Can family, Fortune, and Facebook mix?

November 27, 2007, 3:25 PM UTC

It seems hardly a day goes by anymore where Facebook isn’t the topic of conversation in business circles – as a mild annoyance or the mother of all marketing tools. We’ve even discussed it here on The Gig, where the Facebook stragglers among us had to ask how, in the name of goodness, to avoid undesirable associates trying to “friend” us.

But this weekend, in the wake of Thanksgiving, that most American of family holidays, the Facebook drama finally hit home for me with a distressed call from my sister, Lisa: “Kamran won’t be my friend,” she all but wailed. Turns out our 18-year-old brother, Kamran, who’s a freshman at RIT this year, had officially ignored her friendship request. When I intervened, reassuring him that, unlike Mom, we’d ignore any teenage Facebook indiscretions — his pic was a shot of him smoking a cigar in some nondescript club — he promptly informed me that 1) he was at a perfectly respectable cigar bar watching Bloomberg in that photo, and 2) “Facebook and family don’t mix.”

Now that’s not exactly news; lots of parents have written about their quests to friend their children, with varying degree of success — especially when it comes to naughty gifts, at least according to the New York Times. (As for our own mother, briefed on the family Facebook imbroglio, she squawked, “Facebook?! Isn’t that where the child rapers are?” Lucky we’re such trustworthy kids.) But we’re siblings; we’re supposed to be friends. According to Kam, evidently, not so much.

Before I became too indignant, though, he reminded me of my own slow introduction to Facebook. Having graduated from school in 2002, I just missed the explosion of Facebook on campus, so I didn’t find my way to the wonders of Scrabulous until — gasp — some senior Fortune folk forced the issue. And as a result, Facebook for me isn’t so much about poking, spanking, and gifting as it is about keeping up with colleagues.

Am I missing out? Maybe. As Kam seems to know instinctively, some relationships are best lived outside the realm of status updates and party pics. And great as it is to build extra-office relationships with co-workers, I live in fear of the day that some publicist-cum-stalker tries to friend me. (Or worse yet, that a person I idolize in the office engineers his own fall from grace via The Wall or something like.) That may be a small price to pay for the increased connectivity, but I’m not sure yet.

Perhaps it’s just a matter of creating an internal version for our offices so that we can have all the functionality of Facebook without the potentially uncomfortable colliding of worlds. Or, as in the case of my little brother, we’ll just be dragged along whether we like it or not: Lisa, the family’s true Facebooker, took matters into her own hands and started recruiting every Tom, Joe, and Stanley to her new group, “Can my brother please be friends with me on Facebook?” (Apparently, when she hits 200 members, Mr. Too Cool For School will relent. Make your voice heard here. Comedy.)

Predictably, I cringed — why involve perfect strangers in this disgraceful bit of familial strife? — but maybe, once again, I’m just a big curmudgeon. Of course, it’s only with this little fracas that Kamran and Lisa have become really engaged with and excited about Facebook; it’s the randomness that’s attractive, the prospect of sharing an inside joke with untold numbers of outsiders. And perhaps that’s the crux of the problem: For them, it’s meeting random people that keeps them at their keyboards. For me and many other sometime-cynics, it’s the threat of random people that keeps us locked in our offices.

And while knowing everything there is to know about one’s “friends” might be attractive, there is such a thing as knowing way too much. At a certain point, if it isn’t about Scrabulous and party pics — i.e., the young person’s footloose and fancy-free life — doesn’t Facebook become just another bit of work we have to do? (Or, in Kam’s case, another thing to protect our parents and big sisters from?) You tell me: Can family, be it at home or in the office, mix? And even if they can, should they?