Yes, even college English teachers fall for Facebook

I knew I was in deep when I spelled 'you' as 'u.'

It started innocently enough. Somebody wanted to "friend" me on Facebook. Because I thought she was cool, I clicked. And thus begins the story of my fall from grace.

I'm a 58-year-old college writing teacher. I should wail about another noun being turned into a verb. But I'm also a poet, and thus sometimes charmed by breaking rules.

Years ago, when the type on the screen was still amber, I took heartily to e-mail. Later, in postdivorce, I covertly launched a personal blog under a pen name. And when my 2006 novel came out, I started a website.

But I resisted "social networking" sites. Those were for kids.

A recent CNN report challenged my stereotype, saying 40 percent of Facebook's 37.4 million users are 35 or older. The friend who wanted to "friend" me wasn't a kid. She was talented and trustworthy. I stared at the pop-up box. "Confirm" or "Ignore"? How could I ignore a request to be friends?


Then you must join, the faceless Facebook deacon said. Confirm or ignore?


A rush of unnerving questions followed. Birthdate? Gender? Religious views? Political views? Did I want to post a photo? What is my relationship status? A drop-down menu offered wry options: single, in a relationship, engaged, married, "it's complicated," and "in an open relationship."

"Open relationship?" Do people still have those? Surely this was all a joke.

Next I was supposed to devise a one-sentence "status report." Jan is "eating green jello," I truthfully wrote.

And then requests cascaded in, 10 or 20 a day. I sweated each decision: should I let my students "friend" me? How about my cousins who believe Obama is Muslim?

Twenty "friends" in, it hit me I could "friend" somebody else. More puzzles: If I "friended" a student, where would it stop? Did I dare to "friend" somebody with more power than me, like, say, that politician I campaigned for, or the dean of my college, whose profile photo showed him endearingly needing a shave?

The third day I got a "friend" request from a supposed old beau. He wrote that I'd dumped him in 1974 but he didn't hold a grudge. I clicked on his thumbnail photo: he stood smiling on a dock, holding up a giant fish. He looked familiar, but that was the '70s, when we had "open relationships." He said we took French together. Mon Dieu. Confirm? I worried for a moment. Then ... click.

In a week I was up to 85 friends, and checking Facebook five times a day. I had syllabi to create, but thinking up clever things to say about myself in the third person was taking up a lot of time. "Are you on FaceMask again?" my husband joshed me more than once. I'd "friended" him but he pointed out that seemed redundant.

One night after a dinner party on our deck where we'd watched the full moon rise, I blearily logged on to Facebook. Somebody had sent me "Good Karma." Did I want to add the "Send Good Karma" application? I clicked "yes."

I'd like to say I've been blissed out ever since. But something happened. After reading a funny post about Tony the Tiger, I quickly wrote back, "u are so retro."

I spelled it "u."

Startled, I waited for the temple curtain to rip. You're an English teacher, a voice pounded in my head That is A Really Big Sin. I logged out, horrified.

The next day I read my New Yorker cover to cover, dug out my Proust, and only logged onto e-mail. But it just seemed monochrome, pallid, and flat. A weak sister, I soon snuck back.

Now that school has started up again and I'm meeting my new students, kids born in 1990 when my first computer was already out of date, I'll have to be understanding. Maybe I'll e-mail them, "yes, i no how u feel."

We're telling our stories more than ever, and there are a million ways to decorate the cave. It's overwhelming. Even the best of us, even English teachers, have to recognize that the way we write is changing.

But still, I certainly hope this Facebook fun doesn't become a habit – I'm a teacher, after all, and this is supposed to be serious. Really, enuf is enuf.

Jan Worth-Nelson, winner of the 2008 Teaching Excellence Award at the University of Michigan-Flint, still publicly insists on standard spelling.

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