What a weird universe is Facebook. A carefully curated place of likes and dislikes, chosen images and words, contrasted with the most stream of consciousness, walking down the street and thought I’d share it with you kind of randomness. It’s Look at my band, Look at my kid, Look at me in a bikini, Let me tell you what I think about the Middle East. It’s profound, ridiculous, sentimental, political, existential. Nothing and everything. Art and commerce. Hit and miss.
My new parent status dovetailed with my embrace of social networking, and I wonder sometimes what life with young children would be like without Facebook. In some of the darker and duller moments of parenting, connecting with people online was the most I could hope for. And, some days, it was much more satisfying than the awkward playground chatter that so often left me underwhelmed.
My kids have enriched my life in ways I can’t list, but I’ve also felt a loss since becoming a parent. I’ve felt sucked dry of the brain space I used to engage to think about art and culture; a lack of intellectual or creative spark I’ve traded in for the rewards of raising rugrats. I’m almost embarrassed to say it, but Facebook has helped to fill this space again. I’ve craved a way to read and write and discuss, and Facebook has given me an unexpected community of people who feel the same way.
I used to think it was odd or embarrassing when people constantly posted pictures or details about their kids with so little self-awareness. Or, for example, when they’d post their sonogram pictures . I would internally rant, sounding like Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes: “What ever happened to intimacy or privacy?”
Recently a relative of mine lost her newborn son and posted the details on Facebook. It seems like such an intimate thing shared in such an unprivate way. But it made so much sense for her and her husband and their community, who embraced her posts about the loss with prayers, love and beautiful support. It was really moving! And it made me realize that there is no inappropriate etiquette in this evolving social media land. Just as in real life, Facebook and Twitter can be messy, awkward and jarring, as well as helpful, connecting and surprising.
In his “Facebook Sonnet,” recently published in The New Yorker, Sherman Alexie describes Facebook as a bizarre repository of lonely people typing away toward recreating their childhoods. Here’s a sample verse:
“Welcome to the endless high school
Reunion. Welcome to past friends
And lovers, however cruel or kind.”
I think Sherman Alexie must have just joined Facebook and he’s having that initial freakout people have when faced with the oddness and inanity of seeing names from deep in our histories. Plus he’s a busy (and famous) novelist, screenwriter and poet, so he probably hates himself for wasting time hanging out there. Maybe he’ll get over it. Clearly its giving him material.
Facebook is like a giant bar, where everyone you know is hanging out. Some folks are always there. Some are noncommittal. Some you haven’t seen for 20 years and don’t necessarily need to talk to. You can initiate conversations, chime in to others or get cornered by someone who wants to talk about their juice fast or show you a million pictures of their new couch. But usually you have a good time, realize it was good to get out, and remember that the world is made up mostly of people who want to connect. And if the reality of our lives means it has to happen in front of a keyboard, I just can’t get bent out of shape about that. I’ll take what I can get.