Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Love and Friendship in the Age of Facebook


Ive been on Facebook for a little over five years. I joined when you had to be part of a college network, although at the time I was out of college. I joined the nearest college network to my town, Illinois State University, using a friends email address. My friend happened to be a professor and graduate student at ISU.

For a couple days, I seemed to enjoy the privilege of having access to thousands of coed profiles. I was single, living in a college town, and the technology of Facebook lured me into the fantasy that if I could chat with these college girls then maybe they would want to go out with me. After all, I wasnt that oldjust four years out of college.

But this misuse of social technology was bound to catch up with me. In less than two weeks, some of the students in my friends class were asking him why he was poking them, a feature on Facebook that invites the multiple connotations of flirting, getting someones attention, and an overt sexual act.

More than once, my friend blushed in front of his freshman classes. Youre on Facebook, his students announced. What? No, Im not, he replied.

Suffice it to say Id been conducting my nefarious social mingling under his real name. That night he gave me direct instructions to take his name off the profile. He said he could lose his job if the English faculty thought he was flirting with undergraduates.

After a couple pointless dates with college coeds, I gave up the pathetic and futile quest to find love (or something like it) over Facebooks channels. I went on a Facebook hiatus and lived in the real world, oblivious to the improvements and expansions in social technology. Meanwhile Facebook was opening up its doors to companies, organizations, the United States as a whole, and finally, most of Europe and Asia.

Im still part of the Illinois State University network, even though Ive never gone to school there. My connection to ISU is thus purely coincidental. Ive changed the email address and put my name on the account. Ive chosen a pseudonym for my profile (because Im a writer and I like pen names), but people can search for me under my real name. Ive also dutifully filled in the blanks about myself, adding my favorite bands, movies and television shows.

On the surface, Facebook is a narcissistic distraction from daily life. It provides a cross between the mindless absorption of the TV set and the obsessive self-involvement of the bathroom mirror. It also provides a voyeur with enough material to last a lifetime. The minutia of status updates, pictures, videos, top ten lists, interest groups, invitations, and games, this is the white noise of Facebook constantly buzzing; a social hive for restless young (and mid-life) Americans to retreat to; a place where, at least momentarily, we feel less alone and more connected.

Over the years, the lost figures of my past, lovers, classmates, fraternity brothers, even downright enemies, have slowly accumulated onto my friend list. From kindergarten on, these lost figures were coming out of the cyber woodwork to greet me. My typical Facebook reunion is one of unanticipated glee or terror, depending on the memories and the length of the conversation.

High school acquaintances, girls I befriended at summer camps, old teachers, some of my parents friends and a couple odd relatives have found their way to my profile; the friend list grows over time, forming an interesting social mosaic.


Of course, these people are my friends only according to the loose Facebook taxonomy. Some of them I havent even met before. Some are in fact strangers. Others Ive met and known for vast chunks of time, but honestly, I never really cared for them. And finally, a large group of my Facebook friends seem to fit the term, but only partially. Yes, we were once friends. But for last ten or fifteen years we havent said a word to each other much less knew the other person still existed.

What about my real-life friends? Ironically, most of them are not on Facebook! They refuse the technology like children refusing treatment in a dentists office.

So Im keeping up with a handful of people whom I call my friends and who fit the bill better than anyone else on the list. Were communicating to each other every five or six months on the weakest possible threaddoing a sort of call and response to the most general of questions, Hows life? or What are you up to?

I ask myself:
Could I live without these exchanges? Could I live without the photo updates? Do I really need to know what my ex-girlfriends husband looks like?

This is not the past. Nor is it the present. It is the past interpenetrating the present. The people I once knew in high school or college have only a faint resemblance to their former selves. They may look the same, but there is something different about them. Marked by the passage of time, they are different people.

I could never really know these people, could I? A sporadic conversation through a private message board can only yield so much information. Nonetheless, Im drawn to this virtual carnival of friendship as I indolently peruse the photo albums of old classmates and acquaintances. Their personal pages tell me so very little and yet that seems to be part of the fascination, the little colored fragments here and there which allow me to construct a fable of their separate lives.

There is activity everywhere. The buzzing of status updates, comments, and wall posts gives the impression of life behind the profiles. Located on my homepage, front and center, is the friend feed, a social ticker tape that informs me of everyones doings. New friendships are announced, as are modifications to profiles and new photos or videos.

Facebook didnt really make a difference to me until I actually met one of these lost figures from my past. That is, I could have easily existed without the technology. It was an odd curiosity to glimpse through the photo albums of my old classmates, but not a necessity for social well-being.

After I broke up with my girlfriend, I found myselfonce againindolently browsing the pages of my friends profiles. One picture in particular caught my attentionmy childhood best friend, Brad Dolin, and another childhood friend, Emily Crement, are standing together on a gymnasium floor, smiling for the camera.


In fact, I had seen the picture before. It was a classic in the annals of Butler Junior High memorabilia. I had grown apart from Emily, who now had a son. I wanted to reconnect with her and so I commented on the photo.

Within seconds of posting my comment, I received a message on my wallnot from Emily but from someone else. The note said, CHRIS!!!!!!!!!!!! ALASWAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In another couple seconds, this mystery person friended me and soon I was looking through her pictures trying to recall who on earth she was. Her main profile pic was striking, a ravishing young woman in an oriental green and turquoise dress. Half of her face is covered in shadows, she holds her arms behind her back, and stares down at the camera.

These are the pictures of a model, I thought as I continued my detective work.

Do u pronounce ur name like leyth??? answer me that showed up on my wall; and THAT IS MY FAVORITE NAME IN THE WORLD. IT MEANS LION OR HEART OF BRAVERY IN ARABIC

The name on my Facebook profile is not my real name. I think I've already said this. If you Google "Lethe Bashar" you will find a plethora of links related to this adolescent misfit. Im a fiction writer and choosing a pseudonym for my Facebook profile seemed appropriate. Lethe Bashar lives out the drama of my rebellious past life in distant places like Madrid and Las Vegas. The novel encompasses three websites and is collectively titled, Lethe Bashars Novel of Life.

The mystery woman knew me from somewhere because now what appeared on my wall was, omg how is mandy?? how is ur dad ?? i am soo sorry to hear about your mother.

How did she know my father and sister? How did she know that my mother passed away?

Looking through her photo albums only increased my bewilderment. Either she was in the mafia or some kind of celebrity. A number of pictures had magazine logos on them. She was definitely a model. There were pictures from photo shoots and many glamorous poses with handsome men. In almost all of the pictures, she gazed inscrutably at the camera without the slightest smile on her lips. Her eyes were arresting and I wanted to know more.

I dont like talking back and forth on the wall, she said. Lets use chat.

And so we began our excursion to Yahoo Messenger, another bit of technology that has since become a favorite of mine. At last this womans identity was revealed to me. It took me far too long to guess who she was but this was a girl from my childhood.

She rode on the school bus with me over twenty years ago. Her mother dressed her in a white Christian Dior coat. She giggled at me when I jumped on the bus and ran down the aisles. Sometimes I infuriated her with my clowning around.

Perhaps my greatest surprise that night over Yahoo Messenger was our mutual, spontaneous interest in each other. I had reunited with friends on Facebook before, but this experience was totally different. . .

There is a whole story to tell about what happens next. But, for the moment, Im going to protect my friends identity and choose to not give away any more details. All I will say is that we did indeed meet. And we are now happily engrossed in a romance of sorts.

ARTWORK BY MERJIN HOS
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26 comments:

tashabud said...

Chris,
This story sounds like something I should have written. But yours is real and mine would be fiction.

This is truly a wonderful news from you. However, you really put me in an indefinite suspense, which is so unfair. Well, I wish you both all the best.

I truly enjoyed reading it. There's just one question, though, that I'd like to ask, which I don't think will reveal her identity. So, is she a model like you had thought?

Have a great day,
Tasha

Lethe said...

Tasha,

Lol. Yes, she's a model.

Chris

Phillip S Phogg said...

An evocative piece which drew me right in.

Here's wishing you happiness with your friend, who was lost but now is found.

Lethe said...

Thanks, Phillip!

ApoRiA said...

I love, love, love reading your writing :]

Lethe said...

Thank you, Ria. Your complement is very encouraging.

Chris

dpardoewilson said...

I liked the romantic ending, but was struck me was the rest, where you found yourself surrounded in Facebook by people you knew only a bit. Are you acquainted with the term signal-to-noise ratio? Being linked in with such weak links is just increasing the background noise, the small bits of communication which distract from the signal you really want to hear.
Facebook degrades the signal-to-noise ratio, and as such is not a good piece of social technology, though I use it myself. It would be so much better to have something that would find and amplify the signal without increasing the noise. Anyway, if you have found a friend in your model, then you have found a signal amongst the noise. Try to tune in on it. -- dpw

Lethe said...

Good analogy Douglas, thanks!

Christine said...

I love how candid this post is! Great reading :)

Lethe said...

Thanks Christine!

Lauren Sullivan said...

Too cute, thanks for sharing :)

Gretta said...

dfdf

Gretta said...

Chris,
I loved this! I was crying with laughter. You have certainly caught the humor in the whole concept of Facebook. We are a strange lot, aren't we!

karlo mikhail said...

"Do I really need to know what my ex-girlfriends husband looks like?"

Yeah, that is one thing that's uncool about social networking sites.

Being and Quirkiness said...

I thought I would never get through the post, but I did. Good writing. :)

Lethe said...

@Being and Quirkiness

I tend to write longer articles then usual, according to Internet standards. That's because I relish the art of writing! Thanks for reading.

Joelle said...

awww Wonderful!
Im glad I investigated a link, the cautious mommy I am. Twitter must not be all that bad. Im new to the online"social/networking" sites.
Too busy being a mommy, however being a designer...it is a must, but not totally.
I LOVE your little story and hate to wait. We all want to know more.
The mind is such a curious thing.
LOVE it.
Best Wishes ~
Joelle

Lethe said...

Unfortunately, the relationship with the "model" didn't work out. I could tell the story of how it ended, but at this point I've moved so far from our little romance--that it doesn't interest me anymore.

But don't worry there will be more stories.

(Here's one messed up "romantic encounter" you can read in the meantime:
Sucker)

cameronsharpe said...

It have reminders that make a huge difference in the quality of life. I think every single point on this list is important, thanks for sharing.

Lethe said...

thank you

Cameron B Sharpe said...

Love is the best feeling on the Earth. This is a miracle and not all people are blessed to experience it. Writers and composers glorify this amazing feeling. Simple people are ready to do their best to experience it. But what psychologists think about this phenomenon? They say that Love can be different: love-friendship, love-care, love-fight and of course love at first sight.

hfm said...

I love the way you write.
I had a strange/interesting experience on facebook. I deactivated my account but still tlak to friends I met off there- its an interesting realm but definitely not for everyone.

SarahA said...

I think its really sad, not your post but this whole social network thingy. Everything becomes so less personal and real emotions/feelings are non existant.
I have to confess though, I did belong to such for a short time, but only because I wanted feed-back for my scribbles.I left purely because I felt I was getting sucked in to all the falseness
Good article, you.

Allix Davis said...

From my own experience of meeting people from first encountering them on the Internet have Mostly been via specialised chat rooms and forums. I have met both sexes myself being a male if statistics on this were ever to arise.

All my experiences have been to move from knowing the person to actually seeing that person in flesh.It has the same experience to me as meeting a pen-pal far away for the first time.
Online friendship is supplement to real for me.

The more people using the internet to meet people the more chance that the majority of people are going to be honest and who they say they are, if that was not the case then I would agree with SarahA that the internet for meeting would be detrimental and hostile to any meaningful friendship.

Some of the people I have added to my facebook friends simply provide interesting posts to websites , articles and blogs (I find this post via a one of those friends) and I do not expect to ever meet those people.

I recall from my mother stories about a grandfather who refused to use a telephone when they were first widely commercially available. New forms of communication take a while to be accepted by the majority and social networking sites are no different.

Cookiedough said...

I can definitely identify with your post. My closest friends are NOT on Facebook. Even those who do have accounts only check in once in a while when some nut decides to post those horrendous high-school pictures and tags them!
For a while there, blogging was all the rage until the Facebook Monster invaded Planet Earth. But its refreshing to once again indulge in writings such as yours and to know that while Facebook can kill time, it cant kill talent! :)

Richmonde said...

"I recall from my mother stories about a grandfather who refused to use a telephone when they were first widely commercially available. New forms of communication take a while to be accepted by the majority and social networking sites are no different."

I think thats about it. I remember people refusing to use /post codes/.

Also, pundits feel they have to pronounce on social media, in case theyve missed out on something.

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