Someone on Facebook recently asked, in a sweet and open-ended manner, what we had learned from using Facebook.
I was the only one who gave a dark, sarcastic answer; the other respondents reported scores of glowing side-benefits that I found a bit hard to swallow.
Really? You’ve “never learned so much about yourself”? Get thee to a tennis camp!
But then I started wondering how I really “knew” the people on my Facebook roster. My conceptions of these complex human beings had been reduced to scrolling thumbnails.
I don’t want to think of people this way. And certainly I don’t want them to think of me this way.
Maybe if I wiped the folders and categories and stereotypes from my mind by getting them out on the page, I could start to question this third-party arrangement of my brain (with which—yes!—I am complicit!).
Either that, or feel relieved when people admitted they have pretty much these exact same friends and mental friend-folders.
The Nine Types of Facebook Friends
The Rage-Addicted Radical. For whom every microscopic twitch of reality is further evidence of another goddamned outrage sending us all straight to flame-puking hell. Jesus do these people love social media.
I’d like to say they’ve got their hearts in the right place, but lately I’m not so sure about the heart part. Enough righteous vitriol, and they start seeming like one more usherette in the Grand Theatre of Fist-Shaking Freakery that now stands in for a proper political culture.
The Pit Viper. This person is just fucking angry as a sort of identity. People are worthless assholes, life is a meaningless hell, it’s all just going down the toilet so what’s the point?
Thing is, when you meet these folks in person, they can be total sweethearts. It’s just something about being able to instantly post and be seen by hundreds of people that pulls their worst triggers.
The Guy Who Never Quite Came Down from That Ecstasy Binge in the Nineties. His keyboard seems to have about twelve different exclamation-points, all of which stick like the dickens. I truly believe!!! That if we just keep believing!!! Then we’ll keep believing!!! In what we believe!!! OMG we must move forward into our vision!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Pet Owner. ’nuff said. Kitty pics make the world go round, but veer off into lapdog territory and you risk becoming my Hide-bait.
The Arts Angel. Endlessly supportive and positive arts-scene cheerleader, tirelessly cheering others on in their seemingly doomed creative endeavors. The Arts Angel makes me feel like Satan, a hypercritical troll sneering on the margins, knowing others are basking in the glory that would be mine if I could just get my ass in gear once and for all. Darn you all to heck, Arts Angels.
The Newly Minted Lover. Nothing personal, but if you announce a new relationship, I’m hiding you for at least a year. Especially if you’re a dude who fancies himself a bit of an artiste behind the lens. You’ll understand if I have better things to do than look at 254,234 photos of your girlfriend with that same sunlight-halo effect you learned in the high school darkroom.
The “I Can’t Even Remember Who the Hell You Are” Friends. What if there were some sort of amnesty day where you could just purge your roster of people you met once at a thing you didn’t even enjoy five years ago, and who probably don’t remember who the hell you are, either? They could call it No Hard Feelings Day. And brand it with kitty pics.
The “Living, Breathing Smiths Poster” Friend. Guilty as charged. Admit it, you’ve wanted to Hide that friend who’s always soaking deep in the bummer-tub—and you’ve been that friend, too.
Yet a free-therapy concept is at the heart of Facebook’s addictive design. Others’ easy confessions beg you to spill the emotional beans—but go there one too many times yourself and suddenly you’ve tipped yourself off the boat. You can be authentic, but not too authentic.
Don’t fret—eventually, between carrot and stick, you will get badgered into Facebook authenticity, which will eventually get grafted onto and overtake your entire personality. Epic, bro!
The Modern Sages. These are folks who seem incapable of posting anything stupid or thoughtless; who present their pop-culture obsessions with a bit of endearing self-effacement; whose cutting humor is tempered with sympathy and good sense; and who can present a strong social or political point without stridency. They are broadly informed, honest, and eager to meet others where they are.
They are Canadians.
No, I’m just kidding.
Or am I?
Seriously, the Modern Sages on my Facebook roster are, precisely, a Midwesterner and a gay man. I’m not sure why we give these two groups such a bad time. Would that we had more gay man and Midwesterner within!
What seems to define the Modern Sages is a questioning attitude toward the social-media platform itself, a healthy distance allowing them to see its charms and limitations objectively.
Conversely, those who live on Facebook, posting seven or more times a day, are the ones most likely to degrade both the platform and themselves.
If I could spend more time in person with the Modern Sages, then I could probably handle a barbecue with the Pit Vipers and the Ecstasy Guys.
And if everyone spent less time on Facebook, I think I could handle just about anybody.
© 2017 Jen Burke Anderson