Getting Mom onto Facebook for Dummies

By Scott Green

I’m a helpful guy. For example, if you ever need assistance with moving furniture, I will helpfully come up with an excuse for why I can’t, an excuse you can later use when someone asks you to move furniture.

It was in this spirit that I decided to help my mother start an account on Facebook, the Web site that allows potential employers to see pictures of you drinking a 40-ounce malted beverage in your underwear. Facebook has become an institution for college students, but older people have been slower to adapt. I wanted to know if parents could actually thrive on Facebook, in the same way Jane Goodall wanted to know if gorillas could finger-paint.

I helpfully informed my 21-year-old sister Amy about my plan, and she reacted as maturely as any responsible college senior double-majoring in math and actuarial science would.

“No!” Amy pled. “Don’t do it!”

The idea to sign Mom up came from “Facebook for Dummies,” a new book I purchased because I thought it would be easy to mock for an entire column, so I could get back to watching TV and helpfully making sure the young ladies on MTV’s reality programming are still wearing skimpy tops.

A printed guide to Facebook seems unnecessary, until you consider it comes from the literary franchise whose other titles, which I swear are real books you can actually purchase, include “Building Your Own Home for Dummies,” “Mutual Funds for Canadians for Dummies,” “Baby Massage for Dummies,” “Beekeeping for Dummies” (“step one: get some bees”), and “Success for Dummies.”

Facebook product managers Carolyn Abram and Leah Pearlman authored the book. “I’m hoping college students will read it and get a kick out of it,” Carolyn told me, “and give it as a joke gift.”

The book addresses such Facebook essentials as finding friends. “Should you have 125 friends?” the book asks on page 82, before answering: “No. Carolyn’s mom has a great Facebook experience with fewer than 20 friends.”

“She yelled at me for pointing that out,” Carolyn said.

So it was possible things wouldn’t work out if my mother joined, though at least it would annoy my sister. “Amy already told me she won’t let me be one of her friends,” Mom said. “She told me when I was in Champaign last week and she sent me an e-card – ‘I can’t be your friend.'”

Over the phone, I directed Mom to Facebook.com and told her to provide her name, birthday, e-mail address, and password. She activated her account and was greeted by a pending request.

“‘Amy Beth Green wants to be your friend’!” she read off her screen.

Apparently, Amy tried to share photos a few months ago, filled in Mom’s e-mail address, and a friend request was accidentally made.

“Under ‘News Feed’ it says ‘Check out Amy Beth Green’s profile and fill out your own,'” Mom said. “‘Yesterday, Amy Beth Green downloaded the soundtrack to “Enchanted”.’ ‘Amy joined Relay For Life.'”

“OK, let’s get your profile made,” I said, ready to help some more.

“No, I have to read Amy’s profile while I still can,” she said.

Eventually I helped Mom create her profile, taught her how to join groups, and gave her the basics of how applications work.

“Boy, there are no secrets,” Mom said as she got back to her News Feed, “because it tells me, ‘Debra and Amy Beth Green are now friends.'”

“Yeah, she’ll know pretty quick and she’ll be pretty horrified,” I said.

“So I’d better get back to her profile right away,” Mom said. She already displayed an advanced understanding of Facebook, much like one of Jane Goodall’s gorillas dabbling in impressionism.

The experience wasn’t as awful as I’d feared. Parents can learn to use Facebook, and they can catch on pretty quickly. Amy even relented and decided to keep Mom as a friend, though she restricted Mom to her limited profile, which blocks access to things like Amy’s wall, photos, and gender.

Before long, Mom was as Facebook-savvy as any college student. Her first status update: “Debra Green is wasting too much time on Facebook.” She even searched my name and sent me a friend request.

I turned her down. I’m a helpful guy, but there are limits.

Scott Green is a second-year law student. He later felt guilty and friended his mother.