Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There is Nothing Normal about Facebook

As a long time pooh-pooher of new-fangled technology like Blackberries, Twitter, and call waiting, I always felt a self-righteous jolt of superiority when friends talked about being plugged into those online social networks. I’m a 21st century Luddite at heart (except for cable TV…and don’t even think about taking away my umbilical cord to email!) who recently joined Facebook by accident.

A beloved friend, Dan, who himself was limping onto Facebook only due to curiosity and a dare from his teenage niece, invited me onto his Facebook page. Actually, his niece invited every soul in his email address book – personal, professional and forgotten –to join him on Facebook, much to Dan’s horror. Since he is an organic, CSA farmer who steps as lightly on the Earth as anyone I know, I figured that if Danny-boy was treading into the virtual friendship waters, it would be okay for me to keep him company there. So with one click, I accepted his invitation and launched into a whole new world. Little did I know that, appalled by the impersonal Facebook invitation sent out to all his contacts, Farmer Dan high-tailed it off Facebook, retreating to the normalcy of real life like a pig hot-footing it to the barn at feeding time.


For those of you are still hiding behind your feelings of offline supremacy, Facebook is an online social network that facilitates virtual “interpersonal connections” with friends, co-workers, like-minded folks, and, primarily as far as I can tell, blasts from your past. For someone born pre-internet like me, Facebook is an utterly bizarre simulated reality that is freakish in its concurrent addictiveness and repulsiveness.

The central support beam of Facebook is the Status Update. When I first ventured into Facebook waters a mere four months ago, the status update was a prompt to report exactly what you were doing at that moment, which was then dispersed over the Facebook masses. Literally, it read, “What are you doing now?” Some Zen-like Facebook newbies in my demographic initially balked at that request. They exclaimed, “What am I doing now? Do they mean this exact moment? Well, right now I am typing on the computer. And forever more all my posts on Facebook will read that I am right now typing on the computer.” One of my more ethical friends complained that she hated having to “lie” on her Facebook page when she wrote that she was going shopping instead of telling the truth (the truth being she was typing on the computer.) So on the very basest level, Facebook is a big, fat lie.

With the most recent retooling of the Facebook page, the status update now reads “What is on your mind?” This is a bald-faced effort to be more temporally flitting; in other words, more Twitter-esque. And though we are no longer forced to tell untruths to our online community, it still feels warped. “What is on your mind?” Really? You really want to know what’s on my mind? Well, no. I say no. Because what is on my mind is probably either too banal, self-indulgent or x-rated to divulge even to the unseen masses. So I am forced to invent something that I would rather have on my mind in order to present myself as witty or intellectual or bad-assed or mysterious or hopefully all of the above. So once again, we’re back at square one: On its basest level, Facebook is a big, fat lie.

Getting past that, onto square two, I was left to wonder why people would want to know what I’m doing or thinking right now. Most of the time, my life lacks even an iota of glamour. I spend a lot of time cleaning places that will get dirty, emptying dishwashers that will be refilled, and buying stuff that will be consumed. Certainly not the stuff of compelling reading. A hamster on a wheel has a more varied life. And to turn the spotlight off me, why do I want to know what Facebook denizens are doing or thinking right now? Do I really need to know that some guy I sort of knew in middle school, who now lives 1,500 miles away, is headed to the gym to work out?

Spoiler alert: The answer is yes. Yes, for some reason I do enjoy knowing that my college housemate is cleaning up basset hound barf somewhere in Ohio. And it interests me that the girl who enjoyed chemistry class with me in high school got delayed by the Chicago public transit system on her way to work. And for some reason, I am happy to know that a local peer had fun at medieval day at her local library with her four-year-old nephew. Yes, yes, and yes again, I love knowing this information. I love it deeply.

After I learned how to adjust my security settings, I was able to restrict the intensely personal information of my life, like what I thought of Angelina Jolie’s dress at the Golden Globes, to only the people on my “Friends” list rather than the entire Facebook community. The whole Friends thing amuses and confounds me equally. Like auditioning for a part, people have to apply to be on your Friends list, and you can accept or reject their query. Actually, it’s not really “reject,” it’s the less ego-crushing “ignore.” As in, “[Insert name of someone you hardly know] wants to be your Friend. Accept or ignore?” And as all of us who went to high school know, being ignored is so much less painful than being rejected.


Ah, the Friends list! At first I wanted to keep my Friends list restricted to people who I genuinely enjoy or enjoyed in the past. I wanted to keep my Friends list pure. Definitely limited to people I had seen in person at one time or another. But even more, when I first started out on Facebook I wanted my Friends list to reflect the true meaning of friendship. Naïveté or ignorance? You be the judge. (If you think neither, then you clearly have never engaged in online social networking.)

The purity goal was soon challenged when I received some Friends requests from people I did not remember who claimed to have known me from elementary school. “Why?!” I cried, throwing up my arms. “Why do they want to know what song is stuck in my head today? Or what I ate for dinner last night? Why?!” As someone who tends toward the emotionally codependent end of the spectrum, being in the position to accept or ignore – nay, reject -- a person is akin to scraping fingernails across the blackboard of my soul. I don’t care that I haven’t laid eyes on her since third grade. She’s still a person. A person who wants to be my “friend.” It’s like a continual series of Sally Field moments, “You like me. You really like me!”

Bing! Then it dawns on me that there is a difference between a Facebook Friend and an in-person friend. (What took me so long, you young’uns are wondering? Hey, a few paragraphs ago I was a 21st century Luddite, so cut me some slack here. And get off my lawn too.) To continue my parenthetical metaphor, social networking websites like Facebook take a hedge clipper to the entire socialization of our culture. We can now be friends/Friends with people who we haven’t seen in decades. On a daily basis, we can communicate – and I use that term loosely – with dozens or hundreds people who live worlds away. The whole garden of friendship has been replanted with flowers from entirely different zones, and yet it still grows and flourishes. (Ok, I’m stopping with the damn vegetative metaphors. Even I recognize I’m pulling up weeds now.) There are friends. And there are Friends. And then there are what I call “Phriends,” people on my Friends list who I might not recognize if I saw them on the street today. As an ol’ softy with a big heart, I cherish them all for what they are and what they represent.

Alas, there is a dark side to Facebook Friends. As with everything in this blasted yin-yang existence, the flip side of Friending is de-Friending (or un-Friending, depending on your preferred terminology.) One day you can be somebody’s Friend. The next day, you’re banished to Siberia of not-Friend Facebookers. This happened to me. Somebody I know (truly know know, as in I see her often in real life and am quite fond of) de-Friended me after only my third week on Facebook. This friend/Friend will remain nameless, though for our purposes I shall refer to her as “Shmosie Shmcnally.” I went to check out the latest photos of Shmosie’s new babies, and wham! The virtual door was slammed in my face with an annoying notice stating I must be her Friend to see her photos. As we’d say online, “WTF?!”

I was floored. Instantly, I went to the self-doubt place, assuming that I was a loser reject whom nobody wanted to sit with in the cafeteria. What had I done wrong? Maybe I was posting too many status updates? Or maybe my posts were too lame and insipid to clutter up Shmosie’s Facebook page? Maybe she was purifying her Friends list? But then I checked. She had over a hundred Friends. Not pure. Not slutty, but definitely not pure.

So I decided to fake-hire a Facebook lawyer. Translation: I jokingly asked a friend from high school, who is currently a corporate lawyer, to pretend to represent me in a ‘Pam v. Shmosie’ de-Friending case. Fortunately, this old friend/Friend shares my warped sense of humor, and was more than willing to entertain my silliness. Since nothing is ever lost on Facebook, I’ve paged through my Inbox to find the actual transcript between my Facebook-lawyer and myself, which I will submit to you as Exhibit A:

[Beginning of transcript]

Dear Jeff,

I think I've had my first FB casualty. An acquaintance out here de-Friended me! Suddenly, she's not in my Friends list when I know she was there before. Yes, this brings me right back to middle school! (Isn't that what FB is all about, a turbo-cyber middle school?!)

As my official FB lawyer, I would like to FB-hire you (I'll pay you in "karma points") to FB-prosecute her for de-Friending me without cause.

Your 42-going-on-13 year old friend,



Thank you for passing me your note during gym.

I can't believe she would do that to you! You could have pulled her hair, spread rumors about her and that geek from calculus or put Slime all over her locker. Instead, you have chosen to go straight to litigation. You clearly are a force to be reckoned with, the likes of which middle school has never seen, other than from children TV stars divorcing their parents.

I will gladly take on your case, for my usual fee. Don't worry -- I do not know what that is either. But it is what the lawyers on TV always say. And if you are going to go all legal on her, I say we go TV legal on her!!! I'm thinking Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons, but you can let me know if you envision me channeling some other lawyerly hotshot or notshot.

Hmm. De-friending without cause. A serious charge indeed. And we will probably be breaking new ground, legally speaking. But aren't we all about change? Yes we are ... can!!

I need to probe the "without cause" part of your claim. As your counsel, you should tell me anything that you think she might use against you in her defense so we can plan accordingly. Is there anything you may have done or not done that she will rely on in defending the de-Friending?

Take a moment to read over that last sentence in either Dr. Seuss or Jesse Jackson voice. Okay, now get back on topic and respond.

Mr. Lionel Hutz,

I am delighted you have agreed to take on my case in defense of my unjustified de-Friending. I think we will be breaking new ground, forging a clear litigious path for future middle schoolers.

As for "just cause," I submit a witty exchange between us (perhaps the last one before the de-Friending) which went something like this:

Status update from Shmosie: [Shmosie] has too many tools.

Pam: In the bedroom or in the garage?

Shmosie: It's always an either-or with you, isn't it, Victor?

In my opinion, that doesn’t seem unseemly by FB standards. Perhaps it was my posting of the You Tube video "Hamster Eating Popcorn (on a Piano)" that was the last straw? Perhaps I did not post enough "Ooooh, they're soooo ccuuuuuute" messages on her photos of her new babies? Where did I go wrong?!

Certainly, none of these actions were consciously malicious. All my posts are made in good faith and with only the kindest of intents (except for that one about my husband.)

Again, thank you for taking my case. I am looking forward to making FB history with you. Also, I am assuming that Julia Roberts is your legal aid on this case. She did SUCH a good job on the water-poisoning case.

Your faithful client,



Good God, woman. You handed her the ''Hampster Eating Popcorn (on a Piano)" Defense??!?! I should have asked you for a big, juicy retainer upfront. Unless you KNOW Julia Roberts and can guarantee her working with me on this one. Hmm. Jessica Alba has incredible legal acumen as well. Or at least she might.

To which I replied:

How about Reese Witherspoon?

To which he replied:


[End of transcript]

Much to my relief and disappointment, the matter was rectified out of court. I remembered that I was an adult and directly emailed Shmosie to ask her why she de-Friended me. She said she uploaded an application that deleted half her Friends list by mistake. I chose to believe her. Case closed.

However, the wise words of my dear, bona fide friend (and Friend) Christine Stevens ring all too true nonetheless: “The whole FB thing is a voyeuristic exercise in re-traumatizing our teen angst.”

I couldn’t agree more. Like in high school, on Facebook I find myself wasting ginormous quantities of time, questioning my sanity, feeling like an idiot, feeling really smart, not understanding musical references, looking up vocabulary (mainly on www.urbandictionary.com,) feeling rejected, taking meaningless quizzes, getting pissed at friends, feeling huge love for friends, shooting the shit with people I like, laughing out loud a lot, getting turned on to good music and videos, receiving solid advice, getting much needed emotional boosts, being part of a community. Like high school, there is nothing normal about Facebook, which is why I love it, I mean hate it, I mean love it so much.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent writing! You capture the Facebook 'experience' so well! Who knew angst could be electrified?