Putting a Good Face on Facebook

Apparently, this is Facebook Week on Bertram’s Blog. This is the fifth in a series of posts I’ve written while trying to make sense of the clamor called Facebook. If you’ve read any of the previous posts (Why Facebook is Not the Great Promotional Tool It Once Was, Feeding the Facebook Beast, Trying to Be Heard Above the Facebook Noise, Unfriending Facebook Un-Friends), you might think I hate Facebook. The truth is, I am fascinated by the site. What I don’t like is how I’ve used it, in the beginning by sending friend requests to strangers and then later by accepting all friend requests indiscriminately and now having to fix the unwieldy mess by unfriending those who don’t engage with me. (I worry about offending people, but truly, if they have 5,000 friends, will they even notice I am gone?)

In a perfect world, being connected to what amounts to the entire population of a small town should create book sales, but it doesn’t. Just like with any town, most people you’re connected to don’t know who you are. I once lived in a town with a population of five thousand people, and after living there a couple of years, there were only a few people who even knew my name.

Being connected to so many thousands of people should create a community of people who are truly connected to each other, supporting each other through good times and bad, but it doesn’t. In fact, FB often works to isolate people. If you’ve lost your spouse, for example, seeing a constant stream of anniversary announcements, photos of happy couples, and travel plans for romantic getaways makes you feel even more isolated than you already do.

Being connected to so many people should help dispel loneliness, but it doesn’t. For the most part, facebook is about being upbeat, about bragging of all the good things that come your way, (one person’s “sharing” is another person’s “bragging”), about putting on a good face. (Well, of course. It is Facebook, after all.) But if your life isn’t going great, if you’re experiencing loss or failure, then you feel doubly alone.

Still, Facebook is a microcosm of life (though to be honest it more often resembles the worst of high school). Voltaire wrote, “Each player must accept the cards life deals him or her, but once they are in hand, he or she alone must decide how to play the cards in order to win the game.”

Like life, Facebook deals out a lot of cards everyone rails against, such as adding features we don’t want and taking away features we do. If we stay on the site, we have to accept those “cards,” but it is our choice how to play them. Like life, we reap the effects of bad choices made on Facebook (such as my indiscriminate “friending”). Like life, we have to deal with knowing we have unintentionally hurt some people. (Such as the guy who blocked me because I said something he took to be an insult, when the comment had nothing to do with him and everything to do with my philosophy of writing. See? High school.) Like life, we have to take responsibility for moments of tactlessness, and either repair the damage or take our lumps and move on. No matter how much we want everyone to like us, there will always be those who don’t.

But . . . and this is the key. Our life is our life to do with as we wish within certain parameters, and our Facebook is our Facebook to do with as we wish within the site’s parameters. With life, we have to decide what game we are playing so we know how to play our cards. With Facebook, we also have to decide what we want with the site and play our hand accordingly.

And me — I’m still trying to figure out what the game is, both with life and Facebook.