I first heard of Facebook a few years ago — probably some tech journal, or maybe Harper’s or the New Yorker, where, by the way, I heard of Google years before anyone seemed to use it outside a few academics. Facebook sounded like a good idea for the College set, who must have seen it as a perfect extension of the social web that one creates when one goes to school. When I first heard of it, it was confined only to college students. Now, of course, the thing has gone completely viral, and has spread easily throughout just about every demographic.
My wife spends an enormous amount of time on Facebook, and has used it to great affect for her business, by creating a group that now has over a hundred members, I think. So, after some gentle cajoling, I actually made it through the process of signing up, after having tried a few times, and pausing over the Submit button and hastily bailing out at the last minute.
The earlier attempts were the result of my personality — which is actually quite social and friendly simply because I have always liked “people” in general, and still do — but which also contains a great deal of built-in guilt about not contacting people I have known in my life and when it came to the point at which Facebook looked into my Address Book and found 134 people that I could “Friend”, I couldn’t go through with it. But when I finally did create the account and even put my High School, my company, and other information into the profile (still refraining from reaching out, though) , I began to get the invitations from “Friends”, each one of which caused a slight pang of anxiety and guilt, because I could not imagine reaching out to any of them and making that connection and then living up to what I suppose a Friend should be, which I imagined as a forty-page treatise describing everything I have done in the last 30 years.
I know this is ridiculous, but it is what it is, as they say.
So today after a brief discussion with a co-worker who reminded me of Facebook when he told me he joined up, I logged in and Deactivated my account. When you Deactivate a Facebook account, you are asked to provide a reason. Here is what I wrote:
“I can’t take this step right now in my life. Too much guilt about not contacting people in my past. This would unleash the floodgates and rain down a torrent of remorse, guilt, and pressure that I could not bear. I would develop Hypertension, followed shortly by Heart Disease, then a slow miserable death. Presumably, I would not die alone, however, because the 1,417 Friends that I would have, including my Kindergarten teacher, and everyone who ever picked me up hitchiking in the 1960’s. It would be like dying in the middle of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Album Cover. It would be a fine death, surely, surrounding by this multitude of people I have not spoken with in forty years — and which with I was able to exchange 140 character quips (wait .. that’s Twitter, isn’t it …) — in any case, while I do see the benefit of dying in this very public matter… I think for now I will skip it. Thanks.”
An absurd reason from someone who is ridiculous in their inability to … Facebook, as it were. (it’s a Verb, too, right?)
What is the difference, then, between this blog and Facebook? Plenty. Here I am a hologram with no ability to interact, and so I can write away as if I were in alone in a room, or standing on a little platform with a robe intoning nonsense to Luke or Hans Solo. I don’t even know who reads this, and don’t particularly care. I haven’t told anyone in my actual life about this — not my brother, my wife or kids. Not to say that they can’t find it immediately, but there is no expectation of an audience. And so I am somewhat able to write with the freedom and slight thrill of not knowing who will read it. Somewhat, I say, since there is always the possibility that someone will read it and be offended by it which belongs to the small group of people that still control my ability to create income to support my family. I doubt it, though, since these posts are pretty tame, and I haven’t started on any of the stories from my life yet. They will come …
Facebook says, on their front page … “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”
That depends on what life you are talking about. With the exception of my wife, the only people really in my life are not on Facebook (they are all under the age of nine …), and so we would be talking about a life from the past, or a life made of people from the past. A life that would grow to include those that I had known long ago, when I think I was truly a different person, in a different place, and in a different time. It would be strange, confusing, disorienting — not sure what to make of it, since I’m just writing away now, and not thinking …
Maybe there will come a time in my life when I am not working 80 hours each week, and I don’t have four little kids and a wife to attend to. Maybe then I can join Facebook, or the current incarnation of it. Maybe then I will be happy to spend the kind of time that my old friends deserve. For now, though, this one-way mirror will have to do.