Tag Archives: Facebook

My virtual life

Something disturbing happened to me earlier today, and I didn’t know how to explain it to my husband without it sounding at best, frivolous, and at worst, narcissistic. Nonetheless, I called him at work and tried not to sound as upset as I was.

“Al,” I said, “I just accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from my Facebook wall.”

There was a silence while Al tried to figure out how to react to this bombshell. “Oh no,” he said. “Sorry?” (He’s pretty good at guessing the right responses to things).

I explained to him that I was so upset about it because I had linked my Twitter account to my Facebook account years ago, which meant that 99% of all content I had ever posted on Facebook had actually been posted via Twitter. Thus, when I accidentally deleted all of my Twitter activity from Facebook, I deleted a huge online record of my life. And this, it turned out, was upsetting. Al consoled me as best he could, telling me that maybe the posts were salvageable (turns out, they weren’t). After that, there was really nothing more he could say. The record of my online activity was gone, and I had to accept it. Man.

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After scouring through my Facebook wall, I realized that I had only deleted all of my posts since July 2013 — so, only the last seven months of my online life. But those last seven months had contained so much! My entire time in London: gone. All of the articles and essays that had spoken to me: gone. And, the real tragedy, all of the funny jokes I had made: gone. Gone with the virtual wind!

I felt strangely bereft about this, and then, right on cue, felt guilty for being so self-obsessed. On the surface, losing seven months of one’s searing witticisms (and, more importantly, one’s friends’ reactions to said searing witticisms) should not be a big deal, unless one is a huge, self-involved narcissist. Which I’m totally not, I SWEAR. But I am a writer, and my Twitter feed, which was broadcast to a more personal audience via my Facebook, was, in a way, a body of my written work, however fluffy and silly it was. And, more importantly, it was a conversation between me and people who know me (and who care enough to comment on the stuff I put on social media). Yes, the Twitter feed itself still exists (on Twitter, no less), but the mingling of my Twitter posts with my friends’ reactions on my Facebook wall is gone forever. There were some really good debates, funny back-and-forths, and challenging discussions on that Facebook wall, and now they’re lost. Which begs the question: if a social media exchange falls into the internet hole and no one’s there to re-read it, did it make a sound? Did it ever even happen?

[Side note: I realize that I’m not doing a great job at making the case that I’m not a giant narcissist, but you’ll have to take my word for it. And plus, aren’t we all a bit narcissistic online? Part of the fun of social media is having one’s own wit and good cheer reflected back at one through the validation of one’s social networks. Right? Or is that just me?]

In any case, I’m not sure why I find this experience so unsettling. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that, to speak in terribly broad cliches for just a moment, a large chunk of my life really is lived online. I work at home, by myself, and I’m a writer. Throughout the day, I interact with the world by sharing my thoughts (and, if I dare, my feelings) with people online, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I know virtually, and some of whom I know not at all. Those interactions are then preserved in the amber of the internet, most prominently through my Facebook wall. Some people, especially people of my parents’ generation and older, find this concept horrifying, that one’s personal conversations, thoughts, and feelings could be captured on the Internet for all to see, potentially forever (or at least until the grid goes down), but I find it comforting. I can go back to my wall posts from four, five, seven, even ten years ago, and see what my friends and I were talking about, or what movie I had seen, or what book I had read. It’s all there, whether I remember it or not. It’s both a personal reminder of what I’ve gotten up to, and a specimen that’s been polished and presented for public consumption.

Whether all of this archival of my personal life is a good thing or a bad thing is, I suppose, up for debate, but I don’t find that debate to be particularly interesting, mostly because I tend to be, if not judicious, at least mindful about what I post online. If I share a tweet on my Facebook wall, generally, it’s because I think my friends will enjoy it, and I don’t tend to post particularly controversial or revealing things on social media. I’m old enough and (sort of) wise enough — or, at least, experienced enough with social media — at this point not to post anything that will later embarrass me or prevent me from holding public office (I think). And if the NSA wants to read my Facebook wall, I find it hard to get worked up about it. Yes, in theory, it’s scary to think about strangers having access to my social media offerings, but in another way, it’s kind of flattering. I mean, is it so wrong that I hope the NSA thinks I’m funny?

I guess it all boils down to the fact Facebook has been a deeply ingrained part of my life for the last decade (literally). I signed up for Facebook in March 2004, as a senior in college, and I’ve been using it consistently ever since. I’m an active and enthusiastic user, although I’ve adapted and polished the way I use it over the years (for example: I now post far fewer photos than I used to and look at far fewer people’s actual profiles). A large part of Facebook’s role in my life has been as a type of online repository for my memories: an interactive scrapbook filled with photos, videos, discussions, greetings, and jokes. It was always available for me to page back through whenever I was in need of a nostalgia boost. Losing seven months of that scrapbook is not the end of the world, of course, but it’s a little sad. I wish I were one of those aloof, “Oh, I never check Facebook; I’m too busy bicycling around North America” people, but I’m not. I’m someone who enjoys and appreciates social media in my own life and I rely on it to always be available to me. It’s disturbing to see how easily this record of my life online can vanish, and how utterly unable I am to piece it back together without the aid of the internet.

Maybe the solution is that I start writing in a diary, or composing old-fashioned pen-and-ink letters to my friends, or taking photos with a non-digital camera and developing them in a dark room. Or maybe the solution is just to accept that I can’t rely on an external service to preserve my memories for me. Or maybe I just need to take a step back and realize that my stupid tweets are not as interesting or important as I think they are. Or maybe it’s all of the above. For now, though, I’ll stick to shaking my fist at the sky and cursing Mark Zuckerberg, whose fault all of this is, anyway.

Happy tweeting and Facebooking to you all. Hug your tweets close tonight.

 

 

Facebook etiquette

The other day, someone I know posted this blog post on her Facebook page, exhorting her Facebook friends to keep in mind seven basic rules of Facebook etiquette. The post’s title, “7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook,” initially grabbed me, because, hey, I hate seeing updates on So-and-So’s progress in Farmville as much as the next person. In fact, I’ve spent a not insignificant chunk of time over the years building a mental list of some of the most obnoxious behaviors on Facebook, including, but not limited to, “liking” every “Happy Birthday” post on one’s wall; inviting one’s Facebook friends to join one’s inane online game of choice; whining about one’s job incessantly; starting any post with the word “Dear,” and then writing a hackneyed “open letter” addressed to, for example, the weather; writing status updates in the third person; posting “chain statuses,” especially ones that contain inaccuracies, misquotes, and/or urban legends; and, my personal least-favorite, spreading the news of a death before family members have had a chance to receive the news via non-Facebook means (this happened to me, by the way: this is how I found out my grandfather passed away. Not kidding, unfortunately).

Let’s face it: there are a lot of ways to be inconsiderate, boring, and/or irritating on Facebook. So I went into this post, from the blog wait but why, anticipating that I’d be totally on board with whatever behaviors this blogger (who I’ll refer to as WBW, since I don’t know his real name) was calling out. The post started off strong, ridiculing a horrifically self-aggrandizing status update that WBW had run across. I’ll reproduce the status update below; hopefully we can all agree that it is, in a word, ghastly.

2012 was a biggg year for me. I left my amazing job at NBC to move back to Chicago. I started dating my angel, Jaime Holland. I started yoga (thanks Jake Fisher & Jonah Perlstein!). I wrote an album with Matthew Johannson. Wrote another album I’m proud of. I got to hang with Owen Wilson, and worked with Will Ferrell on an amazing project. Had a conversation about Barack Obama with David Gregory. Danced. Joined a kickball team. Won a couple awards. Helped my sister plan her summer trip. Swam a lot. Golfed a little. Cried more than you would think. Read The World According to Garp. Saw Apocolypse Now. Went to Miami for the NBA Finals. Drank the best orange juice I’ve ever had with Davey Welch. Tweeted. Went to amazing weddings in Upstate New York. Drank a ridiculous amount of milk. Learned how to make sand art. Saw a great light show. Saw the Angels and Lakers. Fell in love with Jawbone Up. Cooked with Jaime. Gardened with Jaime. Watched Homeland with Jaime. Wrestled with Jaime. Laughed for hours with Jaime. Fell in love with Jaime’s family. Worked on a play. Played World of Warcraft. Did some improv. Played a ton of the guitar. Really just had a wild, amazing year. What a world.

So, yeah, this is bad. It’s really bad, and on so many levels. The humble bragging. The non-humble bragging. The name dropping. The misspellings. The inanities and mundanities. The repeated use of the word “amazing.” The casual references to guitar playing. I mean, there’s a lot to hate here. So I was on board with WBW for calling this out, because surely, everyone in the world except the author of this terrible status update should be able to agree that this type of unabashed self-promotion-disguised-as-gratitude should be illegal and potentially carry a prison sentence.

But then, WBW lost me when he started listing his seven rules that we all should adhere to on Facebook.

WBW’s basic message is that one should not post anything on Facebook that “primarily serves the author and does nothing positive for anyone reading it.” Okay. This seems like a reasonable framework to start from. After all, who wants to wade through a bunch of self-involved, uninteresting Facebook statuses on one’s Newsfeed? Not I. But when WBW went on to elaborate all of the behaviors he finds unacceptable on Facebook, I balked. In most cases, the rules he sets out are based on some general principle that I might agree with (for instance: don’t brag), but the rules as he states them are far too broad to be workable or even desirable. Indeed, the guidelines WBW lays out are so sweeping as to ban most behavior on Facebook.

First, WBW says that one shouldn’t boast on Facebook. Fair enough: no one likes an online braggart. But WBW defines bragging as the sharing of any positive news about one’s life. He writes that if something exciting happens in your life, “the only people it’s okay to brag to in life are your close friends, significant other, and family members—and that’s what email, texting, phone calls, and live talking are for. Your moment of self-satisfaction is profoundly annoying to people you’re not that close with, and they make up the vast majority of people who will be subjected to the status.” So if you get married, don’t mention it. You just got into med school? Keep it to yourself. First-born child? Shush. Don’t annoy others with your joy. Maybe WBW finds other people’s happy news “profoundly annoying,” but I’d venture a guess that most people on social media don’t feel that way; otherwise, they probably wouldn’t be on social media. I enjoy seeing wedding pictures, even if I haven’t spoken to the bride or groom since high school. I also don’t mind when someone shares excited or happy news about school or a job. It’s a natural human reaction to want to shout it from the rooftops when something exciting or wonderful happens. Why quash that?

I also disagree with the basic premise  that the sharing of all positive news is necessarily bragging. Anyone who’s read a truly braggy, self-promoting Facebook status can tell the difference between that (“I got to hang out with Owen Wilson”) and a genuinely heartfelt sharing of personal news (“Yay, I finally got accepted to law school”). It’s all about intent. Sharing happy news because you’re excited about said news is a different beast than “image crafting,” “attention craving,” or “jealousy inducing” posts, but WBW seems to lump these together. Any sharing of positive news must have an ulterior motive, in his eyes; and even if it doesn’t, it still shouldn’t be allowed because it might make someone else feel bad. He thus outlaws all statuses referring to vacations, social events, and loved ones, because these might induce feelings of envy in the reader. Also: no photos. Don’t ever post photos. So, according to WBW’s first rule alone, most Facebook statuses would be deemed “annoying” and therefore unacceptable. (Anyone else getting kind of a Taliban-y vibe from this?)

But WBW’s not done. One must also never post about what one is actually doing that day (Rule 3); write on anyone else’s wall (Rule 4); tag anyone else in a status or photo (Rule 4); express gratitude (Rule 5); express an opinion on a current event (Rule 6); or quote a great thinker or anyone else (Rule 7). The only one of WBW’s seven rules that I unequivocally agree with is Rule 2, which bans “cliffhanger” statuses, also known as “vaguebooking,” where one posts a cryptic status that invites curiosity from readers but then plays coy and refuses to provide further detail. That’s super annoying and needs to stop. But the rest of these rules go too far; they suck the fun and life out of Facebook.

All of this begs the question: what would be okay to post on Facebook, according to WBW? I am wracking my brain trying to craft a hypothetical status that would not run afoul of any of these rules, and it’s tough. WBW says in the beginning that jokes that uplift the reader are acceptable; so unless you treat Facebook as a Twitter feed exclusively for fun jokes, you’re going to break one of WBW’s rules at some point.

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW

My Facebook page today: undoubtedly super annoying to WBW – look at all the photos! The horror!

These rules are bunk and should be rejected for two reasons. First, if you outlaw the expression of all human emotion on Facebook, you deprive Facebook of its purpose. People use the service to interact with people they know, care about, and/or are interested in. If the only allowable use of Facebook is to share jokes, then you might as well shut down your account and switch to Twitter, which is a much more streamlined vehicle for writing and reading jokes. Second, WBW has basic Facebook etiquette backwards. If you’re irritated by someone’s postings on Facebook, the burden is on you, the reader, to filter that person’s posts out. We all have different sensitivities and proclivities. As someone posting on Facebook, I cannot tailor my status updates or photos to suit the individual needs of all several hundred people who might be seeing them; I might as well not post at all. The only workable system is for users of Facebook to decide what they want to see and what they want to be hidden; this is easily accomplished through Facebook’s Newsfeed controls. If someone always posts annoying statuses, hide him. Or even unfriend him, if it’s that bad. But you must not demand that everyone in your social media universe conforms to your individual and highly specific sensitivities.

With that, go forth and post on Facebook!*

*(For actual guidance on what’s obnoxious, please refer to my first paragraph, above.)