I cannot deny, I live in a Facebook world. I log on every day; I like things; I comment and interact with friends and family, near and far. Admittedly, I lose hours to Facebook every week. I wont justify or explain; it is what it has become. I see many wonderful advantages to Facebook and have felt grateful for the opportunity to connect, on some level, with many people who I might not see for long periods of time, and who– if left to letter writing and phone calls, I might lose touch with altogether–Friends and family alike. It’s a reality of busy lives, geography, and changing social norms, and there are benefits to these changes.
Take my high school graduation class: These are people I grew up with, but admittedly, many of them I hardly knew then and wouldn’t know now…if not for Facebook. Back when we were in school together, we were kids– living in that adolescent haze that we only recognized as blurred, much later in life. Prior to Facebook, I attended two high school reunions, and honestly– I left feeling disconnected and disappointed. I moved away from my hometown a long time ago. My childhood and youth were fraught with struggles that made me feel separate and isolated from the frivolity and social themes I saw around me in high school. I was busy trying to look normal, each day when I left my troubled home. While I knew that my mother was doing her best, I also knew her best wasn’t something I wanted to share with others. So, I covered well and tried to fit into a world I believed was better than mine. At reunions, honestly, I came back and felt just as outside the box, as I had at 12, 15, 17 and 18. That was even more disconcerting, as I aged and knew that I didn’t need to put myself in those situations anymore. Why go?
Then, just before our 30th reunion, someone started a Facebook reunion page– and an entire world of good people opened up to me. I was hesitant about another reunion, unwilling to travel so far to possibly leave feeling empty again. Instead, as former classmates greeted each other on our private FB wall– as they shared their family pictures, their status updates, their joys and challenges– the walls came down, on the wall. I saw that much of what I’d thought I’d known about people, in our youth, was just as fictional as my own story. Other kids felt outside too. Classmates were bullied, were gay, were insecure, were happy and unhappy; some were losing parents to divorce and early deaths, or struggling to fit in and look normal… just like I was. We each had our own stories, and few of us really knew how many other stories were happening around us. We knew surface. However, at nearly 50, on our new Facebook wall, the need to appear any certain way melted, and I saw good people who I might connect with in new ways. Because of the connections we made on Facebook beforehand, our 30th reunion was a fantastic weekend of really connecting with each other. These people know from whence I come, and because of FB, went into the weekend with a clearer idea of who I am now.
Yet, for each reason I can give for being grateful to Facebook, I also struggle– mightily, with the downside. As someone “who came of age” at a time when we memorized phone numbers and called people, wrote letters, visited– it comes down to this: I just don’t get how real, meaningful connection can take a back seat to Facebook’s easy “Likes” and false sense of meaning and connectivity. I don’t get it. And herein is my struggle: I believe in connection. It is central to who I am and how I live my life. Admittedly, my connection may not appeal to everyone, and I am certainly old enough to understand that one can only sustain so many real ties. We’re not all meant to be friends; ok, I accept that.
However, take real life… the life that unfolds on a deeper level, and I believe, is not enhanced by Facebook. I have far more friends on Facebook than I have in real life, but what do I mean to most of them? People meet you at a conference, or a party, or the grocery store, and they friend you on FB. It’s hard to decline. As a blogger, I get requests from folks who have only read my writing. What are they seeking? What should I offer? That’s why I have a FB page for my blog– that’s where those friendships should live. Others have gotten to know me through my writing and have reached out to know me better. I appreciate their interest, but I am not my blog; I am not everything I write. Yet, in some cases, Facebook allows us to share those same family photos, goals and adventures, and get to know each other.
But should family and friends– real connections, rely on Facebook to maintain connectivity? No. If we cannot share a real phone call, a lunch or coffee or meeting face to face, where we share some reality, why do you need to like my new haircut, or birthday celebration, etc… on Facebook? If you can’t call me to say you want my advice, or like my taste in restaurants, doctors, movies– if you don’t really want to spend time with me in person (and let’s be honest, some of you don’t), how is it ok to write to me on Facebook and ask me to do you a favor? If you chat with me on-line, and play games, “chat,” socialize– but wouldn’t include me in a flesh and bones get together, that you know I’d like, why make the effort on-line? If I call you and try to share real-time, and you can’t reciprocate, why be my Facebook friend at all? How do you benefit from seeing what I did today, on Facebook; how do reality and cyber blur?
The ability to watch each other’s lives unfold on Facebook can be fun and sometimes the most realistic way for friends and family, who live far away and live busy lives, to keep up and share things sometimes. But it can also be a very superficial way to think you are connecting, when in fact it’s as empty and meaningless as reading the news and thinking you get what people in the stories are feeling. I am so much more than the happy birthday greetings, the photos of fun times, the news of events that I post on Facebook. My feelings are hurt when I try to connect with people– reach out to say: hey, let’s have lunch; let’s go birding; I’d love to join you– and you don’t respond… but hit like on a FB posting. My feelings are hurt when I call you, and you don’t call back or acknowledge the vulnerability that goes into trying to reach out for real, but you like my photos and leave your mysterious imprint on my Facebook wall. Some days, those imprints– those cyber footprints, those mysterious breadcrumbs are haunting… why were you there? What do I mean to you? Or, is it only my Facebook image that you like?
Facebook has become a double edges sword that is a major presence in our day-to-day world. The powers that be at FB have determined that we need to know when someone has “seen” something we posted; that we can be liked for things as widely different as our daily run or the birth of a child. If you’re on FB, you are constantly reminded that people you know, are there, looking at something you wrote, or posted– but not necessarily connecting with you. People can avoid you in real life, but still let you know that they wish you a happy birthday, or like your outfit, or just looked at something you posted (“Seen by 10 people,” but who, and why?), and then retreat to the background again.
Where does that leave us in 2015, in regards to relationships? Are we destined to become more and more dependent on sound bites, hit and run Likes, and comments to show our feelings? If you haven’t been kind to me in person, but are nice on-line, should I give you the benefit of the doubt– and visa versa? I’m not suggesting that it’s all one-sided; I am just as guilty of drive by affection as the next person. But these things creep into my thoughts regularly, and trouble me. I struggle to know who do I invite to a party, based on real life versus Facebook ties, and what does a given person feel about me in real-time versus the way they Like me on Facebook? These things keep me up at night, trying to come to terms with reality versus the Facebook bed our culture has made– and in which I find it hard to sleep.
Share your thoughts in the comments, and if you haven’t already, stop by my Facebook page… and hit Like. Yes, I’m ironic that way.