Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Picking the Flies Out of Her Teeth: Observing One Friend’s Wild Ride on the Facebook Log Flume

As someone who freely admits that her only reason for being on Facebook is to spy on her children (it was my sole condition for allowing them to join), I take a detached view of the social media that so many of my friends seem to find indispensable. Even though I might describe myself as “Facebook neutral,” I do understand that it’s the only possible way to communicate with my kids on any topic, let alone get a peek at those pictures from the sleepover, find out what time I need to pick them up at the movies, whatever. 

But even such judicious neutrality has its limits, as I recently discovered. Mary Katherine and I were recently visiting with a friend who has steadfastly refused to join Facebook, with the reasoning that she works with crazy people (no, really, they’re institutionalized, not merely whimsical, like the whack-jobs at your office) and the crazies would use Facebook to stalk her. Also, it turned out upon closer questioning, old boyfriends, but if you knew her old boyfriends you wouldn’t judge.

The reason I was asking about Facebook in the first place was that she had missed out on lots of pictures Emma had posted from China. Some of these pictures, especially of the fish market, were well worth missing, but I didn’t want her lose a chance for future Sino-carcass-close-ups, so I told her that Mary Katherine and I would set her up with a Facebook account. She squirmed. She sighed. And finally, she relented. 

And lo, it came to pass. Technology moves very swiftly when a 13-year-old is in charge. We followed our friend’s directive to set up a Facebook page that used only her obscure middle name, not her first, and to scrub all personal data possible. No photo, no birthday, no relationship status. We set the highest levels of privacy, and demonstrated the safety of each feature to her. We told her she could just friend Emma, look at the photos of her year abroad, and leave it at that.

Except she didn’t quite leave it at that. First, she invited her two younger brothers to be her friends, and the result of that misstep was that she received several hundred photos of obese cats within 24 hours, all intended to torment her about the heft of her current pet. Fat cats in outfits, fat cats holding chip bags, fat cats at the gym, whatever. “I didn’t know there were that many pictures of cats in the whole world,” she said, revealing a major gap in her cultural awareness (probably comes from spending all that time trying to help crazy people and not diddling away half her life watching talking kittens on You Tube, but a gap, nonetheless).

After the cat troubles, things quieted down. Every now and again, I shared an article from NPR or the New York Times with her. Sometimes, she would even write back:  Thanks! I smiled to myself, proud that I’d been able to help assist a sane, rational person to make a nice merge onto the Information Superhighway.

And then all hell broke loose. It started on a Sunday morning, when the first new status update I noticed was that someone had tagged her in a picture. Oh my, I thought, this is not within her maximum-security policy. I started to send instructions on how to untag herself, I noticed that her first name, not her middle name, was listed in the tag. Then I checked back and watched the horror unfold – first, a notice that she had a new profile picture, then a statement that she was in a relationship, then a long list of people she’d friended. Well, I thought, you embrace that technology, girlfriend.

And then it all came crashing down. The next week, I received an email from her that sounded, well, desperate:  “Help me.  I want to stop getting people’s posts about what they've eaten or pooped out, etc.  I can't figure out how to do that.” I sent her instructions and received this reply: “Thank you! .I'm seriously getting people’s deep thoughts, play-by-play commentary as they watch a sporting event, shout outs to their husbands (who are probably with them as they post) and food details."

Later (via that old standby, the phone), she told me, “It’s all the adults doing the blabbing!  It’s not your kids or my baby brother or any teen person!” I sighed. Emma had pretty much said the same thing to me, just a month earlier. I had borrowed her laptop in order to access Facebook in China (she has an illegal VPN connection), and one night she’d read over my shoulder while I browsed. “These are the most boring status updates ever!” she declared. “What is WITH you old people?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the messages she was currently reading were the cream of my friend crop. I’d already unsubscribed from several characters who were repeat offenders in my unforgiveable triumvirate:

1) What you ate, are about to eat, or what you’re thinking about eating. (Even worse:  The commenters who add “yum,” or “I’ll be over with a knife and fork,” or – creepiest of all – “My mouth is watering.” 

2) Hypochondria. You just sneezed all over the clean basket of laundry? One word for you, my friend: “Unsubscribe.”

3) Anything with cats.

So, given these stringent rules, Emma was, in fact, reading the Algonquin Round Table of my friends, and still she found it lacking. You should read about the guy who reports on his calorie intake and weight every Monday, I thought. Or the woman who has been getting something, having something, or just getting over something for about a year now. Them, I axed. This, sweetie, is the best and the brightest, after they've taken their menopause hormones and antidepressants, and maybe an Advil for that bunion.

I sympathize with my newly disillusioned-with-Facebook friend. She had such a happy few days there, riding that wild wave of Facebook thrills: “Whee, that’s someone I went to college with!”followed by, “I always liked her in high school,”  before it all devolved. She hasn’t returned to her formerly near-anonymous status, but it’s just a matter of time, I suppose. She’s just one posted-photo-of-dessert away from getting herself an Amish buggie and starting to communicate with quill and parchment. And, really, I can't blame her.

No comments:

Post a Comment