Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Facebook Effect

I have played with the idea of quitting Facebook for a while. I even wrote a post with that title over a year ago, but I didn't quit it then. And I haven't quit it yet. I guess I find value in the occasional amusing or informational post, or the update from an old friend or family member.

But Facebook has another function: an ability to offend, to incite, to betray, to reveal. I once told a friend of mine that I loved my extended family but that I didn't really want to know them any better than I knew them 40 years ago. I said this because I knew or sensed that we were very different people as adults, and that given the choice we would not be friends. So it did not occur to me really, that when I "friended" members of my extended family, that I would eventually see just how different we were. For the most part, my response to seeing their posts was disappointing: the nephew who loves guns, the neocon cousins who hate Obama, the aunt who prays to God to save us from our darkest hour (this right after the last election). I learned to take all this disappointment in stride, for the most part. But I must admit, while it didn't change my love for them, it did change  my like for them.

So perhaps what happened last week on Facebook should not have surprised me.  I responded to a post shared by my cousin's wife. It was one of those petty, foolish posts where someone is complaining because Michelle Obama and the girls were getting private ski lessons and the President was golfing, while people are struggling financially all over the country. I simply said that I didn't think any President ever took an oath of poverty--not Obama or Bush or Clinton, etc. That was it.

The next day, I was down 2 friends on Facebook. It took me a while to figure out who was missing. My cousin and his wife both "unfriended" me. I was dumfounded. I thought that kind of act was reserved for high crimes and misdemeanors in the social media world. What had I done? What had I said that was so offensive? I guess the point was that they only wanted comments that were favorable to their point of view. And I wasn't necessarily disagreeing with their POV, I was simply adding some perspective. But I guess that was not welcome. So it made me think, that maybe my cousin felt the same way--that he knew more about me now and didn't like me either. I'm not sure I reveal much at all on Facebook, but I probably reveal enough that he decided it wasn't worth keeping me as a "Facebook friend". But does this rejection of me preclude us from being family? Has Facebook's reveal now contributed to the end of a 50 year connection that we both valued, that happened once a year or so, when we got together and reminisced over things that happened when we were 10 years old? Maybe it was inevitable. Maybe everyone is easily offended in the age of social media. Social discourse is more of a drive-by shooting than a real exchange of ideas. If so, this loss is just one more casualty in the new era. I think I miss snail mail.