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Doing an About Face(book)

Since two of my three “real” jobs involve spending a lot of time on the computer, I have experimented fairly extensively with social networking. I started thinking about what Facebook means to me because of a series  of articles in various media and posts on Facebook.  One published piece concerned the popularity of the game “Farmville,”  and another addressed the class stratification apparent between Facebook and MySpace users. On a more personal level, at least three of my Facebook “friends” have posted about how much they hate having to receive a steady stream of information about the quiz scores, Mafia Wars requests, Farmville acquisitions and “free” offers posted by others (the most recent of which involves a computer). The articles are thought-provoking, and I have read many in print and online, ranging in topic from whether Facebook causes people to lose “real” friends, to the difficult issue of “unfriending,” or being “unfriended;” an act that cannot be reversed.

The public statements in the form of status posts inveighing against quiz-takers and denizens of Farmville, however,  seem to  serve no purpose other than to make people feel guilty about their own quiz taking and contest-entering behavior. I want to ignore them, those pronouncements of judgment, but in all honesty, they make me feel like a moron and not the witty savant I imagine my Facebook persona to be. Such statements also make me wonder about how someone highly intelligent and busy like my-brother-the-doctor can take the occasional quiz without being a raving idiot, while another equally intelligent and busy “friend” finds them abhorrent and stays up late at night figuring out ways to block all evidence that anyone has ever taken one.  People seem to join Facebook looking for different things, and as ones’ “friends” multiply, so does the stream of information through which one must sift.

My thesis about all of this, which may offend some (and shock others, because I so rarely have a thesis of any variety) is that Facebook is a “free country” aside from the violation of state or federal statute. It is, for each user, what they want and need it to be, and no one should feel judged because of their chosen activities on a fairly meaningless, virtual playground for adults. If you don’t want to see a request for weapons in Mafia Wars, you needn’t look at it. (You can, in fact, “hide” it, as I have done). If you resent people who post and re-post the same three YouTube videos, my advice is the same. There are people who are using Facebook for networking, business and otherwise, and some (myself included) who view it as a perpetual drop-in cocktail party, and a way to connect and stay connected with a geographically diverse group of people. Maybe my thesis is, to quote the late great Mama Cass Elliott, “make your own kind of music” on Facebook, have fun, and don’t give up activities that give you pleasure because someone has labeled them annoying. (Does anyone actually need this advice besides me? If not, I apologize, reflexively and profusely).

Let’s back up a bit, and talk about what’s out there, and why Facebook is my “main squeeze” for internet social life. I checked out MySpace quite a while ago, and found it claustrophobically cluttered with moving pictures, music that started as soon as you entered “their space,” and such a sensory assault in the form of wallpapers and fonts that I knew it was not My space. I get requests for something called “Linked In” all of the time, but  it seems to involve business connections, and while I do not begrudge anyone their business connections, I break into hives every time I have to put an invoice together, and I prefer to pretend that the business aspect of the world doesn’t exist.

I do Twitter fairly often, but I don’t love it. I heard it described once as a way to write “a blog post in 140 characters,” and I am just not that Zen in my blogging. (Again, no doubt a shock to all of you). My friend Michael S. explained Twitter to me in a way that makes sense: Facebook is social, and for “talking” to friends; Twitter is better for sharing information quickly and getting it from a variety of useful sources.  I use Twitter when I want to know about something, or when I actually have a thought that might interest someone in only 140 characters, but otherwise not so much. Many days, I don’t even open it.

Facebook had me at “hello.” At its best, Facebook is like the International Departures Lounge at an airport in Marrakesh. I have conversations that are amusing and pull in friends from around the corner, from high school, from college, and from jobs long gone. They represent a diversity of age, vocation and location that  gives me a toasty glow just thinking about it. Sometimes I will look at one of these “strings” of replies and smile, feeling that, like the founder of a particularly fine feast, I have brought together a collection of people who may never really meet, but all of whom I love. I see pictures of new babies, learn about new jobs, and answer cooking questions. I have often asked for (and been given) objects or information that I needed, simply by “getting the word out.” I find out about broken water mains, school closings, rain-barrel sales and all manner of good things faster than the speed of light. I have had a fabulous dinner at a restaurant I was dying to try, just because a kind and clever friend was paying attention to my discussion about “Top Chef,” and I have had the incredible pleasure of catching up with people who I never expected to find again in this life.

I also “talk” to people who I see frequently in real life, and there is no diminution of our “live” friendships based on the virtual. I still have coffee or wine with friends, go to parties and run into people at Parent-Teacher conferences, but among a group of busy people, there is often more opportunity to keep up with the details of their lives on Facebook.  I see no harm in finding out that Diane went on  a great vacation by reading about it on Facebook, and then asking her about the great vacation when I run into her on the soccer field. On the flip side, I have “friends” I’ve never met. They are friends of friends, fellow local Democrats picked up during my brief career as a politico, and, in some cases, I never figure out why we are “friends.” I will say that I have “befriended” three women in Nashville, not one of whom I’ve ever met (although they all know each other), but all of whom have enriched my life greatly with their generosity, wit and charm.I also enjoy it when friends add recent blog posts to Facebook (because I am lazy about subscribing), and I post my own. (This may also annoy some people; so far no one has complained). I not only take quizzes;  I take ridiculous quizzes like “which Winnie the Pooh character are you?” and watch as the quiz spreads, like a virus, so that everyone who is dying to know whether they are Tigger or Owl is fully satisfied. I do those things where you answer questions about yourself like what you ate for breakfast, I do them with great relish, and I genuinely enjoy reading the answers of other people because I am profoundly nosy.

I do not play Farmville or Mafia Wars because I find them exceedingly dull, and after a desultory attempt at the whole “Green Patch” thing, I gave up.  Again; this is just a matter of personal taste. I have been known to spend literally hours playing “Scramble” during periods of great stress. The thing about those games is that, if you hit “ignore” when someone offers you a flower or asks you to join their Mafia family, nothing bad happens. It occupies a scant second of your life, the person probably never remembers that they asked you in the first place, and all of the folks who get their Farmville on or really like building up the Mafia eventually find, and play with each other.

At it’s worst, Facebook slides South in the direction of a parking lot carnival redolent of hot grease and musk. Just as the aforementioned posters are bedeviled by seeing which Disney Princess I am, there are things people do on Facebook that bother me. There are Complainers, those of the incessant “I had a terrible day,” I hate my job,” “my kid stole another car…..” you get the picture. These posts make me feel galvanized to respond in some way, but 99% of the time the plaint is not one that has a resolution within my power. If they need a ride, a cup of sugar, or a copy of the third “Twilight” book, I can help. If their differential diagnosis is Crappy Life Syndrome, there’s not a whole lot I can do.

I am also, personally, annoyed by people who post every newspaper article they encounter in the course of a day, for reasons vocational, political or other. Frankly, it begins to be like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” when really significant stories and issues are buried in a flood of daily reportage. So I do not enjoy Complainers, and I do not want to see 500 news stories in my News Feed, but I still see no reason for hostility. When someone posts the 500th story in which I am not interested, I cleverly block them from my News Feed, and there’s no longer an issue. When people complain constantly, I use my handy-dandy scroll thingie, and move on down the page without fanning the flames with a “gosh, I’m sorry.”. Just as I would not call the police to report people who do things in real life that bother me (gum snapping, dressing little girls like hookers, etc.) I feel no need to call them out on Facebook.  They are making their own kind of music, and I am changing stations.

I have no agenda here regarding those who would eradicate everything they perceive to be foolish from the world of Facebook. I might wish them gentler, or more tolerant, but my own history of snark and cynicism does not exactly make me the Dalai Lama. I am speaking to all of you who are collecting cows, sub machine guns, and flowers with faces, and to myself, the hapless, compulsive quiz taker. Anyone who believes that Facebook is essentially a forum for sharpening their critical thinking facilities and discovering the articles from the Wall Street Journal that they missed due to an unfortunate coffee accident…is wrong. It’s a place to play, to relax, to stalk one’s high school boyfriend, and to reach out to people who, realistically, we might otherwise lose from sight.

I’m going to take a quiz now; I need to know how emo I am. Aren’t you a little curious?

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

13 responses »

  1. Ann,
    What a clever title to this post and quite timely (for me, anyway).
    I, too, had to readjust my thinking about FB. For a short time, I started blocking “friends” whose quiz results, copious news feed posts or blissed out bland statuses “I’m going to bed now” “A beautiful day to be alive” “bed time for me” “so and so is going to work now” clogged my feed. Since my “attitude readjustment” I’ve unblocked some of them and, as I found out, I “reapplied” for friending.

    None of this compares to the recent breakdown of a 20 yr friendship with someone who only lives a block from me here. I hadn’t actually noticed that this person “X” had dropped me from his FB friends until a mutual friend told me. My “infraction” amounted to having not commented on some of his posts while lavishing wonderful comments on some of my other FB friends. I thought is was a bit silly and was sure the mutual friend was wrong, but lo and behold, upon checking, I found no trace of “X” on my friends list and couldn’t “search” him out–he was invisible to me on FB. Fine. Whatever. It’s just Facebook, not like a “in the flesh” friendship….until I got a direct email dressing me down for my “unsupportive and un-friend-like” posting. So, you’re right, Ann, it’s a free country, FB, and we should all feel entitled to use it as we see fit, without worrying about someone else’s reaction. I hope my friendship with “X” will survive this, but obviously we need to talk, face to face, rather than Facebook to Facebook about what this silly social medium had come to represent for him. A lesson I really didn’t think applied to me, until now.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • That really mundane stuff drives me nuts too; I have adopted the perspective that if that individual is so dull that they have nothing else to post, or so insecure that they feel that we all need to know that they are in the shower, they are more to be pities than censured. Again; I make use of the Magic Scroller.

      As for the “unfriending,” it’s sad, and it’s wrong (did I mention petty and vindictive?) At least you know why – not that that necessarily makes it better. I have a “friend” who I really should “un-friend” for all kinds of reasons, and I just can’t do it. It seems so…harsh. Besides, if someone offends you there is the option of just blocking them while you think about it. I wish you a face-to-face and a resolution.

      Reply
  2. So right!

    I occasionally inform folks that I don’t respond to offers of roses, piggies, etc., but I also understand that some of the apps they enjoy require that from time to time they supply some friends’ names. I’m cool with that; and I tell them so. It’s so easy to just “ignore” them.

    Equally the farmville, or town, or whatever it is, and bible verse of the day, etc. Two clicks, and that particular application will never darken my desktop again. What’s the big deal?

    Control issues are going to crop up anywhere there are human beings. Some folks just know, as Oxy Rush put it, “The Way Things Ought To Be.” If you can’t handle that, you don’t need to be on the Web, because it’s pure anarchy here except on your own turf where you can pick and choose the contributors (but not what they have to say).

    MySpace is another story. It’s just too cluttered and kitchey for words. Maybe fifteen year olds have the time, but I’m 65 and have better uses for the remaining years than trying to read dark blue fonts on black backgrounds. If I have to select text in order to read it, it had better be good or I won’t be back. But again…that’s my choice. If your mileage varies, so be it.

    It’s a shame you can’t blog on Facebook; that’s where this belongs. (The one place where they fail to measure up to some of the other social sites.)

    Thanks for a good read.

    Reply
    • Bill, I’m especially pleased that you liked this, since both of the articles I linked to came from you! (You are one of the best “article posters” on my friend list). It really is the Wild West on the web, and I agree with you about what annoys me…in addition to Bible verses, I have several friends who seem perpetually to be posting about the current state of their salvation. If I really believe what I say I believe, however, I need to be tolerant of all solicitations, from Farmville to Churchville.

      I agree with you that this particular piece would do well on Facebook (in fact, it did) but Robert’s right that exclusive Facebook blogging would create a smaller world than I want. I have quite a following among the Grandma set when I write about food (as I am supposed to) and they would never be on Facebook…I don’t think….

      Reply
      • You are right about the tolerance, but having lived in the Deep South practically all my life, I find that my patience, on that issue, wears thin more often than I would like. It’s too bad I don’t believe in reincarnation, because I could use another lifetime or two to work on various character defects.

        One of the first things that drew me to Buddhism is the almost total lack (as far as I’ve seen) of proselytizing. I’ve never been able to figure out whether some folks’ need to display their faith is a case of “look at me,” or “please tell me I’m right and that you agree with me because I’m really scared,” or both, or neither. I only know that it seems unnecessary.

        I’ll not pursue this any farther, because I don’t want to offend anyone.

  3. Ann,

    Facebook seems to be edging out some blogs, filling the need for some writers. Other blogs are flourishing in a parellel way. It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. It has been almost painful to watch new blogs take shape as an afterthought of Facebook, spawned by the built-in support group of ‘friends’. Being a geezer, I think the old school way begets a better product.

    (PS: Looks like you have become quite adept at stealing and imbedding graphics for this particular blog…………)

    Reply
    • As I said above; I think you’re right about Facebook-driven blogs vs. a more organic process of developing a readership.

      I do try not to steal pictures from “real” people; I use stock photos whenever I can find them. I do enjoy the hunt. Obviously it is easier for me to provide the real deal when I’m writing about food I actually cooked.

      Reply
  4. As you so often do, you’ve explained my position regarding Facebook with eloquence and wit.

    I consider myself lucky to know you in both “real life” and online, although I imagine our connection would be much less strong if it weren’t for our regular interaction online.

    Well said.

    Reply
    • Thank you dear. You are absolutely right – I love it when I see you “live,” but since I am a hermit and you are always moving faster than the speed of light, it’s a good thing we have this Facebook thing.

      Reply
  5. I think the quality of the blog has to do with the writer, not the venue. On the other hand, you have a point: watching the result if they added it on FB might be too painful to bear. And, of course, it would be a limited market. You’d be stuck with your friends for an audience…and they with you.

    You’re right. Bad idea.

    Reply
    • Bill, you and Robert live in the same state, and are two of the most astute critical thinkers I don’t actually know. I am having a delightful fantasy in which the two of you meet up and, I don’t know, go fishing and talk philosophy, food, whatever. I would like to be a fly on the boat.

      Reply
  6. Helloeverybody . First Of All good page . I enjoyed reading your through your site.Thought I’d tell ya, I voted your blog up at stumbleupon . Have a good evening

    Reply
  7. I was studying something else about this on another blog. Interesting. Your perspective on it is diametrically opposed to what I read earlier. I am still contemplating over the various points of view, but I’m leaning to a great extent toward yours. And regardless, that’s what is so good about advanced democracy and the marketplace of thoughts on-line.

    Reply

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