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Why Facebook is still my friend

Despite it being an occasional dumping ground for bad habits, I still use Facebook all the time. And as an expat, it's been invaluable.

All right, maybe I do post too many Facebook photos.
Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

Last week, my colleague (and Facebook friend!) Jessica Dolcourt asked you to stop doing nine annoying things on Facebook. Her advice is on point even if I'm perhaps guilty of sharing too many travel photos. Oh, and I like getting birthday messages so you can keep sending them my way.

It is true that Facebook can become a drag, especially in this era of social-media narcissism and the poisonous election season we're currently mired in. But I try not to let it get it me down because, for now at least, Facebook is still my friend. Here's why.

An essential expat tool

Though it's always been a tool to stay in touch with people I know around the world, I never used Facebook as much as I have since becoming an expat. It's a critical window to my friends, family and CNET peeps back in the US. Whether I'm catching up on momentous occasions like the birth of a child or more everyday ones like eating at our favorite restaurant, those photos and updates close the 5,000-mile gap between us.

I can follow local media to catch news I'd otherwise miss in London, watch my San Francisco neighborhood being transformed with new construction and share random things I find online. It's comforting, it's familiar and it cuts the sense of dislocation and occasional longing for the place I left. Spare me your vaguebooking, political rants and requests for extra lives on Candy Crush. Just tell me what's new with you.

Sure, there are downsides to this electronic relationship. Facebook can become a security blanket of sorts, keeping you rooted to a place you don't currently live and perhaps preventing you from meeting new friends in the place where you've moved. Building a social life from scratch when you're in your 40s, married and working full-time is hard enough, but I suppose living a virtual life makes it worse. Why make new friends when you stay so attached to your existing group?

Your not-so-close friends

Facebook also lets me keep tabs on people who aren't a major presence in my life but were at one time. Take my college friends: most are married with kids and lives quite different from mine. If we ever meet for coffee, I worry we wouldn't have a lot to talk about at first except recalling old times. Facebook, though, lets us follow each other to see how we've progressed in the 20 years since we graduated. I wouldn't say no to a chance to meet across a dinner table, of course. But until then, Facebook at least answers that perpetual question of "I wonder whatever happened to...?"

And, yes, travel photos

Like I said, maybe I'm guilty of posting too many travel photos (apologies, friends). But the fact is, the chance to explore Europe on weekends is one of the reasons we moved to London for a few years. Also, I like photography and think I'm respectable at it. Facebook is a way to share my work and get feedback. In return, I like seeing my friends' photos. Where are they going? Where have they been? What have they chosen to photograph and why? It gives me a glimpse into how they interpret a famous landmark or an ordinary building. I can appreciate something I've seen in a new way and get ideas for my own travel.


It's what I use it for

Screenshot by Kent German/CNET

What else?

When we were discussing Jessica's original column, other CNETers mentioned different reasons why they're sticking with Facebook. They included building a network of fellow parents in a new city, shopping for used furniture when moving house and finding support when a loved one dies.

These are wonderful things too, and they exemplify the biggest lesson of all for using Facebook. Get out of it what you need, be honest, stay positive (when you can) and step away for a bit when it all becomes too much. And just as importantly, keep those non-electronic relationships alive, as well. You'll need them after we all move on to the next big thing.