I went to bed in a great mood and woke up at 5am. I couldn't go back to sleep, so I slumped in front of my computer and spent a ridiculous amount of time looking at the walls of Facebook friends. (If you're not familiar with Facebook, skip this post and never, ever join.) Over the course of the next hour or so, I managed to work myself into a really, really bad mood. I learned a few things about my "friends," which was nice, but I also began to feel like — dare I say it? — a loser. This is a trap into which I fall too easily and often, but I'm fairly certain that almost everyone leads a more interesting life than I do.
Facebook is fine, as long as it's taken at face value: a convenient way to keep in touch with many people at once, on a fairly superficial lever. Most people on Facebook, including me, try to be witty and clever and show how cool they are. Share photos, share news, share random thoughts, share political views — all free, with no risk attached. Then wait for validation that what you've shared, no matter how banal, was read and appreciated by a handful of "friends." It's good, clean fun.
But Facebook is a poor substitute for maintaining or creating real connections with friends, old or new. We present our best selves (most of the time), and it feels a bit like a high-school party. Will anyone "friend" me? If I "friend" someone, will they accept? Will I say something stupid and be met with silence and subsequently ignored by the cool crowd? Even worse, will someone UNFRIEND me? Do I look fat in these jeans?
Facebook, or any social networking site, gives the illusion of connection without having to look someone in the eye. Much like blogging, it's inherently narcissistic, shallow and — one hopes — no more than a fun hobby. When it becomes the primary means of reaching out to the world, however, it disappoints. I spend too much time on Facebook (clearly), and no matter how much I truly appreciate the friendships I've found there (I do!), it's not the same as real social interaction. Most of the friends I've met online are people I would love to meet and hang out with. But I don't. They live far away, they're busy with their families, their jobs are demanding — or I'm too lazy to take a shower and meet for coffee. I don't know why this is, but there you have it. I have yet to sit face-to-face with someone I've met online. They remain my "bonus" friends, somewhere to turn when I don't feel like making a phone call but need to vent a little or share a thought. It's just so easy, and keeps me from talking to myself.
I'm not finished retooling my life, but in the meantime, I am someone's mother, daughter, sister, friend. (And Food Lady to the dog — shit, I forgot to feed her.) All of that is very real, and it should be enough. But it's not. Not when I compare it to the picture perfect lives of friends more settled, successful, smart or happy than I am. Holding myself up for public scrutiny on Facebook doesn't phase me; it's the personal scrutiny that gets me into trouble. Stop doing that, Laurel.