For the next three weeks, I’ll be writing about the mystifying entity known as Facebook.
I am slow in catching up and catching on to the nuances of the Tome of Countenances. When I came into adulthood, home computers were just starting to be used. Our first home computer was the size of a VW Beetle, took a half hour to “warm-up,” and printed on those long sheets with holes on either side. For work, I had to learn my tech skills on the fly with what seemed like an unending series of new equipment, and I had to learn in the middle of teaching, mothering, and wifely duties. Although many folks my age engage with social media networks, I didn’t have time to play on Facebook before my pause year.
Learning about Facebook has has been quite humbling, because my understanding has come slowly and through purposeful reflection. I hit my first moment of discomfort with my first attempt to become a cool mom Facebooker in 2012. I threw a few pictures on the account and then stopped checking it within a couple of weeks. Why? Because I didn’t like Facebook.
When I set up my profile, FB asked me all of these questions. What movies did I listen to? Which Bands? What stores did I shop in? What did I read? I answered all of these questions, thinking that Facebook was doing a demographic study or something. I didn’t know that I was actually “liking,” all of these things, and that “liking,” meant I had now entered into a relationship with every person involved in my “likes.”
When I opened my Facebook page, messages from Gwen Stefani and Willie Nelson popped up. Professor McGonnagle and Hagrid from the Harry Potter gang dropped to say hi a couple of times a week. This freaked me out. I didn’t know how I had invited myself to have a relationship with any of these folks, and I didn’t know how to stop it. I took the messages left on my feed quite literally, like they were emails to which I should respond.
Then there were my Facebook friends. I only had a few, but they were always asking me to “like” something or “share” something. After getting all of these unwanted messages from random celebrities that I didn’t want, I was terrified that liking had unseen consequences. Would I sign myself onto a petition drive for ending free school lunch or something horrifying like that?
Again, I took the messages I got quite literally, and feared hurting the feelings of every single person who asked me to do something. My liberal friends wanted me to boycott a department store with a conservative owner. My conservative friends wanted me to join a clean fiction fan club or the Tea Party. I didn’t want to take any of these extreme measures. I’d put off responding in any way, thinking that any moment I’d run into someone in the grocery store and they’d say, “By the way, just what is your problem with the Tea Party?” Facebook was too much pressure, so I stopped looking.
In the blogging course I took while preparing to start this blog, I was advised to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account, so I went back to Facebook. Now I have messages on my feed from all those I have “liked” and I also have messages that all 89 of my friends have liked.
Now, after just a few months of regular viewing, I know that much of what’s featured on Facebook is advertisement, and my friends don’t care if I like every one of their posts. I certainly don’t have time to think about whether all 89 of my friends like every one of my posts, either. Facebook is, for the most part, mindless fluff, and I’ve accepted that “liking” in this virtual format is not the same as actual, “liking.” On Facebook, saying you like something costs nothing. And I suppose that was part of my early anxiety with the format.
My mindset about the word “like,” implied something completely sincere. It took time to recognize that virtual admiration was an opaque version of real affection, just as relationships on social networks can be viewed as relationships on the half shell if they aren’t backed by actual interaction with the humans behind their posts.
I’ll keep my Facebook page, because it is a good way to view family photos and hear updates from those I love. However, I give the fish eye to all posts that reek of product placement. I know Facebook has to get their revenue from somewhere, but that doesn’t mean I have to get sucked in to it. I know that Facebook is full of subliminal messages that I’m not even consciously aware of, and I feel happy to limit my time on the format. Oh, and I’ll keep on looking for a way to break up with Professor McGonnagle. I like her, but I don’t “like,” her.
What surprises you about Facebook? What concerns you about Facebook?