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OPINION: Expressway- With 'friends' like these. . .

It all started innocently enough.

I received an invitation from a childhood acquaintance to join Facebook. A bit hesitant at first - I was, after all, in a very happy monogamous relationship with e-mail - I complied.

And, then went off on vacation to Greenland.

When I returned a week later, I discovered there were 127 individuals who wanted to be my "friend." I glowed over my newfound popularity.

I wrote back to one person, a delightful former student whom I hadn't seen in 20 years, apologizing for being tardy in my response.

"I was in Greenland," I explained.

The next day, I awoke to find messages ("Wow! Greenland!" "Send photos!") from 27 friends, 15 former students and three total strangers I think might have been from Azerbaijan. (I quickly learned how to send private messages to one person.)

Long-lost friends, parents of those long-lost friends, relatives and students - some who never spoke in class - have friended me. It's refreshing to see them all, regardless of age, wanting to be a part of this new community.

And I've enjoyed the news they've shared: A job promotion, a serious illness beaten, pictures from their overseas trips, children's successes ("Ashley is having her first piano concert next week," "Justin spoke his first words today"). I may be on Long Island, but I feel like I'm right there with them, even when they are in Oregon or North Carolina or Japan.

As one friend says, "Facebook is the new front porch."

In between announcements, I look over the list of my friends' friends and am amazed at all the folks we have in common. I check out a former student who is now at the University of Wisconsin. She has 897 "friends"!

Some of my new "friends" have more impressive "friends" than I do. One, who went into the entertainment business, lists Al Pacino, Mick Jagger and Keith Olbermann. Hmmm . . . I wonder if I could trade him one of my cousins for Mick?

Alas, the problem with Facebook is that it's addictive. I can sit for hours at the screen, and every two minutes there is "news" from someone, somewhere.

I'm not sure if I will stay with Facebook. Some of the announcements I get - "I think I'll take a nap today" or "Wonder if it will rain" are time-consuming to read, with little payoff. I might quit and go back to the easier world of e-mail.

But, first, I want to hear how Ashley did in that piano recital.