Late had I loved thee. You came into existence after I had graduated from college. Like text messaging and smartphones, you did not color my high school and undergraduate social experiences. My generation was the last before The Fall, and all after us will call you “Friend” from cradle to grave.
Facebook, there are reasons to love you. You plan events, you consolidate communication, you keep me connected with people I actually like in a world of disconnect and exile. You can be so much fun.
But Facebook, I have one small problem: I didn’t think you would usher in a whole new era of social awkwardness, an oppressive regime of social-media-dictatorship resulting in relational stress like no other. The rules have never been put forward for us, and the expectations we all carry are so varied. I have rekindled a few old friendships and have had the opportunity for fun, spur-of-the-moment communication with the people I already see frequently. But when it comes to everyone else, you’ve just made it weird.
That person that I talked to that one time who I thought I would see again and get to be friends with? I never saw them again. That girl I met at that get-together at that person’s house? Sometimes her invite lingers in my inbox. Usually mine lingers in hers. What does her invite mean? What does she think mine means? And generally speaking, how many times do I need to meet a person in real life before we are friends enough to be “Friends”?
“But it’s not a big deal”, I say to myself. I click a button. But the voice in the back of my mind protests: “But it actually is a big deal, isn’t it?” I used to only have one voice in my head. Thanks, Facebook.
Once the insanity of this “friending” process is finally dealt with, abject horror hits me fresh every time. Should I comment on their posts? Should I “like” things they say? Sometimes I run into the person later and they look at me like I’m crazy as if to say, “You commented?” Sometimes they look at me with creepy, over-the-top kindness and appreciation as if to say, “You commented!” I m never sure whether these comments are making me a new best friend or a new pariah, and the stress of these encounters is ever-present.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, there are those who continue to post awkward, mildly insulting comments and updates. The guy from college who is so painfully sarcastic, the girl who feels she should correct my every grammar mistake, the friend of my parents who adds those cringe-inducing old people remarks – do I just endure it forever? Should I eventually “unfriend” those I never see or who make things difficult?
And if I do, what happens if I actually meet them in the real world? The other day I ran into someone, and I couldn’t remember if I had unfriended them or if they had unfriended me. All I know is that they acted like I had hit their dog with my car. It was a terrifying encounter. This never used to happen to me.
The stress of guessing why people do the things they do has always plagued us. But Facebook, you compound the issue. Like the interest on a bad loan, the debt is never finally paid. Stretching this hacky metaphor further: You, Facebook, are like a bad credit card that we are all secretly ashamed to have signed up for. And now we’re stuck, and we need the “credit”: the attention, the voice, the sense of connection. Like all addictions, if it didn’t fill the hole a bit, we would never keep coming back. We would gladly shred the card in a second, but it buys us the things we need. And like all addictions, we’re willing to wade through the demeaning and dehumanizing just to get our fix.
If we’re paying attention, we’ll be forced to examine and sort through the mess that our fallenness and brokenness causes in our shoddy attempts at connection with others. The presence of social awkwardness (rooted in our deep loneliness and fear of rejection) is perhaps one of the most constant and present ways we are made to face this in our lives. The evils of mind and heart, the deep hypocrisies and inauthenticities in our spirits, our judgmental nature, our avoidance of anything and everything that might bring about real intimacy – all of it is stirred up and brought to the surface. We’re reminded of this sickness we carry, that sin truly does cause separation, and that for some reason – despite the countless opportunities for connection a digital age affords – loving others deeply and authentically is hard. We are still lonely and broken, and still in need of redemption. We still need One who can heal us, One who can find us without us having to dance the proper circles and jump through the proper hoops. One who never really cared that much about our Facebook pages in the first place.
I guess, Facebook, when I signed up for this, I wasn’t really looking for another mirror to my own brokenness masquerading as a replacement for my MySpace page. I just wanted to keep track of old friends, not come face to face with my selfish insecurities once again. I guess I wanted an escape, not a lesson in my own imperfections. Thanks, Facebook. Thank a lot.
Facebook, is it possible for you to do something about this? I’m starting to get a sense that you laugh at our silliness behind our backs. Or is it just me? Am I assuming too much? I still have no idea.
Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne.