By Jason Menard
So, are you my friend? Am I yours? Am I an acquaintance? A colleague? An enemy? An annoyance? An inspiration? We all know what the people around us mean to us, but unfortunately Facebook has forced us to paint everyone with the same brush — diminishing some, elevating others without merit, and cheapening the concept of “friend” through our own compliance.
Facebook is about community at heart – and it’s filling a void we may not have even known we had. As we continue down this technological path with all its rewards and potential, the tolls have been paid by increased isolation. How often do we send an e-mail instead of picking up the phone? At work, how frequently do six-hour e-mail back-and-forth conversations replace what would have been a five-minute face-to-face chat? Our interactions are largely through a screen – and the genius of Facebook is reconnecting us to our communities through the medium of choice.
Of course, just because we live in a community doesn’t mean we have to like ALL of our neighbours.
I have co-workers, both past and present, some of whom I consider friends, others who are acquaintances. There are schoolmates – again, some of whom I consider friends, others who were passing acquaintances (and, of course, there are those people who I thought I recognized, but ended up having no relationship with!) Sure, friend could work in some of these cases, but what about the rest?
I have had the honour of meeting a number of people over the years who, whether they know it or not, have had a profound and inspirational impact on me. Through their own talents and dedication, they push me to do better, to be better. “Friend” just doesn’t fit for those people on Facebook that I admire, the people who inspire me, the people who, whether they know it or not, have played key roles in me becoming the person I am today. Where’s the classification for that?
And what about those who have meant so much to me at various points of my life? Yes, it’s true, I’ve never been good at keeping in touch. But that fact doesn’t diminish what these people meant to me at the time. Again, they helped me become who I am today.
That’s what’s Facebook’s good for. It’s a way to reconnect with people from my past. Sure, in large part, I don’t care about one’s FarmVille or Mafia Wars updates, but I don’t spew the vitriol that some do against these games (in fact, I never understood why peopel get angry. Just turn off the notification. It’s easy). If these games make you happy, then go ahead. I’m sure my hobbies would probably annoy some of you too! And generally, I read with varying degrees of interest the day-to-day minutiae of people’s lives — some posts are captivating, others are forgotten as soon as their read. I’m sure my posts are met with the same degree of apathy by most. We post because we want to share our experiences, to connect. But we’re not just connecting to the present. Most importantly, our posts serve as tethers to our past. Today’s post may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things; yesterday’s memories do.
On the flip side, Facebook can bring out the worst in people. It feeds the needy, attention-starved, narcissistic desires of those who are perpetually stuck in a high school-esque drama of their own creation. It allows them to perpetuate a reality wherein they are the victims of an oppressive world, obviously created by whichever deity in which you believe to serve as a Hell on Earth.
From the plaintive, but out-of-context, “sighs” posted on wall, to the various permutations of “Oh, I can’t believe this happened to me,” or “Why do I bother,” these comments are designed nothing more than to elicit nothing more than the well-meaning, but enabling, responses from other “friends.” And then, of course, comes the cat-and-mouse teasing out of the whole story, which is followed by the initial intended result – the reaffirming platitudes.
Seriously, if I ever do that. Shoot me. Both on Facebook and in real life.
Spit it out, say what you want, and stop being coy. It’s pathetic. In addition, we only see one side of the story. Certain people use Facebook to spread gossip, start rumours, and distort the truth. I have one “friend” who is, well, how can I put this nicely… The Least Self-Aware Person Ever to Exist (I was going to say Hypocritical Douchebag, but I really don’t like the word douchebag.) She is constantly put upon. She is constantly distorting the truth – unfortunately effectively – both in real-life and on-line. And she loves to play the victim whilst, in reality, is actually the victimizer. She is a user to the nth degree, but is completely unaware of that fact. Well, let me change that. I would hope she’s completely unaware of it — otherwise, she’s an even worse person than I think. Unfortunately, we allowed ourselves to be used. Why? Pity, mainly. But eventually the capital raised by that is exhausted. Especially when it becomes apparent that the cause for the pitiful situation is rooted in selfishness. Alas, the ties that bind mean this person’s still in our lives.
But don’t we all have these people: the hypocrites, the desperate, the sullen (in her case the Bat-Shit Crazy?) Back during my Gazette days I had the pleasure of having lunch with Gwynne Dyer and we started talking about the Internet, which was still very much in its infancy. I mentioned that there seems to be way more wackos out there on the Internet. Mr. Dyer responded, ever so succinctly, but eloquently, “There aren’t more wackos out there. It’s just now they’ve got a forum to share their craziness.”
Is that what we have on Facebook? A forum for the crazy, the narcissistic, and the obtuse to rage against whichever machine is allegedly oppressing them? Is it a forum where old friends can strengthen the bonds that have frayed by time? Maybe it’s a way to engage in a form of voyeurism and exhibitionism? Likely, it’s a bit of all the above.
I know I’m no innocent. I’m likely guilty of some of the above. In my youth, I was an ass. I was sarcastic, biting, and very insensitive. I made jokes that I shouldn’t have. I spoke without truly considering the feelings of others. And for that, I’m sorry. If you knew me at 15, 20, 25, you only knew part of me – and, I hope, not the best part.
I’d like to think that life changes you. You grow, you mature, you become more understanding. You learn to appreciate people for who they are. You learn to appreciate who you are. In my early 20s, I thought I had it all figured out. In my 30s, I’ve learned that I didn’t know squat in my 20s. I recently had an on-line conversation with an old high school friend of mine (she fits into the paragraph about the writers I admire and make me want to be better…) and we both agreed that it takes until your 30s until we finally are comfortable with who we are. Of course, talk to me in 10 years, I may say, “Mid-to-late-30s Jay was a moron.”
But I know that 16 to 25-year-old Jay was a moron. Not intentionally, I just needed to grow.
Pain, and seeing someone you love suffer from it as well, wizen you quickly. And the natural passage of time helps too. You learn what’s important, what’s not, and you learn to leave the fake drama behind. There’s enough real drama out there – why manufacture more? And I’m happy to see that the majority of people who are my “friends” on Facebook have done the same. They’ve matured, they seem more accepting. They’ve left high school behind. Others are still stuck in some Gossip Girl/90210 world of their own creation (personally, I’d rather be stuck in some Charmed world of my own creation, but that’s again alluding to my continuing infatuation with Alyssa Milano. My apologies.)
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t read someone posting how it would be better to just walk away from Facebook. But that’s allowing the negative to overwhelm the positive. Yes, living your life entirely on Facebook would be bad. Restricting your interactions to an electronic medium isn’t healthy. But there is a valuable balance to be struck.
I guess it all comes down to the value you get out of Facebook. For me, it’s keeping in touch with friends who, in the not-too-distant past would have been lost forever. It’s learning from others’ experiences as they share them on their walls, etc. It’s about remembering the past (and, hopefully, learning from it). It’s about retaining a piece of who you were and understanding how it made you who you are. In the end, the good in Facebook outweighs the bad.
I just wish we didn’t have to paint everyone with the same “friend” brush.