Thursday, August 30, 2018

I Almost Love Facebook

These days, “I love Facebook” sounds almost like, “I love Big Brother.” I'm close, though. I use Facebook, and I think that, on balance, the experience is positive.

I try to limit my time these days, the time every day that I spend just poking around on Facebook. The volume of new items appearing in one's feed cannot be challenged directly, and it would be difficult for a casual user to prioritize it. The only way to control the input is to keep the number of “Friends” down to a reasonable figure, like one hundred, but that's a hard resolution to keep.

There are entire categories of people for whom I will automatically accept a Friend request. Staff at my university, both office and teaching; people whom I have worked with over the decades, especially people from a job that I liked and where we all actually hung out together; people from the neighborhood in New York where I grew up. Or actual friends of mine, that goes without saying. It all gets out of hand quickly. I think I'm up to almost four hundred by now.

Politics almost ruins the entire experience, but most of us seem to have realized that it's important to take every opportunity to keep your mouth shut. When your friend from the old days posts something along the lines of, “God bless President Trump!”, just let it go. Don't say anything. Don't even leave any emoji. Just make the sign of the cross and mumble to yourself, “Via con Dios.” There's nothing that you can do to change anyone's mind at this point. And when the Second Civil War breaks out in fire and flame, you don't want your name appearing on the wrong lists. People are watching. Facebook itself will be providing the death lists, for a profit.

People are so sensitive to political issues in the Age of Trump that one must take care not to get into a muss with one's own friends and political allies. I happen to think that Kellyanne Conway does a very impressive job of appearing on TV and defending Trump, trying to spin the awful things that he says in some positive direction, trying to find some dignity in his daily mud-slinging rock-fight of a presidency, trying to obscure the damage from stupid things that he has said and done in the last few days. It's an almost impossible job, and yet she manages to make a very good show of it. Oh, but God forbid I should mention on Facebook that I note with displeasure how good she is at her job! It all gets personal quickly, and some people transfer their hatred for Kellyanne to me. People that I don't even know are calling me names. People that I know, friends that I love, friends that I still sometimes see in person, even they judge me harshly, as though I were defending Hitler or something. People are touchy; people are on-edge. I don't blame them; I am on-edge myself. I guess that I need to be more careful.

I love getting the birthday notifications, though. Isn't that great? I say “Happy Birthday!” to everybody, and if I really know them at all I say some little thing, and if I know them well I always try to say something really nice. I love it when people do that on my birthday, and I'm pretty sure that other people like it too.

Facebook is the only thing that is providing some of my Facebook Friends with any sense of community at all these days. They lead isolated lives in states where they have no long-established connection. We're getting older, some of us, and forging new bonds of friendship might be more difficult than it once was. Some of us walk a financial tightrope every month to keep body and soul together. America does not make that easy, and even the best laid plans of youth can fail to protect Americans from financial ruin when it is too late to really do anything about it. (Although I'm sure that there are seventy-year-olds now studying coding in a desperate attempt to get a real income.) I like to offer encouragement where I can, and at least remind some old friends that I still remember them fondly and value their friendship. I have Facebook Friends that are up against it, frankly, and a few of them are very depressed about it, or maybe depressed in general. I know what that feels like, and I try to put in my cheerful two-cents whenever I can in the desperate belief that every little bit might count. If someone sees the darkness in me and says something encouraging in a message, I cry for happiness, it's true, and sometimes it's enough to turn a day around.

Facebook can be annoying, and using Facebook hurts your privacy interests, but maybe there is some good in it. The price is right! At least they don't charge us for the privilege of mining our personal data and predilections.

I guess I'll be seeing you there, at least for the foreseeable future.

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