.  You should be sure of exactly who you’re meeting before that face-to-face meeting happens.
  7. One house rule needs to be – never share personal details with someone you think you know.  Full names, addresses, phone numbers — those are hard stops to conversations with strangers or new friends.  Unless you know who you’re talking to, this information should be deemed sensitive and not shared.  Once you have an established relationship, you should still avoid sharing this info until you can be sure you know who is receiving it.  Screen and meet in a public place. 
  8. Pictures and videos are easy to take and make and share.  We need to establish family guidelines around how those items are shared.  I’m a big believer in asking permission – encourage your kids to ask permission to share images.  Make them aware that if they don’t ask permission, you’ll find out anyway — you’re on their friends list, you have their passwords.  Talk about what kinds of pictures and videos are appropriate for sharing.  Check their images and videos.  Do not be afraid to enforce the rules you establish to the letter.  Better they have parental consequences to contend with versus long-term consequences of shared media that invites the wrong element into their lives, or demonstrates behavior they didn’t think enough about at the time.
  9. Be aware of where your child goes — check email, social network sites (the more likely place for interpersonal messages between kids), their cell phones.  Set limits on text messages and the amount and kind of media they can share.  Learn your way around a cell phone – not knowing how to text message is no excuse for giving your kid unparalleled freedom with their phones.  Get a family plan, review your statements closely, and grab your manual to learn how to send messages and media so that you can check their phones regularly.  Be open about it.  Remind them that this is your intention.  The shared passwords extend to the cell phone.  And your behavior guidelines apply to mobile behavior as well.  It’s all one web — at home and in their hands. 
  10. My final tip is probably the one I feel the strongest about — don’t leave the web to your children.  Don’t be resistant to the point that you put the burden of the web and technology entirely on your children.  This is the World Wide Web for a reason.  The technology is accessible.  You can do it.  And you can’t break it.  So don’t leave them out there to fend for themselves.  They need you.  The world is getting more and more complicated and noisy.  Your parental duty can’t stop because you’ve convinced yourself that young people know things you can’t possibly figure out.  Take the time to figure it out too.  Find online activities you can engage in together.  Don’t be sneaky.  Don’t act like this is coming from a place of distrust.  Just make transparency a family value and then enforce it.  You’ll all sleep better if you do. And, when in doubt, the Geek Girls are here for you.

Today’s Radio Interview

We had the pleasure of appearing on FM107.1’s Lori & Julia this afternoon to talk about this site, and our upcoming Social Media 101: A Beginner Bootcamp seminar.

If you missed the show, you can download it now!

Listen to the whole show on FM107.1’s web site

Or, listen to our segment only by using the link below to download the mp3.

On a Mac, hold down the control key and click and select “Save Link As…” and save the mp3 somewhere on your computer.
On a PC, right click and select Save Target As… (in IE) or Save Link As… (in Firefox) and save the mp3 somewhere on your computer.

When you open the file, it should launch your preferred audio player.

Download the mp3 >

or clicking the cute little button below to stream it in your browser window.

We’ll be posting more follow-up (links and more information on topics we discussed with them today) but I wanted to get those audio clips up for those who missed it live.

Lori & Julia were delightful; really nice, funny ladies. We’d love to be on the show again (hint, hint). Who knows, maybe someday we’ll even have our own show? A Geek Girl can dream…


We talked about a few things:

Did I miss anything? Let me know and we’ll post a follow-up.

Welcome Lori & Julia Show Listeners!

Hey, you found us!  Welcome to the Geek Girls Guide: a safe space for you to ask all the questions you’re afraid to ask in a crowd.  If you found us because you were listening to the Lori & Julia Show today – great! I wanted to give you an idea of some of the things we’re planning to feature on the blog in the very near future.  So stay tuned, here’s what’s coming up:

Have a geeky, or not so geeky question?  Want to suggest an issue or subject the Geek Girls should tackle on the blog?  Want to contribute a guest post?  Let us know. We’re always open to audience feedback.

Thanks for visiting the blog!  Come back soon and, in the meantime, follow us on Twitter (@nylons and @irishgirl) and join the Geek Girls on Facebook

Geek Girls on Lori & Julia Show

Hey Geeky Readers! 

We wanted to let you know that the Geek Girls, Nancy Lyons and Meghan Wilker, will be on FM 107.1’s Lori & Julia show at 3:30pm (Central) this Friday, March 27. If you’re not in Minneapolis, you can listen online at their web site (  And if you miss it at 3:30, because it’s part of the first hour of the show, it’s probably part of the “LoJ Replay” from 6pm-7pm (Central) on FM 107.1.

We have no idea what they’ll be talking about or what they want from us.  But we think Lori & Julia need a geeky resource to reach out to now and again, and that resource needs to really get their audience.  We think we’re perfect.  They have their theatre guy that they talk to regularly about local shows and events.  They have their regular fashionistas visiting the show.  They talk to beauty experts and shopping experts.  But so far, they don’t have any real geeks to talk to them about the occasional gadget or social networking question.  The audience Lori & Julia talks to every day is the audience we want to reach.  We don’t want to talk to other geeks about geekery.  Our mission is to make it accessible and appealing to those people who are a little resistant or have somehow convinced themselves that they just don’t ‘get’ it. 

So if you like us on Lori & Julia let them know.  And let us know.  If we touch on anything you want to hear more about, or you want to weigh in on, drop us a note.  Until then, see you on the radio!

In Honor of Ada Lovelace Day

In honor of Ada Lovelace Day women bloggers from all over the world have pledged to write a blog post about a woman in technology whom they admire.  When I considered the task I really wanted to impress my audience and identify some obscure academic that I don’t really know anything about. But that’s not the way this blog post is going to go.  Sometimes you find exactly what you’re looking for right under your nose. The woman in technology whom I most admire is my fellow Geek Girl, Meghan Wilker.  Ok ok.  It’s an obvious choice.  I’m ok with that.  It’s the truth.  Meghan inspires everyone around her on a daily basis and I honestly can’t think of anyone more deserving of some accolades.  Who better to serve them up than someone who actually knows her really well?

Meghan is one of the most intellectually curious, unafraid explorers of technology I have ever met.  She’s not just a gadget hound, she derives true joy from trying new things, hardware, software, networks and services.  Her genuine glee when she stumbles upon something that works is contagious.  But she doesn’t just play with technology, she finds real and practical ways to apply good technology and good thinking to the work she brings to clients every day.  Meghan refuses to stop learning.  She refuses to be still.  And she’s not just an early adopter for the sake of it.  She is thoughtful and prudent about the tools and tech she considers.  There has to be a legitimate value proposition.  Her judgement is sound and the experience against which she measures the value of technology is unparalleled. 

When Meghan is working with clients on their web strategy I often remind them that there really is nobody better in this industry.  One might think that’s a sales line.  But it’s the truth. Meghan is a true technology evangelist. Always advocating for the end-user.  She works diligently to make tech and the language around it accessible.  And she never misses a teaching opportunity.  But she’s so darned approachable and affable that people generally don’t even feel ‘taught’.  They feel included.  Which is a really big deal in this industry.  There’s something inately ‘exclusive’ about technology.  But Meghan effortlessly strips all the pretense away and validates every contribution. 

Meghan is wildly prolific.  She doesn’t just explore, she maps her exploration for anyone interested in trying new things.  She blogs.  She tweets.  She is an active Geek Girl, out in the community facilitating boot camps and workshops and panel discussions.  And she approaches all of these things with such zeal  – you believe her.  She makes you want to try.  And trying is really exploring.  Meghan makes other people explorers too.  Her victory is really in the incremental change she might influence.  Or when some resistant human admits that a little bit of tech was actually a welcomed addition in their life. 

I am privileged to work with Meg.  She is a powerful teacher and a constant source of inspiration for me.  I look forward to traveling down the trail she blazes.  And so, on this Ada Lovelace day, I’m happy to dedicate this blog post to Meggy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few honorable mentions in this little missive.  

My mother, Barb Lyons.  She’s a physician who wanted to be an engineer.  She went to med school when most women weren’t really encouraged to pursue any kind of career.  She was a math and chemistry major in college.  And she constantly reminded me that there wasn’t a thing I couldn’t accomplish or have interest in.  She was a science and tech geek before it was cool.  Before I had any idea how forward-thinking she was.  I admire her.

My grandmother who raised a family of really strong, outspoken, unapologetic women.

My friend and coworker – Sharyn Morrow, who is like a true geek’s geek.  She codes and does network admin type stuff and takes killer pictures and is a flickr freak and just really devours technology for a living.  All under the guise of being a cool vegan, punker mama. 

My friend Patty Remes who quietly makes her mark in the user experience space.  She balances experience and her artistic sensibilities in a way that makes her a real expert in a space where many people claim to be experts, but few people really are. 

And finally, someone I don’t really know well, but know.  Courtney Remes.  I think she deserves mention because I think she’s one of those really gifted, true technologists.  A programmer with a strategist’s head and, considering how good she is, a surprising amount of humility.

Why Social Media Matters In a Down Economy

Whenever the Geek Girls are out and about talking to people about technology and tech tools that can enrich our lives, and maybe make them a little easier, we’re almost always asked about the amount of time investment required to jump on the social media bandwagon.  People are busy.  The economy is one bad news story after another.  Jobs are being lost.  We’re just trying to stay focused on caring for our families, keeping our jobs, keeping our houses and not getting panicked over our dwindling retirement accounts.  Who has time for social media?  Well, if you want to feel a little better, you do.

When we’re talking about Facebook, in workshops or panel discussions, I always suggest that Facebook can help you be a better friend.  I even wrote about it in a previous blog post.  When the economy is down we’re more disconnected from our social circles.  We socialize less, eat out less.  Leisure travel takes a hit.  The same sort of cuts are happening in our professional lives. Places of business cut back on spending and nix things like conferences, business travel, networking events. 

When I was a kid, my father belonged to a men’s club and a country club.  He was a lousy golfer, so the country club was always a mystery to me. But he was a man, so that club made more sense. But in retrospect, those two activities were my father’s way of keeping his fingers on the pulse of what was happening in town.  He even landed a pretty swank job because of a connection he made in the neighborhood, but really turned into something at the golf club.  This was back in the day when business people still made handshake deals over cocktails and 9 holes of golf.  Those people probably still exist.  But things are moving a hell of a lot faster.  There’s more to know.  And frankly, being on the golf course means you just might be missing critical information that matters to you.

Just yesterday I saw a number of folks I follow on Twitter tweeting about the power of positive thinking, and how businesses stay strong in tough economies by staying optimistic.  My friend and colleague, Gini Dietrich, the CEO of Arment Dietrich Public Relations in Chicago (@ginidietrich on Twitter), tweeted a link to a brilliant article about how positive thinking can actually boost your business.  It got me thinking about why all of this matters to our Geek Girls audience.  Certainly leaders need to stay strong in order to guide their teams through these uncertain times.  But who’s out there providing the encouragement that leaders need to boost their energies in that regard?  Other leaders.  How can we connect with them?  How do we tap into their advice and expertise?  How do we find out what they are doing, right now, to combat nagativity and defeatist attitudes in their work environments?  Social media! I always say, don’t give me lengthy dissertations — give me snapshots of information.  That’s the most valuable way for me to digest, and really use data.  Twitter is my dream resource.  Poo-poo it if you want.  But the people I’ve chosen to follow are (with a few exceptions) veritable fonts of professional wisdom and inspiration.  And, because I enjoy my work so much, and it plays such an integral role in my life, its a source for personal rejuvention as well. 

Facebook takes that a step further.  Yes, the information is still delivered in byte-sized packets.  But its more personal. Friends and contacts from a variety of areas of my life are connected and communicating on Facebook.  They are really investing in those relationships.  The investment is manageable.  We aren’t traveling to Tahiti together, or meeting up every Friday night, or heading to our home towns for slide shows of our recent family vacations.  But we’re still sharing things that really matter to us.  We’re still reaching out and engaging in a social way.  We’re still invested in each other.  And we’re all sort of in this together.  We’re sharing these moments with one another — the economy is precarious, there is real suffering out there, and yet, we have these moments of good to share, and hold onto.  They give us hope.  Whether they are personal or professional.  Your son scoring that winning goal in the recent hockey game.  Or landing that account you’ve worked so hard on.  They all matter and they all make a difference. 

It has been well documented that people need other peopleFriendships have a real impact on how people view the world, how supported they feel in it, and how they cope with the realities of it.  Articles are written every day about how human interaction eases anxiety and depression.  But everything is happening so fast.  This isn’t my father’s era.  He would have been stymied by how much information there is to keep up with and manage.  His way of keeping up was a couple of beers after work, or 9 holes of golf.  Now things move at the speed of light.  We have these tools at our disposal and they allow us to keep up with our little corner of this fast paced world.  Why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?  Are they the end-all?  Probably not.  Will there be something else that comes along next year to dwarf Twitter or Facebook?  Maybe.  Is that any reason to avoid the benefits of social media?  I’m saying no. Why would you avoid something that might keep you informed?  Tune you in to a job prospect?  Let you see a friend’s new baby on the day she was born? Hook you into the expertise of hundreds and hundreds of professionals FOR FREE?  The list of benefits goes on.  But my message stays the same.  The economy is in the tank.  But social media might just make you feel better.  It matters.  Really.



Podcast #2: Social Media Haters

Our second podcast (running time: 18 minutes and 7 seconds) is on Social Media Haters. Subtitled, “Maybe the Problem is You”, or “STOP HITTING YOURSELF IN THE FACE WITH A HAMMER”.

Listen Online

Click the cute little button below to stream the audio in your browser window.

Overview & Links

No time to listen? Yeah, we got a little yappy and went over 15 minutes (we’re going to keep it under 15 whenever possible). Here are the highlights:

Lately, like there’s been a whole lot of hatin’ going on with Twitter, not to mention the total pop culture explosion. Now that Ellen, Demi, Ashton and Britney are tweeters (and Jon Stewart and Barbara Walters are talking about it), it’s undergoing an interesting new level of scrutiny.

What’s interesting is that most of the haters haven’t given these tools more than a cursory glance before dismissing them. We argue that there is value beyond these negative perceptions, and that if the tools seem useless it might be that the people using them are, well…tools.

That’s not to say there aren’t some boring people on Facebook or Twitter, but there are boring people everywhere. Choose your (Facebook) friends and (Twitter) followers carefully, and perhaps you’ll find something worthwhile.

The Haters

Joe Soucheray of the St. Paul Pioneer Press says Twitter is “nothing.”

Matt Labash of The Weekly Standard says Facebook is “mind-numbingly dull.” We think the problem might be him (or his wife).

MSNBC: Twitter Nation: Nobody cares what you’re doing. NOT TRUE! My mom totally follows me on Twitter.

Gawker rounds up a bunch of sources that say we’re all a bunch of insecure narcissists. (Duh.)

The Attempting-to-Explainers

Barbara Walters (tries to) define Twitter. Favorite quote: “Why do people want to be on MyFace?” I don’t know, Barbara. Why do people want to be on your face?

Old man Stewart shakes his fist at Twitter.

The Founders

Twitter founders, Ev and Biz, on last week’s Talk of the Nation on NPR.

The Nerdy Details

Our second podcast was recorded at Clockwork World Headquarters in a carpeted room (to try to keep the echoes to a minimum). Worked pretty well, but next time we need to be closer to the Snowflake. Edited by Meghan with GarageBand with a bit of post-production help from Michael Koppelman (@lolife). Tweaked the intro a bit this time around based on feedback from the last one. Your thoughts and feedback are welcome, either in the comments below or at info [at] geekgirlsguide [dot] com. Thanks for listening!

Social Media 101 – A Beginner Bootcamp

Damn, it’s hard to keep up with this blog with (more than) full time jobs and kids! But, we are planning to record Podcast #2 tomorrow (thanks for all the great feedback) and hope to have it posted by the weekend.

Having a blog is great — we love it — but the real magic happens when we can sit down with people in person and talk about technology. We love the questions, the discussion, the sharing of knowledge.

Over the past year, we’ve spoken at several events and have gotten many requests for hands-on training, especially on all of the social media tools everyone is buzzing about (and seriously, what’s with the fad words? Four years ago all our clients wanted “viral” and now they all want something “social.” Funny thing is, it’s all the same: it’s conversation. But more about that later.).

We Geek Girls are definitely talkers, but we don’t know anything about organizing an event. And there’s nothing worse than having (or attending) a poorly organized event! So, we partnered with the smart and sassy Jennifer Kane (the mastermind behind the annual MIMA Summit) to create Social Media 101 – A Beginner Bootcamp.

In true Geek Girls spirit, this event is aimed at those who want to learn, and need some guidance. It’s a “there are no stupid questions” environment. A blend of strategy (Why would I, or my business, bother with social media?) and tactics (Um, how do I use Twitter?). You’ll learn basic social media strategies and skills that you can immediately put to work for yourself, and your business. A perfect blend of personal and professional (and remember how hard it is to keep the two separate these days, anyway?).

So, grab your laptop and meet us over at aloft Minneapolis on April 24th. UPDATE: We also added another event on May 18, too! Parking is included, so you have no excuse. That’s right. Free parking downtown. Did we mention lunch, too? True story.

We’ll start the day discussing strategy: why social media is relevant, how it works and why it works. Then we’ll spend the rest of the day exploring different social media tools (blogging, Twitter, social communities and social media on mobile devices) and discussing how to use them. We’ll even have a Social Media SWAT team to help you out if you get stuck.

You’ll leave the workshop with:
•    A better understanding of the social media landscape and how you can fit into it;
•    A basic roadmap and skill set for navigating the tools of the trade;
•    Your own burgeoning social network of like-minded professionals, and
•    A tool kit of informational resources to take back to the office.

We’ll be joined by Jennifer Kane, Jennifer Bohmbach and Lisa Foote. A bunch of seriously smart ladies ready to drop some knowledge. So, come on. Join us.

Register Now >

We hope to see you (or your favorite tech newbie) there. Tell your mom!

Podcast #1: The Dark Side of Online Reputation Management

In our first podcast (running time: 14 minutes and 44 seconds), we explore the dark side of online reputation management. Or, what to do when someone is posting mean things about you online. Think that kind of stuff only happens in high school? Think again.

Listen Online

Click the cute little button below to stream the audio in your browser window.

Overview & Links

No time to listen? Seriously? It’s less than 15 minutes! But, fine. Here are the highlights:

1. Google yourself. Make sure you know what comes up when people look you up.

2. If the results aren’t what you like, get involved in the conversation about the brand called you. Start actively posting content to drown out what you don’t like.

3. Contact the sites that contain the slanderous material to see if it can be removed. Sites are maintained by people, after all. Try getting in touch with some of them.

4. If all else fails, do your legal homework. Check out the following links about the online defamation act:

This podcast was recorded in Nancy’s kitchen using the Snowflake microphone that Meghan’s husband bought as a come-on-girls-start-recording-a-podcast-already gift. Theme music provided by our friend and colleague, the talented Michael Koppelman. Yay for the Geek Girls Men’s Auxiliary!

Facebook Folly? That’s Up To You.

Recently Kristen Tillotson, a columnist for the Star Tribune, spent some time waxing on about Facebook and the distracting, even destructive, addictive behaviors we all engage in as Facebook members.  I admit, I am not a regular reader of her column.  In fact, I may never have known about this one had I not been headed to a meeting one afternoon, channel surfing on the radio, when I happened to stumble upon the Lori and Julia Show, featuring Kristen Tillotson as a call-in guest.  I didn’t know it was her.  I just know that I tuned into a conversation disparaging Facebook, specifically the “photo frenemies”.  According to Ms. Tillotson, “photo frenemies” are people who post photos (to FB) of themselves looking awesome and you, the hapless victim, looking like crap.  This makes them a “frenemy“.  In all fairness, the subhead for the column explained that “…Facebook imitates life in the realm of social faux pas”.  The problem with the essay overall, though, is the suggestion that life is still so much like high school, and “social faux pas” are the grown-up equivalent of the kinds of activities in which “mean girls” engage.  Frankly, the article rang familiar, much like the sort of defensive drivel I hear daily from people who are intimidated by Facebook and other social networks.  Instead of copping to the fact that they don’t feel equipped to navigate the unfamiliar waters of social media, they assert that the media is flawed by human pettiness and, as such, not worth their time.  In short — it’s bunk. 

I’ve talked about most of this in a previous post, so I really just want to address Ms. Tillotson’s take on Facebook in this one.  She talks about Facebook needing editors because of all of the “abuse”.  Here’s the difference between the world she’s used to living in and the world of Facebook.  If I don’t care about her column in the paper, it doesn’t matter.  If I buy the paper, her column is in there whether I like it or not.  Whereas on Facebook, if there are people I’m not interested in I simply delete them.  Or I drop them from my news feed.  Or I relegate their updates to the bottom of my pile.  They’ll never know. 

Ms. Tillotson calls out those people she calls the “oversharers”.  She suggests that there should be a status message filter that blocks out tedium.  I beg to differ.  That tedium really levels the playing field.  Frankly I think those people that are constantly hob-nobbing with someone cooler than you or updating their status from their spin class are full of balogna.  Humans are boring.  We have inspired moments, but for the most part we are all creatures of habit.  The important thing is to not try to prove anything with those status messages.  By suggesting there is something wrong with the average or the mundane, we’re rejecting authenticity.  We’re asking people to try too hard and that defeats the purpose.  Those status messages allow us little glimpses into the experiences we all share.  Here’s my advice: if you want to “overshare”, that’s fine.  Just keep it real.

As for the “exhibitionists”, they might bother you, but don’t be a prude.  You might not want to prance around in your boxers, so don’t.  That’s the beauty of it.  It isn’t necessarily exhibitionism.  I prefer “expression”.  Perhaps you should try it.  Your Facebook presence is a chance for you to express yourself in ways you may have never explored before.  Write a little, make videos, share poetry, update your interests, add photos.  You’re painting a picture of yourself, and adding depth to your brand, with every keystroke.  Take advantage of this opportunity and the blank canvas – and the 140 million others like you who are reaching out in virtual space trying to connect.

The “photo frenemies” aren’t frenemies at all.  Let’s face it, we all have those pictures of us in our scary mullets or the evil gingham prom dresses.  If getting older doesn’t allow you just a little bit of perspective, then throw in the towel.  This stuff is FUNNY.  Besides, when have you ever liked a picture of yourself to begin with?

Come on!  It’s not about labeling someone a “climber” or judging someone for the number of friends they have or don’t have.  It’s not about judging at all.  See, my thing is, if you can’t see the fun and value in Facebook; if you can’t really see that this technology is allowing us to reconnect with old friends, enrich current friendships, expand our communities and our views of the world, be more involved, network a little, have a say, express ourselves, share our stories and take some risks then I feel sorry for you.  If you think Facebook is just like high school, and not the good part of high school, the crappy-I-would-rather-forget-those-years part of high school.  Well.  Maybe the problem isn’t with Facebook at all.  Maybe the problem is with you.