Friday, June 11, 2010

Facebook=High School

My baby daddy and I have been at loggerheads for over a decade with regard to his refusal to do anything with his cell phone except keep it powered off in the glove-box of his car for use in an emergency. HIS emergency. In the advent of MY emergency, he is unreachable. His specious excuse is to maintain a good example for his students whom he admonishes to turn their own phones off. Actually, the students just turn off the ringers and probably text and game and cruise Facebook every moment his head is turned and given his sucko vision, probably even when it isn’t. We both know that he refuses to use the cell phone because he doesn’t wish to receive importuning calls that could potentially interfere with his true avocation of being seated with a book or at a computer. Because I am the only person likely ever to call him, his dogged refusal to be accessible via cell phone cannot be whitewashed into less than the personal affront it is. I am due for a phone upgrade this month and I have been trying to tantalize Himself with my two year old Blackberry. I am driving and need an address. I tell him step by step how to locate it via my Blackberry and he swears in frustration only a couple times until he is actually able to retrieve it. I mention my new Facebook application and there is hope that he will swap being unreachable for Internet access. I promise that I will never call, only text and I am even closer to clinching the deal. He is thinking about it.

Himself is sucked into Facebook before I am and I resent that he has way more friends than I do and there sure are a lot of people I have never heard of. Even with my piddly friend list, Facebook has been an eye opener. Some people that I thought were very interesting are actually very boring and some people who don’t have a lot of pizzazz in person, are fascinating via Facebook. A number of folks post several times a day about things so banal I wouldn’t mention them even if someone is urging me at gunpoint to make chit chat. There are a few chefs and ambitious cooks who post what they eat but what ordinary people eat is no great thrill. A number of people use Facebook as a confessional. Jesus has a profile page but I don’t think he gives absolution for a box of See’s or a tequila binge. The self righteous counterpart to the “I have sinned” post is the reportage of marathons of exercise, particularly marathons of exercise for charity, also a bit of a turn off. Facebook mirrors life, or I guess life in Hollywood, as there are a bunch of nearly compulsive posters who are heavy on the Me! Me! Me! and light on any possibility of you.

My own motives may also be less than pure of heart. I aspire to engage in the sharing of information and ideas but in a way, Facebook is exactly like high school except no one can see how fat you are. I notice that a couple of ex-boyfriends are friends of friends. I have not asked for their friendship but am sort of miffed that they haven’t initiated mine. I notice a friend of a friend with whom I’ve socialized. He has a lot of friends but nowhere near 5000 or anything that could pose a problem but my friend request is “ignored” while he continues to comment frequently on our mutual friend’s posts, often directly beneath my own comment. I always thought he liked me and now I wonder why he doesn’t.

I avoid posting about my day to day life and I try post information that is useful or interesting or things that are funny and make it a point to respond to friend’s posts that meet the same criteria. Himself is very scrupulous about “liking” everything I post and I reciprocate. But, our Facebook presence, like the blogs Himself and I pour so much of ourselves into, never seems to garner much traction. Someone’s cat barfs up a hairball and there are twenty five inane comments but I post something witty or illuminating and, except for my generous husband, my contributions languish. I am trolling Facebook for the inspiration to conclude this paragraph towards bridging my Facebook disappointment with my life history of social heartbreak. In the past I have only relied on Facebook instant messages to communicate with members of my household who are on a different floor so that I don’t have to move ass or strain vocal cords. I receive an instant message from a friend who says he likes my writing and that it is worthy of publication in the New Yorker which takes my breath away but also kind of fucks with where I’m going with this. Nevertheless, with the exceptions I have noted, I feel that this blog and my contributions to Facebook sometimes get a short shrift.

I plan a slumber party while in junior high. My mother makes ornate sandwiches with sloppy joe filling stuffed into hollowed-out French bread that is wrapped in foil, baked and sliced for a dramatic presentation and we buy real Coke with sugar instead of Diet Shasta. I invite about fifteen girls. Mom and I lay quilts and blankets all over the floor of the rumpus room and air out sleeping bags. During the early seventies a number of girls, and if my memory serves me correctly, mainly affluent girls, are diagnosed with scoliosis of such severity that the only remedies are surgery followed by the wearing of a cast for months or the donning of a heavy back brace for several years. Even though it means an exemption from PE, and not having to appear in a bathing suit, I am not jealous of the girls who endure this. Only two girls show up for the party and one sports a cast from extending from neck to hipbone and the other wears a steel back brace. They glower at each other, repulsed and mortified. Neither is able to sleep on the floor and they are relegated to squeeze together into my bed. I have the fancy sandwiches, cold, the beef fat orange and viscous, in my lunch for the next two weeks and the good soda is returned for a refund.

My dad shot hours of 16mm Kodachome home movies. This, unlike most film, does not fade and the colors are almost creepily vivid as they memorialize my parent’s life together until they divorced when I was 7, in 1963. My parents threw tons of parties but my only memories of them are from the old films. My dad created a state of the art screening room in their valley house. The projectors and screen could be operated by remote. The theme was Paris café and there was a mural of the Moulin Rouge and some very sexy pen and ink drawings. There were movie nights and dance parties. For special occasions my mom whipped out the big blue McCall’s cookbook which was higher class and more modern than the Betty Crocker she used for everyday. After the divorce there were no grown up parties but my dad would come to the house, poke around wistfully and run cartoons and movies for my birthdays. Whenever I meet someone I knew from childhood, they remember my dad running movies.

I planned and hosted many events, even after the scoliosis debacle. I attended a college reunion last year and have also caught up with some old college chums on Facebook and many remember a screening I held at my little cabin up in Forest Falls. The film was apparently The Harder They Come, for which I undoubtedly got sufficiently into the Rasta spirit as to have no memory now of ever showing it. Another girl must have also partaken of themed party favors as she remembers that we kept replaying again and again the parts that we liked, which would have been impossible with a 16mm print.

My beloved is as notorious for his dislike of entertaining as I am for loving the creation of a good party. Himself always behaves himself at events and people always say, “Well, he really is awfully nice. I don’t know why you complain about him so much.” I plan a party about a month before I ask Himself if it’s ok by him to schedule one. After twenty years I know that he very seldom issues a direct edict not to do anything, the exception being a third child. He inevitably relents on the party but there will be eye rolling and long bitter silences from the moment the event is proposed to him until the Tuesday after when the garbage truck empties our barrels of its last vestiges.

After permission is grudgingly granted, I give him a head count which reflects about twenty five percent of the actual invitees, knowing that inevitably some people won’t come and that there’s really nothing he can do about the rest once they arrive. The minute the first grocery bag containing what he intuits are party provisions requires unloading from the car, he enters full throttle snit.

During preparation for festivities he will report hourly to me, as I generate more and more party related waste, that the barrels are getting full. Does he expect that I will say, “Oh. We’ll have to cancel the party because the city allotted trash receptacles are inadequate.”? Himself sometimes grouses about things that people have no control over. He is late to the dinner table, reporting to us that he’s been engaged in plunging the toilet. The kids, fruit of my loins, chime up immediately and in unison, “Did you wash your hands?” Himself is full of remonstration about the “stuff down there” which makes me feel guilty for serving even more food and putting the plumbing at further risk. Even if I could plan an event without a carbon footprint he dreads and resents anything threatening to impinge on book/computer time and his displeasure looms large as I cook and tidy.

In my Beloved’s comments regarding this piece there will be the link to the “Compassion for Your Introvert” article which he will remind you is the most downloaded article in the history of Atlantic Magazine, undoubtedly because he has downloaded it himself 10,000 times. While I make light of it, I have actually committed the article to memory and acknowledge that indeed introversion is a bona fide, clinically diagnosable condition and I repeat over and over my mantra, as I prepare for an onslaught of invited guests, “He’s not an asshole. He can’t help it,” and this has saved many a social gathering. As is stated in the article, he is actually not only capable of socializing but also capable of enjoying it but only in small doses with a buffer of long tranquil spaces on each end. It is the hubbub of preparation and the anticipation of restoring the house to normalcy that really get to him, so he is pleasant in the actual throes of the party, it’s just the periods before and after that require my zen meditation.

There are a couple friends I’d e-mail back and forth with a couple times a week, sometimes just quips or links and sometimes real letters. These are Facebook friends now and there’s an efficiency to having so many of your friends collected into a single compact unit but the only effective management for this merger will probably require some artifice. Perhaps the energy devoted into pleasing the crowd detracts from time formerly spent in nurturing individual relationships. Facebook, is more than a sophisticated telephone directory. Its enormous popularity has changed radically the way we interact with each other and present our selves. Facebook is your Self as media, which seems for many to behoove a warmish blandness. I receive a real letter, with paragraphs and all, that is pertinent and interesting to me and me alone and after a couple months skittering around Facebook, this feels particularly warm and satisfying.

I have, as I write this, 107 friends on Facebook. I have been friended by friends and acquaintances from college and earlier and I wonder if the reconnection with people from a time of my life when I felt like a big loser has reawakened the attenuate insecurities and after decades of latency, not getting enough love on Facebook is tantamount to being chosen last for the team. When I discover someone from college I remember with warmth or as being interesting I send a friend request accompanied by a few sentences of greeting and a memory of you and twenty-five words or fewer on who I’ve become in the 35 or so years since I saw you. I also respond to requests to be friended similarly. Often, there is no response to my message beyond the acceptance of the request and the only catch up is a sparse public profile and tiny Facebook glimmers of who exists now. Facebook has not only redefined social commerce but also the meaning of the word “friend.”

I am not the queen of the prom there but I like Facebook as a good consolidator of potentially interesting information and for the convivial atmosphere. It is a good tool for the maintenance of casual relationships but to expect anything more is to unnecessarily dredge up adolescent neediness, undermining years of therapy. I have 107 Facebook friends but Facebook, as a new phenomena, must be relegated to a new compartment. Real friends are only a tiny subset of Facebook friends. It is the endurance and quality of the relationships that didn’t require artificial resuscitation via the magic of the Internet that are my real sustenance. Once in a while, ok, about once a week, I use analytics to see who reads my blog and from what location. There are always a number of folks who look at the page once for about thirty seconds and then never return but there is a small core of readers who slog through my meanderings week in and week out and when I apply the map overlay function in the analytics program, I see that this well reflects that subset of real friends and I am reminded that while no hoity toity editors are badgering me for submissions my writing is indeed read by the audience that matters the most.

It is cool that people have happy memories of my parties and ironic that my most ardent supporter, my best Facebook and real friend looks forward to a colonoscopy with happier anticipation than to a social event. A thrifty man, Himself’s biggest investment in years is a pair of audio headphones that completely filter out the sound of my voice. Despite a monthly contract, his cellular phone remains powered off in order to fulfill the same purpose as the headphones. He is happily entrenched in the cyber world, his network much wider than my own but prefers to keep his three dimensional social interactions on a smaller scale. He gets real cranky about parties but maybe the reason it ticks me off that my ex boyfriends haven’t friended me is because I want them to see that I ended up with a terrifically smart husband who “likes” every single thing I post on Facebook. In this weird new social milieu and in our homely day-to-day, Himself demonstrates a love for me that when all my newfound old friends on Facebook knew me I could never have even imagined.

Shabbat Shalom.


Fionnchú said...

One drawback of FB: the comments don't get archived as they do on the blog, and after ten days or so, all recedes irretrievably (unless you're a political operative digging up dirt or a media hack doing the same on an instant celebrity for infamy). The blog's more permanent, and when people leave comments on FB instead, I feel their impermanence. Unless we tap into that mysterious "News Feed" or "Top Posts" with 25 inane comments, our updates get swamped by so-and-so likes so-and-so and, for me, the annoying inspirational sunsets and flowers with photos and quotes and Cafe World trivia that I cannot "hide" without hiding said person, who I confess I keep visible to torment myself (as I do the misspelled, half-capped, Tony Robbins motivational claptrap of another person who has not seen me since ca. 1977).

Therefore, I like the blog as a better symbol of connection. As I have blogged, yes, the blog itself (who'd've thought so?) seems like an e-mail letter practically quaint, as if penned with a quill on parchment, compared to the twits and IMng and whatever that BlackBerry will introduce my tendonitis-plagued, squinty-eyed, textually challenged perceptions to.

Beneath it all, there's you, and real friends, and the cyber presences, after all, sometimes turn real, and the real friends ghosted on the Net, and in this swirling of identities, this fluidity, whatever the other half of our lives will play out in ways as unpredictable as these media were circa '77. Shabbat shalom. xxx me

Fionnchú said...

P.S. "Intoverts of the World, Unite" by Jonathan Rauch, "The Atlantic," March 2003. The magazine calls it an "astonishingly popular essay." The publishers aver that it "may have unwittingly touched off an Introverts' Rights revolution."

Chris Berry said...


Richard Gould-Saltman said...

FB's a funky medium at best.

I got on initially to keep an electronic eye on the more publically conspicuous misdemeanors of the offspring. I find it occasionally amusing and/or useful, as I connect with the more cyber-happy Chowhounds, musicians, ex-girlfriends, etc out there in the universe, and WAY too much of a time-vampire.

I refuse to "tweet". Straight men don't "tweet", on something called "Twitter". The name captures the nature of the beast. I'll use it when they change the name to "Muy Macho Messaging: Now with extra He-Man Stuff!"