“Waste of time”, “intrusive”, “vain”, these are the words I hear from colleagues who swear they will never succumb to the Face Book craze. I beg to differ. It is true that endless successions of complacent self-portraits, plates of salad, gaudy cakes, pets, and silly jokes can quickly become tiresome. Fortunately, blocking is an efficient tool for eliminating from your Face Book environment the selfies, the foodies, and the cat fans’ cartoons, or any other kind of posts you dislike as they always come from the same “friends”. Once this trimming has been done, Face Book is a wonderful resource both for expanding your knowledge and expressing your commitments, and thus reaching out to worlds which would otherwise remain for ever beyond your scope or your gaze.
Face Book optimally fulfills many functions: instantly updating family members about personal events which can be conveyed visually with comments; maintaining communication streams among classmates or professional teams; sharing relevant information in a domain of interest such as sport, politics, semiotics, or fashion. These latter functions not only reinforce the cohesion of groups but make it possible to expand their horizon by semi-randomly adding similarly minded persons and constructing open subcultures. If I have four friends in common with someone I don’t know, it is quite likely indeed that connecting with this person will yield a flow of information which will be relevant to my interests in science, art, or hobby.
Sharing is the key word in this game. Too many scholars are hoarders and jealously guard the information they gather. Like a plant in a dark room, hoarded knowledge quickly wilts and dies. Face Book keeps you on your toes as cutting edge knowledge streams down the screen of your tablet or iPhone before you would have any chance to access such information through regular media such as journals or conferences. All this, of course, as long as you choose well your “friends” through addition and elimination of individuals as you get to understand what they are up to.
Face Book is also an unforgiving revelatory of people’s character flaws. Someone you thought was generous and creative happens to unwittingly disclose his/her narrow self-obsession or nastiness. What one decides to display tells indeed a lot about his/her personality. On the other hand, if one is committed to a humanitarian, environmental, or social cause, Face Book offers a unique way of reaching out, and joining forces with those who belong to your virtual community. This medium also can promote advances in knowledge through fostering serendipitous synergies. A semiotic tool is nothing by itself. Its value depends on what we do with it. Much can be achieved through the fantastic potential of Face Book and other sharing communication platforms which provide unrestricted opportunities for chance encounters and serendipitous discoveries.