The eternal class reunion: The guilty pleasure of online social networking
“The past is the past for a reason,” Sam said when I became defensive about my new weapon of mass procrastination. At this point in our ongoing Is Facebook Valuable or Just Ridiculous debate, I was ashamed enough to hide my activity by inconspicuously slamming my laptop shut each time he entered the room. Lacking a solid defense of the social-networking website—and having decided that my Internet presence was plentiful enough—I deactivated my account shortly after I joined. I then mounted my high horse and began a smear campaign.
I called it Fakebook and, like Madeline did to the tiger at the zoo, I pooh-poohed anyone who admitted involvement. I turned my nose up at cyber snow globes and snowball fights and good karma. I guffawed at poking—I generally never guffaw at poking—and rolled my eyes when certain ladies of book club tried to pass it off as a work tool. Riiight. More like a pretend-to-work tool. I sniffed at the sad habit of collecting ex-lovers, those people who shine brightest as a memory but instead come to occupy real estate as smiling thumbnails, babies wrapped in their arms. See how happy he is that he didn’t choose me? I’m so happy for him!
But when you point the finger, there are always three others pointing back at you. Did Jesus say that? Or was it Hippocrates? Either way, one could be blind from birth and still see where this is going. It’s a good thing I’m ravenous for humble pie.
Wishing to track down a certain someone (not an ex), I answered the siren call of Facebook beckoning me back. In no time, I became practically Pavlovian upon seeing “1 friend request” up in the right-hand corner. The anticipation was like Christmas morning each time, even if my growing group of friends consisted mainly of people with whom I work or with whom I drink after work or with whom I drink while bemoaning the trials of parenting and work.
Things were going swimmingly until I logged on one day to find my friend tally was down by one. Some so-called friend hovered their cursor and—pfffft!—excised me. I was instantly offended. How rude! I thought. How could they? And then, What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me? And finally, I don’t even know which friend de-friended me. I’m pretty sure I moved through all five stages of grief on the day my friend count dropped from 67 to 66.
Perhaps I’m not only a closeted Facebook hater, but a narcissist as well: Researchers at the University of Georgia have found a correlation between egomania and the slickness of the profile picture, the number of friends and the number of wall posts an individual has. Certainly, double-digit friend count is not winning me any popularity contests, and there are only a few scribbles my wall. But I’m also not posting any photos of myself snapped after a night of sake-induced vomiting, either. Call me solipsistic, but I am not putting that photo up.
The sting of rejection faded and while I haven’t found the person I reactivated for, I’ve been gathering friends from present and past. Some of my Flickr peeps and blog readers have followed me to Facebook, and my self-declared “#1 Fan” sought me out there, too (blush). I even feel semi-important to my writer idols (Mr. Morford, is that a banana in your pocket or…). And while I find the application useful in a (casual) professional capacity, I’ve derived many-a smile from forehead-slapping connections with people who disappeared from my life because—that’s life.
I found two girlfriends with whom I spent a holiday season wrapping gifts at a department store. At 18, we spent most of our money on deeply discounted clothes and cheap beer, memories dormant until I saw their dazzling faces on my computer. Friends from the wild summer of ’89 are doing their thing, collectively and individually, and it’s been fun to reminisce. Sneaking into the Salt Lake Country Club for a midnight skinny-dip was a fleshy blur (I think cops were involved at the end), and the fact that I now reside amongst college woo-hooers is obvious karma for the endless party on Emerson Avenue.
But all in all—and here’s where I alienate any potential friends—there’s a Chevy Chase Grand Canyon vibe to the rekindling. Like the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation, when the Griswalds peer out across the desert expanse for all of four bouncing seconds before bolting, on Facebook you do the 20-year recap and then—?
Opinions about Facebook abound, and mine are still mixed because, let’s face it, it’s weird! I know someone who was friend requested by a dead woman. Someone else I know—in real life—read and re-read a comment by one of his friends who up and died mere hours after updating his status, his static page offering the eerie possibility of future posts. And no matter how we resist it, those six narrow degrees of separation may inevitably lead us back to the proverbial Mr. Big, who is in the past because that is the only place he belongs. No happy profile picture will ever make you feel better about that ending.
As my best friend, a social-networking holdout said, voicing an anti-Facebook smugness more pointed than mine, “If you’re not in my life now, why would I want you to be there on Facebook? I already put you out once.” The Value Debate rages on with her input. But she’ll see soon enough: I learned during book club that she finally caved to the siren’s cry, too. After hearing familiar deactivation threats, I told her I’d better receive a friend request by 3 p.m. the next day or It. Is. Over.
I logged in 30 minutes later and, what do you know, but I saw those blue words that have me hooked: “1 friend request.”
(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)