Posted by: thewearyprofessor | March 28, 2013

Okay, Deep Down We’re All Brothers—But Friends?

One of the many writing-related jobs I have is teaching composition and literature at a community college. My students have ranged in age from 18 to 76 (a personal high!), but one point of connection easy to exploit for discussion and illustration is their familiarity with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg’s social media behemoth has certainly come a long way from its Harvard-only origins a scant nine years ago.

After bucking pressure from friends and acquaintances for years, I finally succumbed to my own curiosity and loop-outsider’s frustration and opened a Facebook account in 2011. Dozens of people immediately befriended me. I repaid them by spending a memorable spring break spamming their timelines with tons of family photos, shots of collectibles, and just about everything anybody had asked me if they could see over the years. It was an interesting experiment. If people could withstand that onslaught, then they really were my friends—or just family members who were kind of stuck with me.

Although I’ve seldom used Facebook to let my corner of the world know what I’m eating at a given time (okay, maybe twice—but once was due to my fascination with a self-heating meal supplied by the Red Cross during a disaster, so that clearly shouldn’t count), I actually kind of enjoy living vicariously through people who do. Friends are performing activities, going places, and buying cars, and I’m going along for the cyber ride—watching with alternating happiness or envy. Nowadays I usually use the site to share items of an innocuously personal nature—silly witticisms that occur to me a few times a week, select images from my own life that strike me as amusing when I have a camera nearby, and occasional links that I genuinely think may interest 30% or better of my Friends.

In fact, it’s this innocuously personal stuff that really fascinates me about Facebook. A lot of the posted material might never work its way into years of normal conversation, and affords us the opportunity to arguably be more intimate than any generation in human history. The casual nature of sitting in a room alone and pounding one’s instant musings onto a glowing computer or phone screen results in the most extraordinary outpouring of sociological and scatological minutia. Although I’m not too enthusiastic when my niece posts pics of puss-filled pustules and asks if they look infected, I do marvel at the sheer variety of content.

Please take a moment and marvel at the alliteration in the previous sentence.

Thank you. Back to our topic:

No matter how innocuous, or infectious, this personal material may be, it’s really not aimed at the general public. Most Facebook users are probably savvy enough not to have their privacy settings set on nonexistent. Their posts are meant to alternately amuse and torture folks who have personally agreed to share their lives, sealing the deal by clicking “Confirm” on the Friend Request. In some cases it may have been after a late night binge or during a severe headache, but it’s still a legally binding permit to be subjected to all matter of trivial mindfarts.

Which brings me, at long last, to my point. Last night I received three Friend Requests. One was from an old high school friend I haven’t seen in 30 years. The other two were from people I may not have met or spoken with during my entire life. The high school friend found me, I believe, because I posted a photo of a goofy light switch plate on a mutual friend’s timeline. Of such wacky origins are worthy relationships rekindled in our modern world. The other two probably know my name from spur of the moment comments I left on the status updates of someone they actually do know.

The old high school friend I didn’t hesitate a moment before confirming (frankly, I’m eager to hear what he’s been up to and maybe get him to finally acknowledge that The Monkees’ music is indeed timeless), but the other two remain in Confirm/Not Now limbo. Frankly, I don’t want to allow people I’ve never even spoken with access to my inner life. Is this wrong? Most people would say no, but others seem to revel in accumulating hundreds or even thousands of Friends.

As a teacher, I’ve ushered several hundred students through the metaphoric turnstile of my classroom door. I participate in a few localized fan and semi-pro circles, usually dealing with ancient pop-culture properties like ‘60s TV series or music. I sat on a few academic and non-academic convention panels. I tweet the occasional tweet. Bottom line: a few thousand people walking around today probably have a vague idea who I am. This is probably true for many of us, and makes us all, in our extremely minor ways, pocket celebrities. This also gives us a taste of celebrity problems. Sure, we don’t have to deal with paparazzi and walk around in baseball hats and dark glasses, but we do have to occasionally discourage or ignore stalkers who want to intrude on our space.

Sometimes we take a leap of faith and welcome a marginal acquaintance into our lives and it works out fine. I can think of at least three great Friends who entered my life through the Twitterverse (shoutout to Alan, Wallace and Will!). Other times are more problematic.

Sometimes we all wish our avatar photos had baseball hats and sunglasses.



  1. I’m glad you decided to get a Facebook account as I enjoy your musings, although at times I lament the absence of an emoticon that can adequately express a groan.

    When I post, it’s usually an interesting or funny article or video I’ve found, a political argument, or something going on in my day or life. I don’t actually post all that often – I more commonly reply to other posts. I have yet to post a photo of my food, something that many of my Facebook friends do with stupefying frequency. I don’t get it. One of these days I’m going to post a photo of my stools to their walls and identify it as a meal I ate 20 hours ago.

    Properly used, I think Facebook is a terrific way to hook up with friends both old and new. One of the people I interact with most often is a woman from the Bronx I used to work with in Manhattan. Before I found her on Facebook, we hadn’t heard from each other in almost 20 years! Now we “talk” frequently, and it’s fascinating to see how she’s changed in that time, and how much she hasn’t. And now we get to rekindle that Rangers-Islanders rivalry as well! My Mom is also on Facebook, though I wish she’d stop re-posting inspirational claptrap. (I’d rather read her own thoughts than see one more image that starts with “Pssst…the angels have seen you struggling!”) I also have friends in California, New Jersey (stand up and be counted!), North Carolina, and Michigan. And these are REAL friends, people I know and have spent time with, either recently or in the past. My basic rule is I only friend people I would actually want to have a conversation with. I do not friend strangers and have no desire to have hundreds of friends just for bragging rights. I try to keep the number below 50.

    Sometimes, though, mistakes can be made in deciding who to Friend in Facebook. I friended Sue’s sister a while ago as I knew her briefly from the past. However, she had a bit of an anger management issue. When I was in Savannah on a weekend trip, I got a text from my brother Ed asking me who this K**** person was on Facebook. It turned out that I had made a sports post in which Ed responded by making fun of the Mets, a team he has been a lifelong fan of but has broken his heart repeatedly. K****, also a Mets fan but not knowing Ed, took offense. For some inexplicable reason, she called him a “twat”. It was a tad embarrassing….There I was in Georgia hearing about how my brother in New Jersey was being called a gender-confusing epithet by a woman in California. Of course, I had to un-friend her and apologize to Ed. But you can see the reach Facebook has. By the way, K**** has just finished her stint in prison for her repeated drunk driving offenses, and her husband served her with divorce papers the day she got out. She’s probably still a bit angry.

    Thanks for the post, it made for an interesting read. I’m thinking of making a Facebook post listing all the things I don’t want to see on Facebook anymore. Pictures of food and anything having to do with angels helping you if you re-post a photo will lead the list. In the meantime, keep posting your witticisms, pictures of your room, and even the occasional groaner.

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