About ten years ago when I first joined Facebook it was a rather quaint place that felt like a virtual town square. I reconnected with people from high school and New York City whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to since the 1980s. It was all “hey, what’s up!” and fluff. But then more people started joining. Some of it was painful and triggering.
There was a mutual friend but not yet added to my own friends list who, in 1985, had attempted to assault me in an elevator. I saw that he had written a public post that was an apology written to anyone he had hurt in the past. I sent him a message. I reminded him about what had happened. He was drunk at the time so didn’t remember but apologized. He shared more about his past, specifically how horrifying his home life was. His mother died of a heart attack while trying to run from his father who was chasing her with intent to harm. What was very important for me is that I was able to forgive and let go of my anger about his contribution to my PTSD.
There was another mutual friend, this one a guy who was in the same elevator as the man above. The reason why the assault wasn’t successful is because he stopped it. I wanted to thank him! Finally after all these years! But tragically he had never stopped drinking or drugging. His posts were sometimes from his phone while he was sleeping on the streets in a psychotic state. He was in and out of jail (and back in now). I didn’t feel safe reaching out to him, but prayed for his well being and sobriety.
The people who were friends, real friends, we brought it offline by talking on the phone or emailing.
Then the awkward friend requests started coming in from people like the ex-boyfriend from college with the Bon Jovi hair (then) that all these years later STILL had the Bon Jovi hair. (Ok, there’s more to it, but not for a post.)
Not everyone accepted my friend request, like my father, with whom I am close. He joined Facebook and had maybe three friends. I don’t think he knew how to use it.
Some years ago when I was developing recipes from the Depression era I made a humble vegetable loaf that sparked outrage from people who normally are quiet. “No one should eat that!” Everyone had an opinion. I was amused, not hurt. Facebook had that entertainment value I once cherished.
Anyway, Facebook was transitioning from fun catch-up, healing old wounds and good ol’ people watching online to something more involved and dangerous. Dangerous is accurate. Our time is to be cherished, not squandered. The fun was over and the following began:
I felt obligated to “like” what my friends posted. People started posting memes in place of anything substantive. I discovered I had little in common with many of my “friends”. I saw some very dark sides of people, and what made it worse is that they were showing it off for the attention. An example is the college friend who posted a pic of the chipmunk he had intentionally drowned, or the husband of a friend who also posted a dead chipmunk because HAHAHHA look what the cat brought it. The politics, vitriol, outrage and incessant commentary on the news was forthcoming from the majority on my list. The privacy concerns and exposed manipulation by Facebook was becoming more publicized.
At some point some friends started posting that if people on their friends list didn’t post their outrage about (insert issue) then their silence was compliance and you aren’t a friend.
As obnoxious as that all was, I didn’t want to lose touch with everyone. Quitting Facebook would be like going off the social grid because Facebook has a monopoly and hold on where and what is holding people’s attention. That reality alone is a wake-up call!
Early in June this year I was done with having authentic angst over virtual toxicity. I have a blood pressure monitor at home and I noticed it would spike when I was on Facebook. I had enough.
The way I see it is that Facebook is a bad neighborhood. There are some nice people hanging out there but it’s all in the confines of a for-profit entity with nefarious intentions. I will not meet up with good friends in bad neighborhoods, whether real, virtual or metaphorical. And if those “friends” vaporize when the computer or app is turned off, then they are not friends.
For the past three months I have felt free but also frightened by the realization of how much time I invested in it. I was talking with someone yesterday who mentioned that he isn’t on Facebook and never had an account. He still uses a mobile flip phone that he had to special order. He seems like a very happy, well-adjusted man without a shortage of friends.
“I respect your resistance,” I said. The reality is that had he said that to me a few years ago I would have thought maybe there was something wrong with him and that he was missing out! He was and I wish I had missed out on it, too.
All I have is today and I’m going to make the most of it!