So How Are We All Feeling about Facebook These Days?

May 17th, 2010

I’m conflicted.  You?

I knew about Facebook really early on because it originated at Harvard and my niece started using the intercollegiate version of it.  My sense was that it was a cooler and more intimate version of the then-much-bigger MySpace, but I didn’t really know much more than that.  I wasn’t that interested–what’s better than basic email?–but when my last novel was coming out, I was encouraged by my publishers to increase my online presence so I set up accounts on both MySpace and Facebook.

No relevancy to this post, but isn't it a great picture?

Pretty quickly I discovered that MySpace was only useful if a) I wanted to hear about other people promoting their books, music, businesses, etc. or c) pay for a dating service.  (It took me a while to realize all the cute guys contacting me because I was “hot” for a woman my age were just trying to con me to into joining one of these services.  Luckily for me, I never believe anyone who claims to find me remotely attractive, so I was skeptical from the start.)  I haven’t visited MySpace in two years.

Facebook was a different story.  At first, I was tentative, businesslike.  Then gradually I discovered the fun of posting silly, fun status updates.  “You haul 15 tons and what DO you get?” netted me a bunch of responses.  I did get a few readers asking to friend me over time, but most of the people on my friends list are, in fact, real-life friends or relatives or relatives of friends or friends of relatives.

The really wonderful part came when a few women I’d loved but lost touch with over the years found me on Facebook and suddenly I was getting to “chat” every day with people I really liked and enjoyed.  The pleasure of that hasn’t faded: I often find myself writing a message to them in my head, describing whatever activity or horror I’m going through that day, knowing I’ll be listened to, heard, understood and sympathized with.

And yet . . .  and yet . . .  I’m feeling a little jaded about Facebook too.  For one thing, the combination of professional connections and personal ones is just weird.  I made some joke about a urinary tract infection in a comment stream and later thought, “Oops–hope no one who doesn’t know me well read that one.”  It’s so easy to forget that strangers can read everything too.

I’ve always felt uneasy about how much of my personal life I should reveal in public: I write non-fiction essays about my family for the autism books and for magazines and newspapers sometimes, but I try hard not to say anything that my kids (or husband) will resent me for later.  I’m very aware when I’m writing something formal like a book that strangers will be reading them, but I forget that that’s true about Facebook too, especially since the people who tend to respond the most are my good friends.  A lot of people read without responding so it’s easy to forget they’re out there.

And then there’s all the political, religious, economic, etc. differences among people.  When you’re with a friend, you try to steer clear of any conversations where you know you won’t agree (or at least those of us who hate confrontation do).  But I’ve had several awkward moments on Facebook where people I like have blithely written things that have upset me deeply–and I’ve probably done the same to them.  And sometimes I wonder whether revealing too many of my beliefs and leanings will only cost me readers–that some will turn away in disgust and not read my novels anymore–in which case this whole “online presence” thing will ultimately bite me in the ass.  So I try to avoid anything even remotely controversial but that seems cowardly.

All in all, I’m getting a bit weary of Facebook.  And wary of it.  But I still love the people I’ve reconnected with through it and I’m not willing to give up our moments of connection–or the hope that maybe I’ll find more of them out there.  So far, I’m still checking it regularly (too regularly).  How’s everyone else feeling about it?

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