Imagine All the People

Breakdown of a Facebook Breakup

Someone emailed to tell me she had quit following my personal Facebook account in order to save our real life friendship. Her letter was carefully, thoughtfully written. I could tell she was being as gentle and sincere as she could be.

The news took me by surprise – awful surprise. I replied, saying I was very sorry to hear it. I told her what I liked and would miss about her Facebook presence. Her feelings are what they are and I didn’t argue their validity with her. We stayed friends and signed off and I rose up with great strength of character and immediately let it go.

I tried to, anyways. The exchange was warm and civilized but troubling. I didn’t sleep well, and decided I’d better take a hard look at what I post if it’s having a negative effect on people I care about. I logged into my Facebook account and scrolled through the last four months.

My friend was already gone from my online world (it’s safe to say she won’t read this blog post) but as a consolation I had a chance to learn what’s distasteful about myself on social media. It’s important to know professionally and as a human being. I settled in for a lesson in the mysterious, sometimes counter-intuitive art of not being horrible.

The Results

Thank my sociology training for this table of all my Facebook posts between September 2014 and January 2015:

Number of Posts Subject of Post Details
18 Family 9 posts about my kids

5 posts about my husband

4 links to articles by the press (not me) about family members’ achievements and activities

15 Professional 7 links to press coverage and publishing announcements about my novels

4 links to blog posts and an article written by me

4 posts about my activities at school

11 Personal 7 horrendous old photos posted by my very bad little sister

4 attempts at self-deprecating humour

What Wasn’t in the Results

Dirty Laundry As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I don’t post bad news very often, particularly when it comes to my career. For me, Facebook is mostly a good news ticker.

Dirty Dishes Facebook isn’t part of my domestic routine, meaning there are very few posts about housework, recipes, decorating, or similar topics often found on the Facebook pages of people managing busy households. I don’t fault anyone else for using the website this way. I actually find it charming in my friends. But my domestic life is not the focus of my account.

S*%t Kickin’ I purposely avoid controversial links and statements that might read as attacks on anyone else’s way of life. Polemics on politics, parenting, nutrition, public health, social justice, religion – they don’t appear in what I post. I sometimes participate in that kind of discourse on other people’s pages, but I never start it on my own.

The Lesson

Despite the table, I couldn’t tell what exactly was bothering my friend. Self-awareness is hard but nothing in my news feed stood out to me as particularly inflammatory. It was probably nothing and everything all at once. The effect was likely a gestalt (thanks again, sociology).

Or maybe I just missed something — careless comments made on mutual friends’ posts, repeated miscommunications of tone, a hundred little somethings here and there over years and years.

I remember an article from the Huffington Post about what makes a bad Facebook post. The author says posts used for “image crafting” are not good. He argues Facebook shouldn’t be a tool for sculpting our lives into the form that’s most pleasing to us. In his perfect Facebook, good news is out. Bad news is out. Overly specific is out. Vague is out. Sensational is out. Boring is out. Complaining is out. Gratitude is out. Love is out. Hate is out. Vapid is out. Clever is only okay if there’s no way someone might feel like we’re showing off. Essentially, any Facebook post that elicits an emotional reaction outside a narrow, neutral sense of benign, unremarkable amusement is out. Does that leave anything? Maybe really solid knock-knock jokes…

I’m not sure the Huffington writer was aware of it, but his denouncement of actual social interaction within a social network is awfully ironic. That doesn’t mean it’s not inevitable. I approach Facebook like a cocktail party where everyone is toasting each other. I suppose there must be people out there who hate that kind of party. No one tells us when we register with Facebook that all 500,000,000 users may be assuming we’re at 500,000,000 different, somewhat incompatible parties.

Here’s more irony: if I consciously craft an image middling enough for every single one my friends to like it, I’m still crafting an image — only I’m crafting an even less authentic image than the one arising naturally from my character and values. I’m not talking about whether I should behave respectfully, use good manners, and not attack people on Facebook. I’m talking about whether I’m obligated to pursue things that don’t interest me or that make me feel bad in hopes of walking a neutral, narrow, benign line that goes nowhere.

Here comes sociology again, patting me on the head, telling me not to fret. All selves are crafted, negotiated within social contexts. That’s what humans do. Everything we see of everyone we know can never be more than a complex image in our minds. Literally, that’s how the visual cortices in our brains work. Figuratively, that’s how social life works, even on the Internet. We can try to quit it, but when we turn away to look at something else, what we see there will be just an image too.

5 thoughts on “Imagine All the People

  1. I can’t imagine what it was, nor can I imagine why your friend didn’t just hide your posts rather than unfriend and announce the unfriending. That seems unnecessary. Maybe she doesn’t know how to hide someone’s posts.

    I have a few people hidden. I only unfriended someone due to their FB content once over something in very poor taste that made me realize I didn’t want to be her friend anymore, FB or otherwise. I have one friend who is very close to being hidden due to repeated articles on a certain hot topic (hint: starts with anti, ends with vax.)

    When I start to feel like I’m crafting my image, or, that I’m spending too much time and brain space on crafting my image, I take a social media break. Might take one soon!

    • Yes, I admit I have a few friends hidden on Facebook to preserve good will too. It’s a brilliant function, not sure why I didn’t reap the benefits of it in this case. Ha! No social media break the year a book is released so I will fight on!

  2. I was very skeptical about Facebook at first and held back from joining to see where it was going. In its beginnings, it seemed to about how many followers one could add. I had friend requests from people I barely knew and largely ignored them. Mostly I was excited to receive the requests and happy to reconnect through Facebook.

    I eventually became converted for a couple of reasons. The first was primarily that it was a source of pictures of our grandchildren because all of our daughters had Facebook accounts. The second was the opportunity to stay in touch with people important to me who I don’t see on a regular basis. Through Facebook I was able to get back in touch with several old friends whom I had lost track of over the years many of them living far away. I was also thrilled to connect with relatives some of whom I had never met.

    Once I joined, I discovered it could also be used as a forum to share information and express opinions on controversial topics as well as for sharing some light hearted banter often in a very clever way. Initially I got drawn into some of the controversy but subsequently learned that most often, Faebook was not a very effective forum for intellectual discussion. The social
    nature of Facebook inappropriately draws the wrong people into discussions that they are often ill prepared for and leads to angry exchanges or despair.

    I enjoy people who relate funny things that their kids say and report on humourous or interesting events. I am not crazy about people relating personal crisis in such a public way although on occasion I am grateful to learn about people who may need help due to temporary hardship edpecially where I can lend a hand. I don’t see anything wrong with people expressing gratitude or even affection as long as it’s not manipulative or insincere.

    I frequently try to make comments that I think are clever or funny but find that not all readers necessarily see or appreciate the intended humour. My comments are sometimes misinterpreted and perhaps even classified as rude. I try to censure myself by looking for possible misinterpretations before posting but am not always successful.

    On a few occasions, I felt obliged to clarify some of some of my commentary to offended parties but it’s so awkward when the joke has to be explained. Humour is pretty much lost when the joke has to be explained. Therefore, I have reached the conclusion that people always have the option to take the exit by defriending me if they feel it’s warranted. I will understand if they decide I am not their cup of tea so to speak.

    I am curious as to why your friend felt compelled to announce their action to you in such obviously critical yet deliberately vague manner. I speculate that its indicative of something inherently being broken in terms of your real life relationship. What could possibly be so horrible as far as your Faecebook postings that it’s prompts the suggestion that your expression is so flawed that it truly warrants such an over reaction.

    If this troubled person is a true friend, I suggest they would pursue a better way of dealing with their dissatisfaction. They could offer to tell you what precisely they feel is so damning and make positive suggestions. In my mind, their sudden announcement without specific explanation is mean spirited and aggressive. (No humour intended)

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