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Shadows of conversations and the depth of Facebook

For some time now, I have been composing a post all about how Facebook taught me about forgiveness and moving on.  It has, and I will get to that part.  Then, today, a friend pointed out a post of hers that had taken on a life of its own in the comments section.  The original post was a picture of Gabby Douglas receiving her gold medal and talking about how she gives the glory to God and he rains blessings on her juxtaposed with a starving Haitian child.

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I am not going to touch this with a ten-foot pole, except to say that it sparked one of the most caring, intelligent, thought-provoking, and courteous debates I have ever read.  Anywhere.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This exercise in civility and diplomacy, in sharing and respectfully disagreeing at points, was on Facebook

Facebook has been maligned as a “time-suck” (it is), a stalker’s tool (yes, probably true, too), and a sophisticated domestic spying machine (be careful what you put on there, folks.  My posts probably bore the hell out of the CIA if they are reading.  Though I would like to think they chuckle here or there or are somewhat invested in my kids’ lives by now).  The criticism I have read most of Facebook and her evil stepsister Twitter is that they are debasing human interaction and language itself.  People are sending fewer emails now (mailed letter, what’s that?) and communication is boiling down to liking someone’s one-liner status update.  I have a friend who has tried to leave Facebook before and reluctantly – the teeth-gnashing, heel-dragging sort of reluctance – come back because her friends simply won’t send an email.  They plan all of their events through Facebook.  She is stuck there.

Is this really what we’ve come to as a society?  A quick like = friendship?  Sure that happens.  And I have a pile of emails and letters/cards I have been meaning to send for ages, but it doesn’t stop me from hopping on Facebook and telling that same person their son or daughter’s picture is “so cute!” and assuming that buys me another day or week on my real correspondence.  In fact, I recently named my draft email folder “where good intentions come to die” and I am pondering declaring email bankruptcy and starting anew.

Of course, that’s not the whole story of Facebook.  Like most things, including that picture up there, there are many ways to look at it.  The problem is, the perspective I am about to share isn’t the one that makes juicy headlines.  In this reality television- dominated world people want to hear about the woman who left her family after reconnecting with her high school flame or friends ripped apart by the Chik-Fil-A battle, as though it were the next civil war.  Maybe those type of interactions or even just the superficial, banal ones are the norm.  But, we can make it more than that, better than that.

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I’m about to get all Pollyanna on you

Several months ago, a few people from high school added me as friends on Facebook.  Yes, I know, this happens every day.  But, for me, this didn’t happen every day.  I hadn’t spoken to them in more than 15 years and I never thought I would again.  More importantly, I never thought I wanted to again.  Ever.

See, it was a case of hurt feelings.  A stale, moldy, should-have-had-closure-through-therapy, overgrown case of hurt feelings.  Each of these women meant something huge to me at the time.  And their departures from my life were entwined with feelings of betrayal, hurt, and self-loathing.  To be fair, I was my own worst enemy at the time.  But, the severances still tore and tugged and ached like a phantom limb.  When they added me, I sat on it a while.  All those old feelings surfaced and I knew I needed to shed that old skin for good.  So, when I felt moderately neutral about it, I added them all.  It was the best choice I ever could have made.

Now, I get to see them for who they are, not who I thought they were.  I see their kids, their passions, the little moments that make their lives beautiful.  I never needed to have a “closure” conversation with them because seeing the present made me see the past for exactly what it is – over.  Facebook, or what I saw through it, instantly sapped these terrible stories I told myself about my teenage years of any power.  Granted, I have been working on my issues for 16 years in one form or another, but I wasn’t able to fully mend until I learned to forgive.  Through Facebook.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is something seriously dangerous about limiting our interactions to clicks and likes and one-liners.  I think what troubles people about Facebook is that it is essentially the shadow of the conversation we want to have with people we care about or like.  But, who has time to have that kind of interaction with 200/500/700 people every day?  If you see the shadow for what it is and occasionally look up past it to what is responsible for it, Facebook can be an incredibly powerful tool for connecting.  I learned many things today in the discussion about the picture up top from people primarily in another country.  Odds on that happening in my offline life on any given day are slim.  So, today I salute you, Facebook, and I thank you.  But, tomorrow, I expect to see more of the general “I hate Monday” triteness you are famous for.

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6 comments on “Shadows of conversations and the depth of Facebook

  1. Kasey, this is great. Facebook is rather a contradiction: it is one of the worst websites I have ever been on. And yet it has been one of the best. I have reconnected with friends and family in a way that I never thought possible. Sure I get irritated with vapid status updates and political firestorms, but overall Facebook has also taught me a lot of positives about the need for connection and communication.

    • Thanks, Sara! It is a contradiction. I hate the way people use it to have politically inflammatory “discourse” that amounts to little more than people standing on opposite sides of the street screaming at each other. But, I love that I have developed a deeper appreciation for those in my life because I see what is so wonderful in theirs. And it is great for keeping up with family as well. I am trying to make a concerted effort, though, to follow up with those near and dear to me in deeper, more meaningful ways. I guess FB is like a great ice-breaker, but sometimes you need to go past that.

  2. I’ve found Facebook to be far more positive than negative for me. I’ve connected with long-lost friends, kept in touch with relatives I’d probably not be in contact with otherwise, and yes, participated in some amazing discussions. *And* I’ve seen lots of silly, trite and disturbing stuff too… but that’s life, right?

    • Kristi, you are exactly right. Life is full of silly, trite and disturbing things and we would encounter them whether we were on Facebook or not. I think FB is just a good holding pen for those kinds of things because of the sheer volume of people on it. I encounter more people on FB in a given day than I do in my offline life, probably because I work from the safety of my backyard. 😉 Like you, though, I have found it to be such a positive experience. I love it.

  3. What a nice and thoughtful post (I write this after first checking my FB to see if anyone commented on the pics I posted of my kids this morning…) Seriously, FB can be a total time sucker and I’ve had the high school people who want to be FB friends now (where we friends then??) but overall I think it’s a cool way to keep up with people. I don’t post a million status updates nor do the people I have kept as FB friends. And the ones who post too much just get deleted from my timeline or even, yes…unfriended. I also don’t hold big conversations on FB, I do prefer that in person, on the phone or even personal email which takes on a special intimacy in these FB times. Always love to read your posts. 🙂

    • Thanks, Rita! I actually just got myself sucked into the Twitterverse and have found that, despite all my preconceptions, I like it. There is a huge group of writers supporting writers on there. It all sort of amazes me. But, I am now going to be placing limits on my time on any social media so I can tend to those closest to me.

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