Christy sends a text message to our next door neighbor explaining that our new floors look great and that things have been crazy. The friend seems puzzled, but then shares his own status update. “It was odd and it was random, but it struck me as sad that we live next door and we rarely interact.”
“Is it just a difference in interests?”
“Maybe. Or schedules. We grew up around each other, though. So it’s odd to lose touch with someone who is in such close proximity.”
Status Updates #1-2
Throughout the week, I have given random status updates in random locations. When I shared my thoughts on Yo Gabba Gabba seeming like a pothead program, six people left comments. Everybody gave it a thumbs up. The same comment in the staff lounge led to the following interaction:
“That was random,” a teacher says.
“Yeah,” another replies.
“My kids love that show. They don’t smoke pot on it, either.”
“Yeah, but it has that pothead feel, right?”
“Um, I’ve never smoked marijuana,” she says. I’m going to guess that she’s telling the truth. Anyone who calls it marijuana probably hasn’t smoked it.
Minutes later, I try out another status update that had once been popular on Facebook. This time I preface it with a warning, “This is random, but People need to learn the difference between figurative and literal. Sorry kid, but nobody ‘literally’ left crap all of your desk. Trust me, we would know.”
This time they laugh. “I once heard John Madden talk about how the Packers had a literally explosive defense. I kept waiting for the limbs to fly at Lambeau Field. ”
It’s a quick reminder that context matters. On Facebook, I shout out my status updates to anyone who has ever known me. In person, I am limited by the context and its implied norms, values and shared interests.
Status Update #3
“I remember, as a child, when I would sing about God having the whole world in his hands. Now for a small monthly fee, I can have the entire world at the palm of my hands. I could, but should I?”
Nobody responds to this on Facebook. Nobody. Not a single, solitary thumbs-up. Perhaps when Facebook asks me, “What are you thinking?” the answer is supposed to be a quip about traffic or a musing on the beauty of cake. Maybe Facebook, inhabiting this transgeographic space is already developing its own social norms.
However, when I share this same musing with a random stranger in a park, he says, “I know what you mean, man. I think cell phones are from the devil.”
I laugh, but he looks at me seriously.
“Are you serious?” I ask him.
“Yeah. Look, I’m a pastor and I can tell you that this thing,” he holds out his Blackberry. “This thing is a curse.” People have answered their phones in counseling sessions.”
“Yeah, but you really think this is the devil’s fault?”
“You can never tell. But think about it. If you were in charge of all evil things, wouldn’t you want to take parents away from kids by giving them something fun? Yeah, Satan could cause an earthquake, I’m sure. But that brings people together. Naw, if he really wants to pull people apart, he’d work for the Apple store.”
Status Update #4
I write out, “Is the end of the world supposed to happen in one time zone first? Because, if the Brits get raptured first, I’m pissed. #patrioticamerican”
Three people re-tweet it. Nine people give me a thumbs up. A woman in Great Britain reminded me that they’re all screwed, because they’re not a particularly religious country. A conversation developed among former students, online friends, good acquaintances and a few family members regarding the “rolling rapture” (think of a wave at a sporting event).
Hours later, I share with the cashier, “Is the end of the world supposed to happen in one time zone first? Because, if the Brits get raptured first, I’m pissed.”
She laughs and then stops herself and looks away. “You know, I claim to be tolerant of other religions. I say that I believe in relativity. I say that we should show tolerance, but I’ve been real quick to mock these people. If anything, they deserve some sympathy.”
We say nothing while the conveyer belt hums and the machine beeps out its solemn pronunciation that, yes, indeed, the onion registered correctly.
* * *
I feel torn between a deep criticism of Facebook and a certain gratitude for the role it plays in my life.
Facebook allows me to scream out my random thoughts to anyone who knows who I am. But do I need a megaphone to share my thoughts? How many people really need to hear what I have to say? For millenia, people have wanted circus to amuse them in their leisure time. What strikes me as odd about Facebook is that we have become the circus. We are the entertainment.
When people ask me, in person, how I am doing, I lie. “Fine,” or “good” will suffice. Occasionally I have the permission to say that I’m tired (though I usually don’t, because people turn it into a one-up game of who has had less sleep). Yet, I freely share how I am doing at least once a day on Facebook. It’s as if Facebook is meeting a conversational void created by an industrial society.