Sunday, March 24, 2013

Facing the Facebook Scenario

Recently someone I haven’t seen in almost forty years requested that I “friend” him. We were quite close as teenagers, especially in our last year of school, then I lost track of him. He stayed in my hometown. I went to college and grew my hair. I lost track of many people in the five or six years after high school, and, to tell you the truth, Facebook has been a boon for me in terms of reconnecting with folks I haven’t seen in decades. Friends and lovers and then the friends of friends of friends of lovers from all over the world busy on their computers finding out what happened. What happened to you? Where have you been? What are you doing now? What do you think?


Wow. The fact that I’m old enough to think in terms of multiple groupings of ten-year spans is a little overwhelming. There’s a great gift in this, right? Suddenly this episodic life full of moves and different groupings of friends has found a place, even if it’s “virtual”, that gifts me with the presence of representatives of every one of those episodes.  People from my college years are writing short blurbs and blats to people who are inseparable from my identity as an artist. How does this happen? Mostly they get along. Mostly. But back to the scenario:

It starts out okay. We greet each other enthusiastically. We reminisce. He is a terrible speller, but then, so am I at times when I don’t check and recheck (and even then, I miss embarrassing words. Its and It’s anyone? sheesh!). Then comes the bomb. 

Now, I have Facebook friends who have views that are diametrically opposed to mine.  I am not the kind of guy who automatically de-friends or blocks someone who finds their way on to my friends list and is, say, vehemently anti-abortion. My mother had an illegal abortion in the years before she married my father. She told me this story tearfully. One of the only times I ever saw her cry. How could I be anything BUT pro-choice? Then there are those whose Christian ejaculations on Facebook are rather frequent. I am a committed and radical agnostic. But, especially recently, I have made a commitment to keep as wide a range of Facebook friends as possible. I can scroll past anything that is not to my liking. Easy. Or I can engage in a little debate if I wish. Debate can be good for my own thinking, and for my writing. Why not? If we can start and end respectfully, don’t call names or let the sarcasm get too completely out of hand, we can go on and find areas, even surprisingly, where we agree and can celebrate that agreement.

That’s not to say I haven’t blocked or de-friended. When I first started on Facebook I was almost immediately appalled at what people posted and what they would say to one another. I quickly, out of the excitement for the new medium, gathered a bunch of people to my list, friends of friends and acquaintances that I didn’t know well. But I had different expectations. I offended many of them by speaking my mind. I had this idea that people there would automatically agree with my passions and my politics. Boy was I surprised!

This has been a recurring theme in my life. I remember attending my first poetry workshop. I was a callow twenty year old writing my first poems and presenting them for the first time to people in a rather large group of academics (my first creative writing teacher encouraged me to come) mixed with Sylvia Plath wanna-bes and post beatnik beatniks. I was appalled then too. There were, alas, a fare share of assholes. Can I use that word? But I had expected a great loving gathering of writers interested in inner and outer peace. Instead we were to quibble about rhyme and the use of repetition, with passive-aggressive snubs being the most commonly employed tool for conflict resolution. Like I said, I had unrealistic expectations. Which begs the question: who was really the asshole? Still, I went, again and again. Which brings me back to my first try at Facebook: within a month or two I decided to de-friend and block almost everyone who had been drawn magnetically, magically, to my friend list and started, quite slowly, all over again. I think I got the hang of it after that.

I have, however, encouraged people to de-friend me. I remember one situation in which a person sought me out for “friending”. We had been childhood classmates, never what I would call friends. We graduated from the same school. Our initial greetings on Facebook were enthusiastic. After a few weeks she posted a plea under a rather mainstream news article I had posted to “PLEASE STOP PUTTING POLITICS ON MY (her) PAGE!!!!!!”  I was nonplussed. I had to do little about this incident however. My son and his wife leapt upon her overly capitalized post with all the vehemence and snarling of mama bears (I wasn’t aware of how closely my bodyguards travel to me) and all I had to do was politely encourage her to de-friend me if she wanted no news of the world aside from saccharine pictures of soon-to-be extinct animals in completely anthropomorphized photographs. She did. De-friend me. I am sure we are both happier for it.

That being said the other reasons I have blocked, temporarily or permanently, members of my disparate and global little circle of friends, have been the following: 1) Constant name calling in political discussions 2.) Overly enthusiastic and numerous political campaign stances for any side. 3) Obvious and constant unchecked insanity. Other than that I am willing to be entertained by almost anything anyone wants to post. It’s better than TV, which I haven’t watched in decades. It’s a relatively free world. Mindfully speaking. I like knowing where other people stand on it. And on Facebook, as in the world, everyone has a different idea about what is meaningful enough to talk about, to represent and to be passionate enough to share.

But back to my old friend, and our original scenario: I could not continue to argue with him. His spelling and rationale and rants were so close to those of the people I work with in my work as a psychiatric social worker I could only wonder what happened to him. What went wrong? How did you end up where you are from where you started? You were bright and laughed often and valued friendship and connection regardless of, or perhaps because of, differences. I could not block. I just wanted to know what happened.

So I asked. What happened to you?

He hasn’t answered yet. Maybe I’ve been blocked.

This article originally appeared in the spring 2013 issue of "The Compass, A Mental Health Magazine"

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