Last July, a friend of mine—a young journalist who writes about the Middle East—grabbed my laptop as we sat in a Manhattan café. "You have to join Facebook," she told me, and began signing me up. Until that moment, I'd thought registering with one of the various online social networks was as senseless as signing up for spam. But a commotion was building at a nearby table. "Are they on Facebook?" someone squealed. Three people—two of whom I knew—were peering at our screens. They, too, were converts.
If you are not one of the 63 million people (and counting) who are members of Facebook, here is a quick debriefing. It's like an online yearbook. Once you join, a page called your profile pops up on your screen—a white box, a picture of you. Underneath are notes you write (as on a dorm memo board) for your friends to read, photos you've uploaded, and the standard personal-ad rap sheet of your favorite bands, books, movies, quotations, and so on. Another feature is the news feed—a constantly updated list of the news, notes, photos, and invitations your Facebook friends have posted on their profile pages.
Reluctantly, resentfully even, I posted a picture to my profile, added photos that didn't seem too shaming, filled in personal trivia, and added a couple of applications—like "Where I've Been," which posts a map of the world on your page, colored in with places you've traveled. "This is very silly," I said.
Later that night, I heard an unfamiliar ping on my BlackBerry. A dashing man I hadn't seen in years had left me a funny note on my wall—an online bulletin board that appears on each profile, where friends post personal messages or notional gifts (cartoon illustrations of ninjas, bubble wands, bouquets, etc.) for public consumption. The elation I felt at being "friended" by this Cary Grant–like pal was ridiculous, raw, and very real. Excited, I began entering names of people I knew in the Facebook search box, not only those I saw every week but old friends I hadn't seen in ages—schoolmates and roommates, friends from summer vacations, friends from foreign travels—and asked them to "friend" me.