If you're a current college student, chances are Facebook.com is the homepage on your laptop. Which means you're spending way more time learning about your school's fun-spirited co-eds than the world's famous thinkers. And chances are, you'll acknowledge the addiction unabashedly.
Facebook is an online directory for high school and college students that connects people through social networks. Members create profiles and post comments to friends and friends' friends. Suddenly you discover that guy in the red hat in the back row plays sand volleyball with the girl who lives three doors down. And you both love Letterman. Leave it to vast cyberspace to make such a small world.
More than 6 million college students belong to Facebook and 67 percent log in daily, spokesperson Chris Hughes said.
Cheri Supalla, 22, a senior at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., is among them. Disheartened by the promiscuous party lifestyle that pervades college campuses, Supalla created a Facebook subgroup called "Catholic Virgins." She was seeking some fellowship, but she also found a romance; her future boyfriend joined.
"The fact that my boyfriend and I share Catholic values and we're both virgins makes it much easier," Supalla said. "It's right out there; you don't have to worry or wonder." In that respect, she said, Facebook functioned liked a dating site, enabling her to narrow down a search by specifying certain criteria.
However, Facebook operates more naturally, Supalla said. "Instead of going on an awkward blind date, you can bump into someone from Facebook in the cafeteria. It's harder to begin a relationship without that casual contact."
Another free networking site open to everyone is MySpace.com, which has ousted the powerhouse eBay.com as Alexa's fourth busiest Web site in the U.S. Like Facebook, MySpace appears platonic: "A Place for Friends." Yet "Dates" ranked as a more popular search word than "Friends" on the site.
Liberal and conservative Catholics converge in a group called Roman Catholic. Its home page on MySpace mixes the old and new, juxtaposing an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a picture of the group leader playing electric guitar. Conversation is lively; members discuss sex, immigration and Protestants, among other subjects.
Other groups tend toward the conservative. Holy Knights of the Sacred Heart describes its purpose: "To discuss Christian thought, philosophy, theology and apologetics." Two paragraphs on defending God's existence ensue. And then: "P.S. This group is also a place to meet Christian singles."
When it comes to social networking sites, the romantic potential is a post script. Maybe that explains the appeal.