Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Column #18: Facebook can be a mundane fantasy world

My friend Justin posted a status update last week: “When Robin and I get home for the evening, we don't talk about our respective days. We like to talk about what you, our Facebook friends, have been doing today. Thanks.”

After laughing out loud (which is what I do in real life; I tend to reserve my “LOL”ing for online conversations about “The Family Circus” or local music festivals), I thought about what might have stimulated this obviously sarcastic post.

Though a walk through any office or school today makes it seem like everyone in the world uses Facebook, there’s still a billion folks who don’t. Most of my relatives don’t.

Aside from the time commitment, the complaints I hear from non-users are usually of the “I don’t want some kid I went to third grade with wanting to be my ‘friend’” variety - though most of these same people would otherwise enjoy seeing that popular jock from high school as a 38-year-old fattie, if it were in an alumni newsletter.

What’s sad about such pictures is that social sites such as this offer people a place to present a better version of themselves, and yet most don’t even understand how to do so.

Facebook is where you can try to convince others of the fantasy that you are more awesome than them. If a documentary film is like real life without the boring parts, then Facebook is like real life without the boring parts, and without people getting to hear how annoying your voice is, how often you nervously play with your hair and how bad you look in profile.

Yet most merely bombard us, their friends, with updates such as “I wish I was at home instead of work,” “It really is hot today!” and “I’m hungry.”

I use it primarily to learn about events - music, art, beer, anything fun and occasionally charitable. If I could get that information without having to read five opinions of a basketball game, I would.

Such updates often serve to remind me that I’m not missing much in the real world. But hey, have fun at that late night dance party, guy I used to work with five years ago. I’ll see your pictures in the morning.

Facebook holdouts don’t listen to me when I tell them that I rarely get messaged by old classmates. The holdouts talk about privacy, but don’t want to acknowledge that information about everyone can be found online, somewhere, whether we like it or not.

If you don’t want non-friends to see what you’re up to, it’s easy to quickly learn how to hide one’s ostensibly personal information on Facebook. As an old married man, I don’t care if my parents or bosses see what I’m up to. Even when I was younger and making stupid choices in public, I stayed out of pictures that might embarrass me.

Why are so many thrilled about typing their lunch into this website? Talking about what you ate, seemingly to make others jealous of how much better you’re eating than them, is not charming. It’s like seeing a Food Network program without any explanations or recipes, let alone pretty pictures.

It’s the jealousy angle that fascinates me the most. I don’t get why people think writing, “On the beach in Hawaii. Sooo beautiful!” is helping anyone. The rest of us just hate you for having something that we all want.

I post pictures of trips online, though I worry a little about alienating others. There’s a big difference, though, between seeing a beautiful sunset – or a double rainbow – and merely reading about one. Same with that huge burrito you had for lunch. If it’s so special, why don’t you take a picture of it? The kids on the playground tell me that it’ll last longer.

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