Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Facebook days: Real life in concentrated form

“Because I don’t care what people had for lunch,” said an acquaintance recently in telling me why he hadn’t joined Facebook.

I had not asked. The people I know who avoid Facebook have my full admiration. I myself once said I wouldn’t join it until I was managing the feat of keeping up with the New York Times seven days a week, but I caved long before reaching that goal. Most days, Facebook is like my virtual water cooler. My work life consists of hours sitting by myself in an empty house writing; Facebook provides the same kind of escapist chit-chat that I used to find from my co-workers when I worked in a regular office full-time.

But sometimes Facebook is weighty, and then too it can be like a day at the office. People do bring their milestone events and news to work, after all, and now the same is true of Facebook. Yesterday, my Facebook news feed covered the gamut in terms of what my friends had to share. One had just bought her first house, a pictureseque little bungalow in Burlington, Vermont. Another had been invited to speak at a prestigious writers’ conference where she once studied as an aspiring novelist; now, with two successful books to her name, she’s invited back to share her expertise. Another was watching her 8-year-old daughter play the first softball game of the season. And another friend posted a photo of her late husband. Yesterday would have been his 44th birthday, and the photo showed him a few years ago with a birthday cake in front of him and both daughters in his lap. I’d seen this same snapshot of a joyful dad with his two adorable children once before: it was part of a slide show montage shown at his wake.

It was one of those days when Facebook felt like real life being run in fast-motion. Ordinary things were going on but with overwhelming speed: accomplishments, losses, celebrations, anxieties. It was upsetting. And yet it was also authentic. By dinnertime, sixty-eight people had clicked “Like” on the photo of my friend’s late husband. Some of them were close enough to her that they would have known it was his birthday even without Facebook, but most of us would not have, including me. This was our chance to acknowledge her loss once again, and I hoped that felt reassuring to her and not invasive.

By the end of the day I felt a little bit overwhelmed by so many people’s different kinds of news, so much more information than I would have been privy to on an ordinary day in the pre-Facebook era. But for those of us who have opted in to this particular virtual universe, this is part of life now. We all share in each other’s news in a kind of super-accelerated realtime. And yes, occasionally there are posts about who’s eating what for lunch. But given the invitation to share people’s news, both good and bad, I’ll accept. We’re all here for each other. We always have been, but this makes it all the more evident, at those very times in life when it’s most important to realize it.

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