Friday, February 27, 2009

Luddite? More Like Sellout

I have this account, now, on Facebook. You might think that’s funny for a confessed luddite. But, its really not that much different than having a blog, accept that Facebook is a bit more interactive (especially when compared to this blog). Although, I admit, I am still faced with the same dilemma with the Facebook account as I was with starting this blog (read the archives). Why? Jesus, I mean, it all seems so goddamn lonely (Don’t cha think?). I imagine all these people out there, sitting before a big screen downloading photographs and trying to create a persona that presents an image to others of who they are. They don’t do this by making connections or even having conversations, it is all about whom they know, or even how many people they know and also how good they can look on a screen (I say “they” and, of course, I mean “I” and “me” amongst “them”).

I feel like an old curmudgeon whenever I start having these thoughts about our modern ways of communication, but it all seems so terribly odd. First of all, I am not the most social person to begin with. I mean, I have some close friends (my cronies) and we have a deep connections to each other that is based on a deep, dare I say, love for one another. I also have a family consisting of my wife and son and a larger family of brothers, sister, mother, father, nieces, nephews, cousins, uncles and aunts (not to forget one remaining grandparent). All these relationships are based upon love and sustained through conversations and face to face meetings. Some of these relationships have some tensions and aren’t always on the best terms, but like most families and friendships you learn to either talk through or around these problems. But, social networking is not my strong point. I am not a good conversationalist at work or in social settings like bars or parties. I have very few close female friends (we can save that conversation for another day). I don’t like to talk about the weather or last nights game with people I don’t feel a connection with – what is the point, I wonder. Sometimes, after much work and exposure, I can find and then develop a relationship with someone who I am in frequent contact with and we will slowly form a friendship that could be considered lasting. The older I get, the harder it has to form these lasting relationships.

Electronic relationships are easier to form, but they are rarely lasting. I happen to have always had a gift for expressing myself on paper or on a screen. I have always found putting words together on paper or on the screen is fun. It’s something I think I am good at and also something that is necessary for my current daytime employment. So, I have developed many relationships over the internet with all types of individuals – male and female – participating in games or on blogs and through email. However, I could not call any of these relationships friendships and neither can I say that any of them have been lasting. Although, they have all been interesting and the best ones were formed within a community that was constantly in flux and changing. These communities were always interesting to watch form and to participate in, but all of these communities ended up either disintegrating or, at least, left to themselves after I became bored with them.

Facebook is different, because many of the “friends” are old and current acquaintances that I once had or am currently nurturing with face to face contact. There are also “friends” (a currently fast growing number) who are listed on my wall who I have only minimal recollection of – from some long distant past, like high school, many metamorphoses ago.

I have also tried to be “friends” with someone I was once close to in the past and striking up a conversation is often difficult and awkward. I have yet, to master the social skills of nurturing these “friendships” on Facebook and am really left with exasperation over whether it is even worth it in many cases. What do you say when someone confirms you as a “friend” or asks to be your “friend?” Do you write on their wall or do you send them a note in their inbox? I have tried both and, I’d like to believe it is not just me, more often then not, this reaching out to someone is met with silence and I am wondering why we both elected to be “friends” in the first place. The successful conversations I have struck up with “friends” on the wall or in the inbox are usually short-lived or abruptly ended because there is no cordial way to end a conversation in email with friends. It is all too business like and the answer to when the conversation is over in an email exchange is something that has and will always elude me, I am afraid.

But, there is still something fascinating about Facebook and I wonder why so many people seem to have placed so much importance upon it. I mean, for Christ’s sake, why? The short answer is that we are all voyeurs and we love to get a glimpse of others’ lives and Facebook not only allows us to do this, but it also allows us to create our own reality TV show on Facebook for others to view us in an image we create for ourselves. We start by finding flattering photos of ourselves and our families. Then we go out and acquire a list of friends. Having a large and eclectic list of friends is an immediate means for showing we are fun and happy with a large contingent of friends at our disposal whenever we need them or come calling. It is all an illusion, of course, and too similar to everything else we have seen on TV or the monitors in front of us.

I am also afraid there is a longer and more complex answer having to do with the loneliness that results from this increasingly electronic world. We witness on TV and Movies what “friends” are and then we go on Facebook and try and recreate what we’ve previously witnessed on the screen, but human relationships are more complex than that and require much more time and effort that can ever be given on a screen “communicating.” Friendships need love and touch and especially conversation with both sides listening. We all know this but yet I think many of us think that we can get this on Facebook. We can’t.

Facebook is not bad and there is a potential for great utility. There truly our many wonderful people from my past who I have forgotten about who I’ve recently reacquainted with on Facebook. I’ve gone out and met a couple of them for beers and really hope that I can keep alive these few reformed friendships by nurturing them with more outings in the future. But, there is still a great loneliness permeating from Facebook that I can not shake. It’s a loneliness at least partly fueled by my inability to get anything lasting out of so many of my so called “friend” listed on my wall. Who are they? I wonder of the majority of them and what do they do? It is also a loneliness that I see whenever I meet real peoples faces as I make my way through my day. A loneliness that I am sure many have tried to cover up with facebook pages they have created for themselves.

Right now I have a list of 47 “friends” on my facebook account and it is a list that is growing. But, my friends know who they are and I see them frequently and we talk. I have never had more than a dozen friends at a time that I would consider close outside of my family. When I die, there will less people at my funeral than listed on my facebook page and that is the way I want it to be, no offense meant to anyone who I may somehow have reached through electronic media.

1 comment:

Richard said...

At our age, 47 friends on Facebook is pretty damn good even if most of them are fake.

My students have been after me to get an account so they can keep in touch with me as they advance through high school, college, and beyond. I supose I should give it some serious thought.

I read every word of what you write, and yes, I'm having some fun with it. But I'm hear for you, man. Don't forget that.