Facebook is No Longer my Happy Place (May 18, 2010)

Facebook

I am often the last to jump on any new technology bandwagon. In fact I sat out most of the 90s – no pagers, AOL or the first onslaught of the DVD entertainment format for me. As I enjoyed a prolonged era of landlines, freedom from wireless communications and good old VHS tapes, I figured I had all I needed. If anyone wanted to talk me that badly, well they could just wait until I got home.

And yet look at the Crackberry addicted, constantly stimulated mess I have become. I watch almost all my TV via the wonders of commercial-free DVR. I blog, I Twitter (for work anyway), and I cannot seem to drag myself away from my PC for any longer than 30 straight minutes without fearing, deep in my bones, that I am missing important intelligence. Lindsay Lohan is unleashing her drunken fury on Cannes people!

One phenomenon I was eager to sign up for right away, in 2006, was my own Facebook profile. You may be thinking to yourself, “old news Boop, so what?” Well lambs, I will tell you. Facebook opened a whole new world for me – reconnecting with people I literally hadn’t thought of in years, folks I presumed had passed out of my life like the proverbial ship. Social networking in this fashion has been an invaluable gift.

So too has been the much discussed Facebook status. Twitter fans may hate me for saying this, but I look at “tweets” as little more than the red headed, second cousin of the groundbreaking status. In nearly as many characters as I want, I begin each day with a little dose of artistic expression (or complaint). I have come to rely on this as sort of a litmus test reflection of where I am in that moment of history. Periodically I revisit my old status updates and it’s like catching up with an old friend – only it’s me. For me, it is journaling in microcosm.

It may sound like a paradox, but I would argue that I am never more “myself,” with such a keen sense of abandon, a flagrant departure from worrying about how I’ll be received, than I am when I update my status each morning. Before I have given myself time to wipe the sleep from my eyes, I shoot from the hip and see what comes out. Need it even be said that oftentimes, my status update contains one or more of the following: not-safe-for-work language, hangover laments, or declarations of opinion about “alternative” issues (being purposely vague there)? I do have some Facebook friends that I often hope will avert their eyes – for example the parents of school mates – but in general I trust my Facebook community to know me and look the other way.

It is often said, by now a cliché, that “everyone is on Facebook.” This appears to be true, and the phenomenon has gone global. I have pals in England, Germany, Israel, and very recently, India.

It is inside the boundaries of this last ancient land that my current predicament lies. For you see, I received an email from my in-laws yesterday afternoon that instantly froze the blood in my veins. Mummy and Papa are about to go viral and start a Facebook account.

Shit.

I have viewed the Book as the one place, outside the confines of this blog, where I do not have to censor myself. That is all about to come to a crashing halt. Because here is the conundrum of Facebook etiquette: one has the absolute freedom to decline or accept any friend request, but as we all know, the psychological costs of doing so can be too much to bear. This got me thinking: am I really as free on the Book as I think I am?

My in-laws are well aware that I am not mainstream. They are aware of it as I say, but that doesn’t mean they want to actively think about it. From the safety of Mumbai, I can be comfortably viewed as a loving and supportive wife (which I am), without the other R-rated fun that makes me a unique brand of wingnut. That delicate balance is about to come crashing down. How do I get them to understand that befriending me through social networking will ultimately make all of us less happy?

So now instead of enjoying my footloose and fancy free Facebook joie de vivre, I am considering the possibility of edits. I cannot tell you people how many hours “scrubbing” my profile might take. It’s not like I am a porn star or gangster, but I am cringing already at the high volume of drunken photos, ex-boyfriend pictorials and inappropriate commentary they will encounter. And yes, to answer your pertinent and preemptory questions, I WILL hear about it. Yet I cannot decline to befriend them. They would be crushed and I truly do love my in-laws. So what to do?

With one email sentence, I feel like I fell from the sky, confronted with the possibility of acting as my own thought police. This is not an appetizing prospect. It’s enough to make me wish it were 1996 again. I am going to retreat into the fetal position clutching my Steel Magnolias video.

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