I would like to end it with FB.
I can tell I lack the requisite skills and motivation to sustain our relationship. I’m a fair weather friend posting primarily when traveling because a) I have time and b) I might actually have a picture or comment that’s marginally interesting to you. But probably not.
I’ve thought about this a lot– not just what my participation in canned communication means but what a phenomenon like FB says about culture and society. And I’ve concluded that I don’t have a theory, nothing that sounds plausible or even opinionated. Technology based communication is … fill in your favorite dire prediction. After all it wasn’t the telephone that caused the fall of the Roman Empire.
There are so many things I like and loathe about Facebook.
List 1: the joys
Heartwarming: the children and grandchildren of my siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends dance down the news feed, growing up before my eyes. Lovely to enjoy old family photos that poke the embers of long forgotten memories. And, of course, the rare but hilarious video that makes you actually laugh out loud and force other people to watch it by immediately sharing it or hunting down your husband in the family room and making him mute the tv, watch the video, and assure you that it is truly hysterical.
Sometimes FB is magical. Someone posts a picture of your mother that you’ve never seen. A person you loved and lost along the way finds you. A piece of history moves you to tears. You follow a link and discover a wonderful writer.
List 2: the not so much joy
Sad pictures of animals bum me out, but I think it’s good for me to be reminded. (I offer it up for the poor souls. If you’re Catholic you’ll know what that means. If you’re not, it’s just another obnoxious inside joke like all the ones I don’t get on FB.) That’s the price I pay for having compassionate friends involved in animal rescue. Serves me right for not friending jerks.
Oversharing. I do like to know what friends and acquaintances are up to, but maybe not everything. Still I can’t tell you where that line is. Is detailed information about your latest project, obsession, resolution too much? Sometimes. Is pontificating okay? Hardly ever. During presidential election years I’m tempted to unfollow most everyone. This year is an exception because in the wind-up before the 2016 election, most of my friends, or at least the ones who comment, are in agreement about the Donald. And my friends span the political spectrum. So that shows …what? Either Mr. Trump is universally deplorable or I have discerning friends. Or I already unfollowed you and forgot.
Sidebar: I suspect that my sudden, periodic flurry of posts and photos are pretty tiresome. If I do decide to comment, share, post, change pictures, etc. I do about 5 things in 10 minutes so you are inundated with information about moi. (And since I went to France in 2013 you also have to put up with the occasional bon mot.) C’est la vie.
List 3: Keeping score, sort of
It’s not nice but I can’t help noticing the people who selectively “like” (BTW, Mr. Zuckerberg, you’ve basically ruined the word “like” for eternity). So are the occasional likers people who rarely go on FB or are they sending a message? I mean how hard is it to touch that damn thumb?
Have you ever suddenly realized that someone has disappeared from your news feed? Deep thinkers such as myself have to wonder if this friend has eschewed the seductive addiction of social media and signed off FB forever … or just unfriended me? Of course a quick trip to your friends list will tell you if you’re being paranoid or you’ve been dumped. Being inexplicably (to you at least) unfriended leads the thoughtful to question their worth and may damage their precious self-esteem. Hardly. At least I hope no one cares that much. Still, what do you do when you come face to face with an unfriending friend? Would you demand a public unfriending? My imagination goes this way:
The unfriender greets you cordially and there you are on the proverbial horns of a dilemma. You could snidely murmur. “Oh, I didn’t know you spoke to your un-friends.” More likely you would respond politely as if graciously ignoring a fart. (Time for another shout out to Mark Z for giving us so many ways to abuse the word friend.)
List 3: Coping
There are ways to deal with your FB obligations, even for the sporadic participant. I probably miss a lot on the newsfeed because days go by and my page has to soldier on without me. So when I do indulge, I do a lot of liking. Because I sincerely like my friends and am interested in their lives. I also skip a lot of videos because they load slowly or I don’t have time or it’s another cat video. Also my husband Mike shares EVERY animal video with me. Every single one. Who knew he was such a softy? And when did lions get so cuddly?
Back in the early days of my ambivalent relationship with FB I read all the notifications. Now I skim and ignore the posts by people I don’t know. For example I found myself reading comments by Mike’s former students about the good old days that were somehow attached to a picture of my friend and I making biscotti that his wife posted and then tagged Mike for reasons best known to her.
Sometimes I write comments that I don’t post. After checking for spelling errors I ask myself if anyone would want to read my comment. The answer is frequently no.
I blow by pictures of food pretty quickly. As well as anything that’s out of focus, overtly preachy, or patently offensive. We all have our own ideas about what is offensive; for me it comes down to meanness, which can be in the message or the motivation beneath the message. People, especially portraits, those darned puppies and kittens, beautiful scenery, and pithy sayings get my attention and, naturally, a like.
So why would I even consider breaking up with FB? Mainly because sometimes, not always and not even that often, it feels like a colossal waste of time–mine, yours, and even the sneaky advertisers.
Still FB is a seductive, addictive fantasy; every newsfeed holding promise and possibility. Once in awhile I read or see something on FB that takes me back, way back. And when that happens I remember how real the fantasy could be. Maybe it was Paul McCartney and you were 11 and watching him on the black and white tv in the basement. Maybe. And maybe you bought every teen magazine and cut out his pictures and pasted them in a spiral notebook even though you knew you would never meet him much less marry him and make him spaghetti.
Here’s the deal: in life, we all hang on for possibilities. The chance to feel something we’ve lost or forgotten, the need to connect meaningfully, or surrender to a joy or sorrow. FB, usually mundane, sometimes inconsequential, is just people expressing themselves and who’s to say what’s shallow and what’s deep.