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09 November, 2010

Cool parents opt out of Facebook

Thursday, March 8, 2007 · Last updated 11:24 a.m. PT

Cool parents opt out of Facebook

By MÓNICA GUZMÁN
P-I REPORTER
It started simply enough. A profile picture here. A few favorite things there. At first I wasn't sure I could trust it. I'd been let down before (spam, spyware, Napster).
Then Facebook and I -- we just happened.
It was so different from all those other social Web sites. It was smart (founded by a Harvard guy!). It listened (great feedback!). It could keep a secret (privacy controls!). It had ambitions, aspirations and, best of all, good looks. Sure, 10 times as many people have settled down with MySpace (140 million to Facebook's 17 million), but if Facebook and MySpace were at a bar, Facebook would get all the ladies. And MySpace knows it.
Pretty soon, Facebook and I really opened up. I needed it constantly. I started to check the site as much as my e-mail. I shared my cell phone, address, gory details about my incompetence in the kitchen and every photo in which I don't look supremely unattractive (my friends' appearances notwithstanding). Browsing my friends' profiles became a habit. Facebook is my drug. My hub. My swirling vortex of social chaos. It lets me stay in touch on my own time, on my own terms. I sail its pristine blue and white pages with the wind at my back and a clear view of my social landscape. What was life before Facebook? Did I ever actually keep a real live photo album? Call friends at home -- on land lines? Send letters?
Forget e-mail and the Internet. Without Facebook, I'd feel ... shipwrecked.
Then one day, out of nowhere -- storm clouds.
Something was wrong -- very, very wrong with the newest posts on my profile's message board. I couldn't look. I couldn't look away.
"I love you, my precious Chiquita!"
Signed (gulp), Mom. Below that, dear old Dad had left his own gooey gumdrop greeting. And there they were, next to their messages, pictures of their middle-age selves, sticking out like a VHS in a DVD store.
It was all my fault. I e-mailed them a Facebook photo album -- one little album -- and that back-stabbing Facebook slipped them an invitation to join.
Once upon a time, this was unimaginable. Once upon a time, Facebook was just for students and recent alumni. You needed a valid college e-mail address to join. Then the site opened its digital doors to the world in September, and parents on Facebook became possible. I knew that. But I was just sharing an album.
I was just giving them a peek into my social realm. Instead, they bought property and settled in.
What's so wrong about having parents on Facebook?
After all, my parents rock. Dad raised me on action movies and first-person shooter games, and Mom dances to Shakira and occasionally (OK, frequently) dresses better than I.
But even the coolest parents don't belong on Facebook.
It just isn't their place.
I had to act. But how?
The search engine in my mind returned several results:
1. Keep browsing Facebook as if nothing ever happened and unleash hell on those who dared ask questions. "Yeah, my parents are on Facebook. Where else would they be?"
The risk: It is conceivable no one would ever post on my Facebook wall -- a bulletin board of sorts -- ever, ever again.
2. Coax my parents away with a remedial course in online age-associated boundaries. "There are swear words on the site, Mom. And pictures of drunken debauchery. You don't want to see swear words and drunken debauchery, do you?"
The risk: They'd see right through it. They've heard me try to talk my way out of things for 24 years.
3. With a few clicks, reject my creators. "Un-friend" the people who took me to Disney World in second grade, still help with taxes and, oh yeah, gave me life. And by so doing imply that I'd rather be friends with Mr. Tacky: Didn't know him. Didn't want to know him. Still accepted him.
The risk: my soul.
And if I did nothing? I imagined the worst: My wall a barren wasteland of coochie-coochie-coo and "I love you, Chiquita." Potential friends taking one look and running away.
I considered adding a disclaimer to my wall: "Don't worry, folks. Sure, they're old and once changed my diapers, but they're perfectly harmless. Post away!"
There was a middle ground. With Facebook's privacy features, I could block my parents from seeing my wall, my interests, my photos, basically anything, and still keep them as friends. That was my brother's solution.
But I wasn't worried about what they'd see. We're close; nothing in my profile would surprise them, anyway.
Finally, I just decided to delete their two wall posts -- click, click -- and wait for the aftermath.
I tried to hide my anxiety when I called my mother that night.
"Hey, Mom. About Facebook ..."
She jumped in before I could finish. "No, no. I know it's not for me," she said.
She quickly explained that she and Dad didn't know what to do when they were first invited to join Facebook. It didn't seem right for two boomers -- no matter how cool -- to be hanging out on Facebook with people half their age.
Neither of them wanted to intrude on their children's social lives. Mom, a high school Spanish teacher, didn't want to freak out her students.
But they had been invited, after all. And rejection is rude. So they joined.
Relieved, I made my confession.
I told Mom that I had deleted their posts to my wall.
She hadn't even noticed. And she didn't mind one bit.
Don't worry, Mom said. We're not going to make a habit out of posting on your wall. We'll use Facebook only to see your pictures when you make a new album you want us to see.
So there they are, my parents, still on Facebook, still smiling their middle-age smiles from the depths of my friends list.
They're not in any network; they've accepted no friends. No one else can see their skimpy profiles. They don't browse my friends' profiles. They don't make a fuss. They just wait until I upload new pictures.
In other words, they're behaving. And having them there with me on Facebook isn't so bad anymore. Not like that first terrifying day, when "Chiquita" made its debut on my wall.
Dad did write one more wall post on my birthday. And I never could delete it.
"Monica is 24 today. 24 what? 24 Monicas? Did she get cloned 23 times? I don't get it!"
By the end of the day, three friends messaged me to say how cool my dad was.
P-I reporter Mónica Guzmán can be reached at 206-448-8381 or monicaguzman@seattlepi.com.Read more of her thoughts on her blog, Net Native.

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