Wednesday, December 12, 2012
A Need for Real
"I'll be your friend!" the saleslady says.
"4,077!" the girl happily replies.
It's so easy these days, isn't it?
I remember reading somewhere that we are lucky in life if we find one real, true friend. I have over 300 friends on Facebook. At any given moment, I could log into the site and find some way to engage with another soul ‘out there.' There’s always someone to chat with, or a post I can offer some witty comment on, which will then generate a flurry of more comments that reading and responding to could easily be allowed to occupy my time for the better part of an evening.
With the exception of an occasional announcement or sharing a blog link, and of course the Fiber Goddi page created for my knitting group, I have pretty much disengaged from the Facebook community. It just, somehow, became too much.
“How can you live without Facebook?” a friend asked, wide-eyed and shaking her head. There was a time when I would have felt the same way if someone had told me they were pulling back. But I guess, for me, the novelty has just worn off. I’ve reached a point where I need to like things in real life. I shudder to think of time I’ve wasted scrolling through endless newsfeeds; the childishness of some of the discussions I’ve spent time and energy engaging in; and of course, the grand Pooh-Bah of social networking gestures – deleting/blocking those who offend me in some way.
But the most embarrassing and possibly grandest blunder that I fell victim to and have watched so many others succumb to as well is the bizarre need to offer unsolicited advice about living on a near continuous basis via wise and insightful status updates. My initial reasons for doing this were not without merit – I wanted to use the site to promote my art and writing. In other words, I had something to sell. I even took a course on using social networking to promote creative works. Image, image, image; it was all about the image. Always post something positive; be a guiding light; make people smile with your words. If they like you, they’ll want to buy what you are selling. They’ll want to be in your club. They’ll want a piece of your world.
And it worked. During the time I was very active on Facebook, I had a surge of art sales and more blog hits than ever before. But the truth I finally realized is who on this earth can honestly make the claim that they know more about living than someone else? We know how to live our own lives, based on our own values and our own experiences, but do we have any right to tell someone who has not asked that they are doing it wrong? I don’t think so. Although people enjoyed my posts and often shared them, liked them, and/or commented on them, there was no small amount of pretention on my part for believing I was somehow responsible for and/or capable of bestowing knowledge onto other folks. Perhaps I have some insight to offer - everyone does to some extent - but it is highly unlikely I needed to offer it to 300+ people on a daily basis.
“Facebook is my connection to the world,” another friend says. “If that site closed down, my entire social circle would crumble because all my old friends are in different places these days. It’s the only way we can keep up. I can let them all know something at once, it’s so much easier than before!” I refrained from suggesting that she make the effort to cultivate new friendships where she is living now. I also refrained from telling her that I still find time to write letters by hand to my oldest friends, find time to mail them and even time to pick up the phone on occasion and make a call. I have come to believe that while social networking might have a viable place in society, it often displaces by making it oh-so-easy to sacrifice the intimacy of close friendships with a few people for the ease of communicating simultaneously with dozens and dozens of people. What might take time, effort, and energy to have done before – maintain friendships despite being busy; miles apart; or in new phases of life – is reduced to a simple 'comment' that can keep hundreds of our closest friends up to date about our lives.We are able maintain cool online personas, cultivate new friendships and maintain old ones without having to put any real, actual effort into it. We can be social without actually making the effort to be social. In the virtual communication world, we can hide so much, because there is no body language, no eye contact. We are in complete control of how close people can get. We can control who sees what of our lives and how much of it they see. We can be friends with our friends' friends, friends with our frenemies, even friends with our friends’ frenemies.
I, for one, am not so sure.
I have come to realize that while social networking has a place in most of our lives, perhaps we should consider how big of a space it is allowed to occupy. I want what is real. I need what is real. I do not want my friends to see me as a wisdom-spouting profile pic, but actually see me, even if in means seeing me in my home, wearing my weekend uniform of yoga pants and tank top, spreading peanut butter onto toast and talking about my simple little dream of buying enough acres of land to graze a few sheep and maybe have a big garden with a trellis for honeysuckle vines and a gazebo someone built for me by hand. I want to see a real person when I am talking, to use my voice, to laugh out loud and someone hear it, to look into my friends’ eyes when we speak, to know that I am the focus of their attention, not wonder if they are really present in our conversation or are simultaneously conversing with 5 other people. I want to actually host people at my home, to use my fancy wine glasses and new patio furniture. When I have good news, I want to call someone and share it with them, so they might know how special they are by my taking time to connect instead of making a blanket statement in a status update and hoping they see it. When I make a really cool display outside the wall of my classroom (while my son sits in the hall and completes his homework for the entire week, hooray!!), I want to share my picture of the scene with people who actually know me and will smile at what I created because they know I miss Northern winters. I want a real, actual letter to curl up in bed with and read on a cold evening, and I want to write a real letter in response to it, on colorful stationary to be mailed in an envelope with floral swirls. I want a phone call from a friend, not a wall post from a near-stranger, wishing me Happy Birthday. I want to enjoy events without feeling compelled to step out of the event in order to post on Facebook that I am participating in the event, which will lead to my constantly being taken out of the event by a flurry of comments asking about the event.
Most importantly, I want to simply live my life, in the best way I know how to live my life, without any need to tell others how I am living my life or how they should be living thier lives. I am no longer willing to sacrifice intimacy of deep commucation for the ease of constant communication. Is it necessary to tell 300+ people all at once that my son lost a tooth or that I am pursuing a new certification so that I can teach in a different subject area? No. I only need to tell the ones who truly, actually care about us what is happening in our lives. And I need to take the time, effort and energy to do this properly, because I have come to realize it's always worth it. I believe the connections we make to others are what define who we become. We are born into a family, but our friendships are completely of our choosing. They take some degree of work to cultivate and maintain. They can be messy. They can ebb and flow as we grow in different directions. They can bring us joy and hurt, they can teach us things about life and about ourselves that we might not have learned any other way. And they exist and continue with or without the element of social networking thrown in.
They have to.
Otherwise, one might begin to wonder if they ever existed at all.