This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Getting Out of Touch With Facebook

            Facebook lured me into its clutches about this time last year, and for a while it was fun.
            At the beginning I made a decision to ask a handful of close friends to be my friend; after that, I concluded, I would accept new friends as they approached me but wouldn’t reach out to anyone else. It was decidedly ego-gratifying  in the first couple of months to check in every day and see who from my past might friend me.
            Even in those early days there were some ominous signs. I quickly ran up a respectable list of friends from people I went to college with, people I knew in Rotary, people I knew in business, and even a couple of actual friends. In several cases there were regrets in short order.
            Some people, it quickly became apparent, have no ability to self-edit. The folks in this group became so intoxicated by their online presence that they literally put up everything that was happening in their lives, or so it seemed. About the only restraint they showed was not putting up a post when they went to the bathroom.
            Pretty quickly the same three to five people began to dominate the daily news feed. They were like the crashing bore at a party who grabs you by the arm, starts ranting about some obsession, and won’t let go as you frantically try to formulate an exit strategy. The saving grace of Facebook is that it at least provides you with a way out: Just keep scrolling.
            I had the opposite problem. I rarely wanted to put anything up on Facebook because I kept thinking, “Who cares about this?” (And to answer the obvious question, I have that feeling about this column, too, from time to time. The difference is that the column requires at least some small degree of effort, imagination, reflection and research, so in the end I’m willing to put it out — some days more confidently than others.)
            After a while it wasn’t just the usual suspects who were beginning to wear thin — it was almost everybody. Nearly every time I checked Facebook, I found myself going through all the posts without finding even one that grabbed my interest. That’s not much of a return for the effort; even a crappy newspaper has three or four articles a day you want to read.
            On Christmas Day I got an e-mail from Judy, an old college friend of ours who isn’t a friend on Facebook. She lives a thousand miles away, but mentioned that she would be in the Bay Area between Christmas and New Year’s. We quickly arranged a meeting.
            One morning Linda and Nick and I met with Judy at the Silver Spur café near Santa Cruz for breakfast. For an hour and a half we caught up, talked about some of the common issues we’re facing, and Judy, who’s a pilot, talked to Nick, who’s taking flying lessons, about planes and aviation. In other words, we really connected.
            Facebook is here to stay and it has its uses, but to me it’s largely dissatisfying. I suspect that a lot of the people who really love it are the same people who love large parties with lots of people, where you can flit from group to group and person to person picking up snippets and making casual comments of your own, but never really getting into anything in real depth. For myself, I’d rather sit across a table from a friend or two or three and just talk for a long time, with the phone and computer turned off.