The latest “Big Thing” to hit the Wonderful World of the InterWebs is the idea we now call “social networking”. MySpace was the pioneer social networking hub; its unfriendly interface, however, was unappealing to many users. (This is a columnist’s way of saying that he, personally, never liked MySpace.) A MySpace user can add as many friends as he or she wants, and can customize his or her site with strange backgrounds that never align with anything else on the page.

Then came Twitter. One can post anything he or she wants to, so long as the message, or “tweet” in Twitterese, doesn’t exceed 140 characters. Of course, tweets can only be read by “followers” of the tweet poster, so the idea is to establish a Twitter account, and then solicit as many followers as possible. Politicians love Twitter. In fact, it’s a great way to tell if your Representative or Senator is actually casting votes on bills, or simply tweeting about what’s wrong in Washington.

The most popular of all the social networking sites is Facebook. For those three of you out there unfamiliar with Facebook, it’s like Twitter with pictures. And very stupid time-wasting games. Unlike any other networking site, however, Facebook allows its users to poke and be poked. If you’ve never poked someone online, well…

After you establish your Facebook account, you can publish as much or as little information about yourself as you wish. It seems that most people today, in these times of identity theft and online privacy concerns, publish just about everything about themselves with the possible exception of their Social Security number! Date of birth… hometown… current city… education and job experience… interests… and whether you’re “in a relationship,” “single,” “married,” or “it’s complicated” are all pieces of information you can choose to share with your Facebook “friends,” or anyone else who searches you out. In fact, Facebook is the number one method for all those people you went to high school with and never wanted to hear from again to find you and “friend” you. The good news is that you can “unfriend” someone on Facebook as well.

Photos are a key component of Facebook. There seems to be no limit on how many photos, organized into “albums”, you can post for friends to see. Post photos of yourself, your weekend, your getaway, your car, your trip to Wal-Mart, your boring job, your new chair – heck, you can even post a photo of your Social Security card! Facebook photos are the number one way we know we wouldn’t recognize most people we went to high school with if we saw them on the street. (That’s what he looks like now?!? Wow…)

For those people with too much spare time (and they seem to number in the millions), there are games like Bejeweled Blitz, Mafia Wars, and my favorite, FarmVille. The object of FarmVille, near as I can tell because I’ve never played the game, is to “work” on your virtual farm by planting virtual plants and caring for virtual animals. Until you learn the secret of turning off game updates in your “News Feed,” every one of your friends who plays FarmVille will generate updates of lost farm animals who are sad and need a new home and won’t you adopt them? There are lost brown cows, lost black cows, lost ugly ducklings, lost black sheep, and more, all looking to find a new home. (I wonder if there’s a FarmVille farm that will turn the lost cows into virtual hamburgers.)

You can ask your FarmVille friends for help, “sell” them your crops, even (I believe) ask for virtual fertilizer (now there’s a concept!). You can even post “photos” of your farm into your very own FarmVille photo album. And we wonder why our modern society is less productive. Microsoft’s “Solitaire” finally has real competition in the Workplace Wasting of Time department.

I can only imagine what might happen if all the “work” being done in virtual FarmVille farms were actually being performed on real farms. We would likely solve the world’s hunger problems with all the crops being grown… at the expense of having sad lonely lost brown cows roaming our neighborhoods looking for adoptive homes.

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