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This past summer, I spent part of my time in Hawaii, snorkeling. I generally try to unplug during these trips, since I'd rather be in the water than online. However, at one point during my vacation, I decided that I'd upload a few photos to Facebook.

I was outside my usual country, and on a different computer than usual, so Facebook asked me to verify my identity. I guess because Facebook is all about "faces" the test is to assign names to photographs posted by my friends. Now, even in the days when my friends list was populated by high school alums and relatives I may not have been able to pass this test. I've never been all that good connecting faces and names. But, now that the majority of my "friends" are people I only recognize from small avatars online, I didn't stand a chance.

So, does Facebook think that friends are people you have coffee with in real life? If so, why do they make it so easy to have friends of friends of friends? Since there was no way I was going to be updating my Facebook page, I poured myself a glass of pineapple wine and sat on the lanai, watching another gorgeous sunset and getting all metaphysical.

Who are our online friends? Like most of us, my friends fall into several categories: people I'm related to by blood or marriage, people I went to school with, people in international marriages or living in Japan, people whose kids went to school with my kid or lived near me, and people who have some relationship to education or writing, It looks something like this:


The blue circles are people I have online friendships with. The yellow circle represents those friends I've met face to face. Thanks to the friends-of-friends phenomenon, there are people in each category that I wouldn't be able to recognize on the street. In my professional friendships, there are a lot of people I wouldn't recognize.

Are they all friends? I think so.

Sometimes, I chat on Facebook with teachers who've found me through my blog or through their friends. Frequently, Facebook is their main connection to an online community of educators. They don't have computers at home, and even if they did they wouldn't have access to the Internet. They travel to Internet cafes to connect, and humble me with their efforts to develop professionally.

Their experiences are far different from my own, but we share many of the same concerns as teachers. If I limited my friends to only those people I could pick out of a line up, it would be a much poorer collection of people.

I don't have anything against identity verification. Every time I switch computers or locale, my bank wants me to prove that I'm me. I appreciate that. The problem, I think, is that Facebook decides how I should prove I am the real Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto, and I really suck at attaching names to faces. Facebook ought to let members choose their own security question, or at least pick which photos to use for the test.

Until that happens, I'm certainly not going to change my friendship habits. I'll just take my own computer on vacation next time!

Check in every weekend for a new editorial by David, Steven, Theron or me. We love your interest in EFL and your comments!

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