By STACEY SOLT

tneditor@tnonline.com [1]

It's been six months since I joined the social networking website Facebook.com. It began as a professional experiment I was writing a column about the benefits of social networking, and it felt silly to write a column about something that I've never experienced. So I got an account on Facebook and made my first online friend: my source for the column, an old college professor.

Things spiraled from there. Of course, that's the whole point of social networking. Through the Internet, I've reconnected with friends from down the street and around the world.

The idea behind Facebook, if you're not familiar with this website, is that members can "friend" other members. Once you "friend" a person, you can see their friend network, photos, and personal messages. You can also leave messages for friends. It's a great way to keep in touch and get a snapshot of a person's life.

Now that I've spent some time on Facebook, I've found many old friends from high school and college. It's great to hear from people that I haven't seen in years. Many have moved away, and we probably wouldn't get the chance to talk or exchange photos without the Internet.

Of course, there's no substitute for a real visit with friends or even a phone call. I wouldn't have missed my best friend's wedding last month for anything, even though I knew she would post photos on Facebook. And would I really enjoy seeing our good friends' boy grow in pictures, from a tiny infant to an almost- toddler? These are things that you need to experience in real life, not through a virtual life.

My husband and I have a few close friends that we see or speak to often. Some live in Lehighton, others across the state. But we make a point of getting together or talking whenever possible, even if that means we stay in touch through phone calls, letters and email.

But what about the rest of my friends? I made dozens of friends in high school and college, and still others at work and on assignment. How could I possibly stay in touch with all of these people?

Thanks to social networking, I've been able to reconnect with friends that I haven't seen in more than seven years. I wished these friends good-bye during graduation, and never saw them again without the physical closeness of attending classes, we drifted apart. I'm also in touch with college friends, who quickly spread throughout the world and became nearly impossible to track down. It's been so fun to get back in touch with these people to see photos of their weddings, coo over images of their babies, and read about the tiny details that make up a person's life.

For all the time that I spend on computers and the Internet, I'm really an old-fashioned person. I cook dinner each night from scratch, I love sending (and receiving) letters and packages in the mail, and I fought joining Facebook until a work assignment convinced me to join. But I'm so glad that I finally joined the era of social networking. It's allowed me to remember a simpler time, before work schedules made socializing on a weeknight a thing of the past. It's so nice to be part of my old circle again even if that circle is spread halfway around the world!