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.

Facebook Makes Us … (Fill In the Blank)

Facebook has become an icon, a symbol for our times. We are lonelier than ever — disconnected from family and friends in offline life — yet at the same time we are more connected online. Various recent articles have suggested that Facebook makes us sick, narcissistic, depressed, lonely, and anxious, partly because of the shallowness of Facebook relationships. But honestly, does anyone consider “liking” a comment an actual relationship? I doubt it.

Facebook is good or bad depending on how you use it. An article in The Atlantic that suggested Facebook makes us lonely used Yvette Vickers, a former Playboy playmate and B-movie star (best known for her role in Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) as an example. Apparently, the actress had been dead for almost a year before anyone realized she was gone. (This is hard for me to believe. Perhaps all her bills were automatically paid out of her bank account every month, but what about taxes? Wouldn’t someone from any of the various tax collecting bureaucracies have noticed her delinquency?)

Still, the story goes that a neighbor found her and was so concerned about Yvette’s ignominious end that she scanned Yvette’s phone records and discovered that the former actress’s last calls were to old fans who found her via Facebook. Ignoring the neighbor’s decided lack of concern for the actress while the woman was alive, what business was it of hers how Yvette spent her last days? What business is it of ours? There is no way of knowing how Yvette felt. Perhaps it made her happy to connect with her past, to remember that she once had a life, to know that she once touched people. Perhaps everyone she knew and loved had died, and she needed to reach out and connect somehow. We don’t know the truth. We can never know another’s truth. The story is only pathetic because of our own fears of ending up alone.

Facebook doesn’t create loneliness. It might exacerbate a loneliness that already exists, (and face it, if we really had full offline lives, would we be spending so much time online?), but it also gives us the opportunity to connect with our past and maybe our future. I know several people who fell in love online, and the connection continues offline even now.

Facebook makes us informed. If it weren’t for Facebook, I would never have seen the above-mentioned articles, hence I would never have known about the deleterious effects of Facebook. Nor would I have seen these incredible before and after photos of Nagasaki.

Facebook makes us humble. You’re feeling thrilled that you sold ten books that day and then someone boasts they sold 10,000. Brings you down a peg, that’s for sure. Is humility such a bad thing? In a world that seems to revere aggrandizement, a bit of modesty is good for one’s soul.

Facebook makes us grateful. Mixed in with all the brags and too-cute animal photos are the heartbreaking posts. People talking about how their chemo is going, sharing their angst at the death of a loved one, giving updates on their hospital stays, telling us about the traumas their children and aged parents are facing. Such posts make us realize that no matter how bad things are for us, someone has it worse.

Facebook makes us aware of community. Or at least that’s the goal of my various groups. In the Suspense/Thriller Writers Group, I’m trying to keep writers focused on the craft of writing, on helping each other attain our writing goals. Perhaps together we can do what each of us can’t do alone.

In other words, Facebook doesn’t make us do anything. We make of it whatever we can.