Monday, December 29, 2008

Bring on the frolleagues

I've never been one to worry about work-life balance per se. It's not because I'm a workaholic or on any sort of competitive career fast track - quite the opposite. Nor because I don't have a life (admittedly an arguable point....)

It's that I don't really see work and life as separate, distinct activities. What I do for "work" funds the "life," of course, but to me, one is a subset of the other. Work is one of the choices I've made for how to spend the 30 million or so minutes that have thus far comprised my life, and how I'll spend the untold millions - or thousands or hundreds, whatever fortune and my accident-proneness allow - that are left to me.

I realize this not a common view. And now, I find that it extends to my management, or lack thereof, of my Facebook page.

I wandered into Facebook a few months ago, primarily to avoid being too clueless about what's going on in the 21st century. I found a few people I knew there and invited them to be my "friends." Others similarly invited me.

I fussed a bit about the semantics. In the real world I do compartmentalize people I know into different categories of acquaintenceship, usually reserving "friend" for the most treasured relationships, which include some coworkers past and present. Not all those I know and like are friends by my definition, but I enjoy knowing them, am interested in what they think and do, and am delighted we share Facebook friendships. I'd prefer "people I like" as a more all-encompassing label, but I don't get to decide what Facebook does and I realize nobody else cares about my definition of friendship. So I've put that aside.

What I've found others do care about, however, is mixing work-life people. Somebody interviewed on NPR the other day used the word "frolleagues" to define the blurring of lines between people we know from our jobs and those we know from the rest of our life all coming together on our lists of Facebook friends.

The interviewee then issued a warning to those who allow fraternization of frolleagues on social networking sites. Echoing a sentiment I've heard from several others, he cautioned about employers, customers, lending agents or others drawing conclusions about you, based on postings by your Facebook friends, and suggested maintaining completely separate colleague and family/friend groups for your own protection.

I thought about that for awhile. He and all the other experts are probably right. My Facebook friends are diverse by every definition of that word: personal and professional friends, my kids and their friends, my friends' kids and family members, neighbors past and present. Divergent ages, races, religious and cultural perspectives, socio-economic levels, family make-up and political points of view are represented among the 30-some people on that list.

I'm pretty sure - in fact, really sure - they wouldn't all agree with each other on many topics. But I have decided I like it that way.

I don't define friendship, colleagueship, or I-like-youship, by whether or not you agree with me or others in my circle. Heck, I don't even define marriedship that way: my spouse of 35 years and the children we brought into the world (long before Web 2.0) don't agree with me or each other on most issues, most of the time.

So after much contemplation, and perhaps at my peril, I have decided to ignore the advice to segment my Facebook presence. For one thing, that horse is out of the barn and galloping across the countryside. For another, she who considers work a subset of life, likewise considers each of these individuals as one of many people to learn from and appreciate. There's not a definitive line a coworker or acquaintence crosses to become a life friend, and I don't want to waste time trying to draw one.

Most important, one of the very reasons I like all these people is that they expose me to perspectives beyond my own. It's sort of like Barack Obama choosing Robert Gates, Larry Summers, Hillary Clinton, Hilda Solis, Rahm Emmanuel and Rick Warren to play roles on his team. Okay, maybe a little different scale... but the point is, Obama is not judging Robert Gates by his political party, Hillary Clinton by her vote on the war, or Rick Warren by his views on homosexuality.

None of these people is that one-dimensional and none of them is proxy for Obama. They may inform him, but they don't define him, any more than my Facebook friends define me.

So if you find me on the social networking sites, know this about me and anyone on my list of "friends." Their opinions are their own; I welcome them, may or may not share them, but fervently believe in their right to express them. I don't go for the whole guilt-by-association thing and if you try to piece together what I'm about from the aggregate of my Facebook or real-world family's or friends' words and actions, you'll be really confused.

Until you understand that for me, the American dream is not about buying a house and a flat-screen TV. It's about living in a place where you can be true to yourself, do your own research, reach your own conclusions, and bring different people and perspectives together to arrive at common good. I'd much rather stand for, and behind, that concept than try to segment people into tidy like-minded groups. On Facebook, or anywhere else.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

GREAT post! Thanks for the insightful thoughts. Darn it, now I'm reconsidering my dual-life facebook pages. Well, sort of.