In which I break my own first rule of Facebook

Posted on: July 10, 2012

Like Fight Club, I believe that the first rule of Facebook should be that you don’t talk about Facebook. And not just because the movie adaptations of each were directed by the same dude (who apparently also directed Sting’s Englishman in New York video (and, OMG, if you want to feel old, check out how young Sting was in that video)), but because, on the whole, when someone starts talking about Facebook, it’s because they’re complaining about Facebook. And although I myself am about to partake in that very same habit, I’m going to ignore the hypocrisy of telling you exactly why everyone needs to stop complaining about Facebook already.

The complaints about Facebook tend to fall into two camps : there are the complaints made by Facebook users, usually about some change that Facebook has made, how much they hate it, and how Facebook should revert to the previous version that they similarly hated when it was first released. While I can’t claim to be on board with every Facebook update – I have no idea what this “timeline” business is about, and all that grumbling in the past week or so about Facebook email was the first I’d heard that there was Facebook email, and even with that being said, I’m still not quite sure what the controversy is there (and please don’t take that to mean that I’m curious) – I tend not to get quite so up in arms about them. For me, Facebook is currently the best way to let everyone I’ve ever met know in real time that a bug has just flown up my nose, or to make me aware of all of the life choices I’ve made that led me so far astray from the boy I was in love with when I was 14, but other than that I don’t have much investment in it; the technology behind it doesn’t interest me, so as long as it remains easier than sending out a yearly newsletter (which, considering the frequency with which I update this blog, I clearly would never get around to), if the minds behind Facebook want to add frapdoodles to their lippity-barms, or other technical jargon, I am okay with it.

The second category of Facebook complaints tend to take the form of lists compiled for the benefit of Facebook users, letting them know which of their status updates no one cares about. While these tend to be humour-based lists, uninteresting Facebook posts are apparently so rampant that Time Magazine itself had to take up the cause. Topics to avoid will vary depending on the list, but the important takeaway from all of them is that, whether you’re sharing a picture of dinner, or that you’ve completed errands, or that your child has reached some milestone in toilet-training, nobody gives a shit.

This conclusion, however, is totally untrue, and it’s untrue because the only way to arrive at this conclusion is for a person to believe that everything posted on Facebook is directed entirely at them, which, astoundingly self-centered a thing to think as that is, is an easy enough mistake to make : if most of your time spent on Facebook is spent talking about yourself – and it is- it would be natural to conclude that everyone else is talking, if not about, then at least to you. But they’re not; once one takes enough of a step back from their position to realize that they are not, in fact, the center of the universe, one can see that even though they themselves may not care about something, it doesn’t necessarily follow that no one in the world does. I, for example, love just about every picture of food I’ve seen posted, with the notable exceptions of fast food, food intended to look disgusting, and  anything involving bacon; and, although on the whole I tend not to be super enamored of the parental comments I see, some of my friends have such joyously happy children that being involved even peripherally in the occasional poop in the bathtub or some particularly sassy comment is actually quite special.

Of course there are comments that I don’t like : I’m probably never going to update my status to show my support for awareness of a cause, and if you’re being intentionally vague in the hopes that someone will draw the rest of the story out of you, I am not your girl. However, while I believe that Facebook is no place to be coy, I don’t believe that the solution is to insist that everyone put an end to online enigmas; a better solution, I think, would be for everyone to take a deep breath and consider the possibility that, if you don’t care about someone’s status, maybe they’re not talking to you anyway.

In real life, it’s pretty easy to understand this : if you happened to find yourself in the same restaurant as someone you worked with 8 years ago, you might take a minute or twelve to catch up with them, but, after an appropriate amount of time had passed you’d return to your own table and your own dinner. Or lunch. Or maybe even afternoon tea. The meal itself is not important; what is important is that you would not, most likely, continue to pop back over to that person’s table intermittently to insist that they talk only about things that interest you, or order food that you find aesthetically pleasing. Instead, you would show this acquaintance of yours the same respect you would a stranger, and allow them to eat their meal in peace.

Even though I very firmly believe this is the correct thing to do, I have, recently, found it difficult to show that respect to a stranger. (Yes, all of that was just introduction; can you believe it?) What happened was this: on a very lovely evening not too long ago, I found myself strolling down the sidewalk of Cambridge, as one does when one is headed out for the evening. Walking too close behind me were two or possibly three girls, one of whom was holding forth on a gentleman of their mutual acquaintance who, the last time she’d run into him, greeted her with the wrong name and then, when she corrected him, responded in a vague sort of voice “Oh, that’s just a formality.”

The conversation went on from there, but, concentrating as I was on not turning around, grabbing her by the shoulders, looking her straight in the eye, and telling her “Oh honeypants. No,” I couldn’t really pay attention to it. Restrained as I was, I couldn’t  explain to her that her name is not just a formality, nor just a way of ensuring that the underpants you get back from the camp laundry are actually yours; it’s a way of identifying who you are in the world, what sets you apart, what makes you special. It is, at its core, the very simplest way you have of defining yourself, and even though it was given to you by someone else, you can make it mean whatever you want.

I also could not tell her that dismissing her name as “just a formality” does not, as she went on to claim, make a gentleman “so weird.” There is a lot of misunderstanding about weirdness in the world right now, but since that, sadly, was not the time nor the place to set down some basic ground rules regarding the weird, I couldn’t just say that if a gentleman genuinely is weird, instead of just acting weird, that does not excuse him from learning your name. Particularly not once you’ve made the effort to tell him what your name actually is. Weird is a definite thing that some people are, but it does not give them free reign to be inconsiderate – or worse – of your stated preferences.

I couldn’t tell her any of these things; instead, I could only hope that somewhere out there on the internet is someone not sufficiently aware that she’s not talking to them and so can tell her, over and over again if necessary “Oh, girl; No.” Because, seriously – “your name is just a formality”? NO.


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