How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Facebook

Everyone is sick of hearing their friends tell them to get on Facebook.

I’ve heard the complaints, recently outlined by New York Times writer Virginia Heffernan in “Facebook Exodus.”

To sum up: Facebook is boring. It’s invasive. It’s a time waster.

myfivethingsAu contraire, says my colleague Mia Navarro. She, too, was not feeling the Facebook love until recently. After her cousin was murdered, Navarro found solace on her cousin’s Facebook page.

I’ve been spared the indignity of being harangued by friends to join Facebook because I became acquainted with the social networking site fairly early – two years ago – when I was invited to join a Facebook group for people with the last name of Trussell.

My first thought: Why? Why would anyone care about people with the same last name? In the past I’d participated in online forums devoted to poetry and cancer support, but what would I have in common with other Trussells? What’s to discuss? The family crest?

Yes, as it turned out. The family crest. And family history. Also misspellings of Trussell. Turns out we’re all related: Trossell, Thrussell, Throssell, Trustle, Thrustle.

There’s even a group for People Who Always Have to Spell Their Names for Other People. Talk about a nebulous connection! (How wrong I was. Today that Facebook group lists over half a million members, and as I write, the last update was an hour ago.)

But the whole thing seemed harmless enough, so I signed up and joined “People
Called Trussell.” And that was that, for a year. Facebook rarely crossed my mind until last summer, after I returned from a writers conference.

The alums were congregating on Facebook. Come on over, they said.

My life has not been the same since.

I was already blogging on WordPress, not so much because I had an itch to write for no pay, but because a literary press was publishing my first (and no doubt only) collection of poetry. If you know anything about literary presses, you know they need all the help they can get.

Underfunded and staffed by volunteers and one lonely editor, literary magazines generally have circulations of 1,000 or less, and you can only be sure that your poem was read by the editor, his mother, and two of her friends. Even the other poets don’t read your poem. They give the mag the “Washington Read.” In other words, they read their own poem to look for typos and, for a moment, bask in the modest glory poets are allowed from time to time, and then shelve the magazine.

So I’d write a post on my WordPress blog, and sometimes I’d put the link on my Facebook wall. Pretty quickly I discovered how an online persona is shaped by the software. On my blog I might address the tough issues facing cancer survivors. Facebook, on the other hand, was where I might post a YouTube clip of, say, The Engineer’s Guide to Cats.

Eventually I began to understand that blogs, Facebook, Google search, Twitter and YouTube all work together. Think of it as one giant machine, like Congress and the lobbyists on K Street. Where does one end and the other begin?

“I don’t have time for Facebook,” a friend protested.

But Facebook, with its privacy controls, adjustable newsfeed and insistence that members use their legal names, saves me more time than it takes. Now I don’t waste time feeling guilty about not staying in touch. Early in the game e-mail seemed like a godsend, didn’t it? But soon it became as tedious as the dreaded Christmas newsletter.

“Just friend me on Facebook,” I say now, and eventually we’ll catch up with each other. The newsfeed will toss me a thing or two.

And – left unsaid, but just as important – will give me plausible deniability. You didn’t see it? someone might say. No, I can reply, it didn’t show up in my newsfeed.

A newsfeed, by the way, contains status reports, photographs and links to everything from a New Yorker article to someone’s time-lapse video of the smoke plumes over Los Angeles. It also includes the comments such items generate by your friends and, depending on how you’ve set your privacy controls, their friends, too. When you’ve got over 200 friends, as I do, much escapes the friend newsfeed.

On Sundays I try to listen to “Trail Mix,” an eclectic folk/blues program on the public radio station in Lawrence, Kan., hosted by Bob McWilliams (or Radiobob, as he’s been known to his worldwide acquaintances).

Bob shows up in my newsfeed, announcing what he’ll soon be playing. I might comment something like: “My favorite Patty Griffin song,” and in two seconds he’s quoting the lyrics: “It’s a mad mission/ Under difficult conditions/ Not everybody makes it/ To the loving cup…” And two seconds later I’m quoting: “Sometimes you find yourself/ flying low at night…”

All while the song is still streaming on my computer.

Naturally, Luddites have issues with Facebook, but then they have issues with electricity, too.

I must admit that I’m not one to do the games and Facebook applications, with one exception. I did join my friends in Living Social – also known as the “five things” app. Thousands of Facebook members did the “Five Movies You Love” and similar lists, such as “Bands You’ve Seen Perform Live” or “Actors You’d Want on Your Side in a Bar Fight.”

But this Facebook application lets you make up your own list, too, such as “Five Things I’m Afraid of For No Good Reason.” (My list of “Five Things That Will Greet Me in Hell” included dead fish eyes and teddy bears dressed up as other animals.)

As for the Facebook complaint that one doesn’t want to know when a friend is eating a ham sandwich, I’d suggest getting some new friends. I never see posts about ham sandwiches in my newsfeed, and I don’t expect to see any unless they’re somehow involved in sculpture or performance art.

Tonight my husband posted a Bob Wills video. A masterpiece, proclaimed one of his Facebook friends (in words that can’t be repeated here). This friend is really my friend, but my husband envied my newsfeed, and so I played matchmaker.

The friend is a fiction teacher I had some 20 years ago. In all that time, I’d exchanged just one brief note with him. Now, every day I see what’s on his mind.

I’m still keeping up with the Trussells. They, too, liven up my newsfeed. Boy oh boy, a Throssell from England posted, did I ever pick the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!

She was probably joking. Or not. For writers, who are born eavesdroppers and storytellers, it doesn’t much matter.

[originally published by Politics Daily in 2009]

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About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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