The Things You Won’t See on Facebook
My activity on Facebook could be described as prolific. I update my status at least once a day with anecdotes about my life, I post pictures of places I’ve been and weird sights I’ve seen, and I share 50% of George Takei’s memes. I have a few things categorized as my “favorites,” and the abridged version of my CV. When I’m approaching a design or writing deadline, everybody knows it, and when my roommate and I exchange witty banter, everybody knows it. I admit it at parties with old friends, shrugging sheepishly with eyes averted: “Yes, I am very prolific on Facebook.” For a long time, I refused to write about my relationship with Facebook, because it seems like such a petty thing, right? And god forbid I should write about Facebook on WordPress; it’s like putting milk in your gin.
When I was a first-year college student, it was a huge deal when Facebook finally had a network for my alma mater. A huge deal. My roommate signed me up, and then used her access to my account to create a secret gag album called “Boys that Make My Butter Melt,” a delicious geek fest of Star Trek characters and ancient philosophers with supersexycaptions. It’s still in cyberspace somewhere. In the year that followed, I started dating a guy and as soon as we were official, the relationship status update went live. And by the next morning, a young woman who I thought was my friend had blocked me on the Facebooks. It was so painfully obvious that this had something to do with my new relationship.
After several months of the silent treatment from my former friend, and observing her flirt with my then-boyfriend in social settings, I finally sent her a card asking if I had hurt her, telling her I was sorry if there was some way she felt I had betrayed her, asking to talk. Two nights later she approached me in the school cafeteria with a big hug and asked me to get coffee with her. I still remember exactly watching her steep her rooibos tea, and walking through slushy January snow with her back to campus afterward. In short, I learned that night that Facebook is kind of a big deal. Sure, social scientists observe astutely that it is indeed a facet–and a big one at that–of our discourse. It is both mode and content of much of our communication. It seemed so simple and abstract to make that relationship official on Facebook: click a couple buttons, hit confirm, and I had a boyfriend. Super. We argued later about taking down the relationship status, letting the relationship exist and grow outside of cyberspace, but it remained. But that abstract declaration had feelings attached, more feelings than even then-boyfriend and I had anticipated. It had our feelings for each other, the friend’s feelings for then-boyfriend, and my feelings for a lost friendship. It was, in fact, something to protect, as Cara Joyner recently wrote on Relevant. Joyner says,
When my son crawls into my lap, he doesn’t want me to take his picture and shoot it across Facebook. He doesn’t care who else thinks I have a cute kid. He just wants me to hold him and see him. To feel his soft, chunky arms and to focus on the way his eyelashes move when he blinks. . .
Not every great moment needs to be shared. In fact, some of the best times are most enjoyed privately. If we suspend the present in an attempt to capture its beauty in 140 characters or less, we sacrifice our experience of the moment itself. We also rob each other of something that has been lost in our digital age—keeping a handful of memories between us and those we are closest to, or even just between us and God.
Looking back to my early days with Facebook and the ways that coincided with my college dating life, I realize I did a terrible job protecting what was special, most of us did. We would flirt, and ask people out, we would beg our baby to take us back, declare undying love, post pictures of making out or going out or coming out. But it’s true, not all moments need to be shared on the interwebs, as great as they are. Once we share them in a public forum, we lose control of them. I gifted my mum and dad a poem I had presented at a literary conference a few years back. I gave them the final draft that some day I might get my act together and submit for publication. She asked to record me reading it. I told her, “You can’t post this on Facebook or e-mail it to your friends. It’s a final draft, and if it’s published the journal should have First American Rights. It can’t already have been publicly accessible.” That was my pragmatist way of saying, this is special, Mom. This is my gift to you. Only you. And nobody else gets to click the “share” button. Only me.
But haven’t we developed the culturally pervasive fear that if there is no “share” or “comment” or “like” button, then that area of our life doesn’t exist within a social context? If we don’t post our weekly pregnancy picture, the baby’s growth stalls? If no one “likes” my New Boyfriend! announcement, they disapprove and it’s about to get all Romeo+Juliet up in here? If I don’t tell people I’m eating at Applebee’s, I can’t possibly be eating at Applebees. Sure, not everything needs to be shared, but does not sharing them online imply that they aren’t worth sharing? Hell no. Some moments need to be shared, intimately, quietly, privately. They don’t need to be kept a secret, but they also don’t need to be reincarnated in pixels and glowing lights. Like Joyner watching her child drift to sleep in her lap, like me playing mermaid-pirates with my nieces, or talking with my boyfriend, reading a poem for my parents, or comforting a friend. These happen. Look, I admitted all of them in this blog. And the world can know that I have these relationships. I might even tell people about some of these special moments. But these moments are mine, mine and theirs. They have feelings attached, and histories, and commitments that no one else gets to take part in. And you know what, these moments are the most worth sharing, the most “likeable,” and most real. So you won’t see them here.