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When I was finishing up my degree in Human Development at the University of Houston and working as an intern at The Center for AIDS, The Executive Director of that entity approached me one morning and announced that The Center now had a Facebook page and could I please like and follow. I understood the words “like” and “follow” in terms of general use, so I stood up, ready to walk in the necessary direction. I was a current college student, so it must have come as a surprise to this director I had no idea what she was talking about. I was 52 years old, with a kid in middle school, and I earnestly thought I would have to follow her to where ever this book might be and admire it for the sake of my employment and appearance of general cooperativeness.
It should not have been such a shock to her though, because she had, at the start of my stint there, sent me to “assess” the viability of a computer class the Center wished to endorse as a resource for advancing the skills necessary for their clients (and mature, clueless student interns) to gain employment. I was somewhat computer ignorant and knew I was lacking in the kind of knowledge my fellow classmates took for granted. I learned a lot from participating in that program and came back with a glowing recommendation and a passable proficiency in computer basics. I am still grateful to this day for that advantageous bit of kindness. But, at the time, in addition to my lack of tech know-how, I had also never heard of Facebook.
After recovering from that momentary jolt, she showed me her phone with the Facebook app and walked me through getting a Facebook account. I was thrilled. It was so cool. My first connection was with The Center for AIDS page, which I liked and followed. I took to the app right away and played with it for the rest of the afternoon, when I should have been working on other things. As I began, from that day forward, to add names and organizations to my Facebook collection, I delighted in seeing what everyone was up to. It was fun back then to look for people with whom I did not have regular contact. Now I have 268 friends on my Facebook page. And if it weren’t for them, I would have catapulted this intrusive piece of trash into the stratosphere by now.
As a child, when we moved, I lost touch with many of my friends. Those who had the time and wanted to keep up wrote letters! Yes, and mailed them through the United States Postal Service. Letter writing was a lot of work, so I only exchanged news with a few people. There was also the phone. When I was a kid, my parents frowned on making long-distance calls as they added to the phone bill. Communication was time-consuming and perhaps costly, so one had to be more discerning about how many pals could logistically be kept in the loop. That limit meant it was easy to loose contact with friends left behind in other cities, even when I moved again in early adulthood.
Enter the era of laptops and cell phones. I’ve always been somewhat behind the curve when acquiring new technology, but even I managed to get a home computer and one of those cute little Nokia phones when these were all the rage. Updating my communication devices probably lags behind the progress of the general public, but I manage to struggle forward from time to time. My Facebook usage grew as I updated my phones and computers and gained a bit of savviness with each new device. I learned to take pictures and post them on Facebook for all to see. In my computer class, I had learned what a link was and how to copy/paste them just about anywhere in order to pass good info along to others via my Facebook page.
In 2017, Houston experienced a massive flood following a three-day hurricane, which blasted the city and caused my husband and I to flee our home. Facebook was the means by which I could keep in touch with my fellow flooded, and with out-of-town friends and relatives looking to see if we were ok. We were! Out of our house for a week, I was able to keep up with loads of people with my usual outdated phone and this commendable social app. I was so grateful for its constant comfort. Shortly after the flood, I upgraded to an already outdated phone model when vendors were looking to clear out their inventory by holding post-flood sales for all the poor folks who had lost their only communication devices in the rising deluge. I eagerly transferred my Facebook app onto this leftover, back-of-the-shelf, nicely discounted phone.
After my disaster-related stress began to subside with the surplus dowsing, I found myself to be a technological as well as personal witness to the wreckage of our fair city. It was heartbreaking. I was overwhelmed all over again by the sheer magnitude of local woes. Once back in our unscathed home, with the electricity restored, I could watch the results of all that traumatic damage on the news or I could turn it off. But, I found I couldn’t stop looking at Facebook, where I saw both local catastrophic consequences of the storm and far away ambivalence. I couldn’t feel happy for so and so’s new car purchase or other celebratory divulgence when my neighbors were literally dragging the walls out of their houses and depositing them on the curb. I had a hard time reconciling these two worlds showing up in the same place.
It can be said at that point, that my gleeful Facebook admiration began to ebb like air from a slow-leaking tire. Eight months after the Harvey disaster, when many homes and businesses had still not been restored, my husband and I made the move to Asheville. Once again, Facebook connections proved to be monumentally important to me. It was a joy to be able to stay a post away from the friends and family we left behind. And I still love that ability to look at Facebook and see what people are doing. If only that was all that I was seeing. It now appears as if a genuine evolution has occurred in that place of community. It’s currently being held hostage.
My vexation with Facebook began growing when I started writing this blog. I intended to post it on the page to share with friends near and far. I will admit my own incompetence in this matter. I started my blog with a .net address, which FB refused to recognize as legit. When I noticed all the crap that Facebook was allowing on their site, the indignancy grew. Memes about everything. Memes about nothing. Hateful garbage and (I’ll admit it) hilarious stupid stuff. I contacted Facebook to take issue. I realized that Facebook is run by a nameless (and faceless!) borg. I never received any communication from their team of cyber shitheads in response to my inquiries. My bitterness mellowed a bit after I changed my site to a .com and FB finally accepted its presence on their sainted website. With the result of them upping the amount of annoying offal cramming my Facebook feed.
I’d rather hear about the drama of your contentious divorce (I approve of community venting) or your recent forays into Buddhism (and your training as a lama) than be subjected to the same mindless memes 268 times a day. The Borg has taken over our brains by the ever-present “Suggested for You” offerings or drivel from some bothersome page we follow, which pop up not only on my feed, but on all my friends’ pages as well. I understand their convenience. I get their appeal–I can say what I feel with just the touch of a key! The sharing of such tells me nothing about your daily drama or weekly happiness. I spend time each day clicking that X on anything suggested for me to share because I know someone in my list of friends will lackadaisically post that crap instead of sharing a personal moment. So be it. I won’t unfriend them, but I might judge their laziness and lack of creativity. I’ll still love them though as I realize sometimes people have better things to do than write about their personal lives on Facebook.
Then there are the ads. Though pervasive, their presence is understandable since this level of madness must be monetarily supported in some way. I just ask my friends and family to please stop liking Costco and Taco Bell for the sake of my sanity. Facebook has simply joined the blitzkrieg of plugola invading our privacy and taking over every minute of our lives. If I look for a toaster oven online, I’ll get several ads from companies who sell toaster ovens on my Facebook feed. By that time, I’ve already purchased a toaster oven, so what is the purpose of presenting me with more possibilities to buy a toaster oven unless it is to simply drive me over the edge until I end up with seven toaster ovens. I feel like Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds, relentlessly hunted by malevolent beings. Except there’s really no place to hide.
Some of my friends have opted out of Facebook altogether. This makes me sad. I have a message from the Dalai Lama I wish them to see, in a meme I reposted via another friend, which could really enhance their quality of life if only they could see it on Facebook. I’m not there yet. But, it’s only a matter of time before I morph into a component of the Borg–a dedicated liker of fast food franchises and monotonous memes, a disembodied follower of the Toaster Oven Club or a habitual poster of flat-earther messages from around the world. I admit it’s getting weird in there, but I’m not quite ready to give up knowing when my friend has her baby in Oregon or how much it’s snowing in Maine. I can’t be there in person for everyone and everything I care about, so Facebook has me locked in until some genius liberates us all by inventing something Facebook used to be (but better) and we all jump ship for the newest social app. It’s bound to happen. Someone please post a celebratory meme when it does!
Insert Be-Yourself meme here,
I’m glad someone else appreciates Facebook. And I’m sorry I didn’t see this sooner. I never got the email. I need my friends that are on FB. I love that you are on FB. It’s late… and time to sleep We avoided a flood. We didn’t get copious amounts of rain but we prepared. See you online.