The boys help me make in-person Facbeook flair – little badges made of construction paper and glue, that we will pass out to my co-workers.
I expect the glue to dry on the car ride there, but instead it seems to melt the paper into mush. Broken badges from a broken guy.
“I have flair for you,” I explain to the group. Jen gets the Pop Culture Queen badge while Dierdre gets the Social Media Expert. Javi gets the Tech Geek badge and the Social Justice Advocate flower, but unlike the others, he won’t pin on flair covered in wet glue.
As I pass them out, I realize that I’ve forgotten Vanessa. I created flair for her (and for our co-worker Sara), but I assumed that both of them went home mid-afternoon. Vanessa was supposed to receive the Awesome Teacher badge, but if I were to go for it again, I might give “One of the Kindest People I’ve Met” or “Quiet Leader” badge.
It’s a moment where Living Facebook mirrors online Facebook; where someone receives flair or a badge or a virtual teddy bear or even a kind comment and others are left on the sidelines, wondering why they aren’t included. Sometimes Facebook can feel like fourth grade dodge ball again and everyone knows explicitly that I’m picked last.
What starts out as a very geeky invasion of space, becomes a chance for my children to meet my co-workers. We tells stories. We joke. It’s an impromptu ice breaker that doesn’t require getting signatures of “this person has owned a Dodge.” I’m realizing the power of this experiment. It’s forcing me to move outside my compartmentalized life and allow relationships to overlap.
That evening, we pass out flair to friends we haven’t seen in a few years. We used to work with them in an urban non-profit and despite being friends on Facebook, we grew apart relationally. Our official reason is to give them boxes before they move to Chicago, but the deeper motive is a chance to talk with two of the most creative, thoughtful and intelligent people we know.
Our conversation meanders between thoughts on social justice, stories of parenting and catching up with the community we were both once a part of. I realize that all of this could have occurred on Facebook, but the point is that it didn’t. Facebook gave me the illusion that I remained connected to them virtually. But that’s the thing. It was always virtual. I feel closer to this family right now, after a half-hour visit in person, than I did after a few years of reading status updates.
When this experiment is over, I want to keep reconnecting in person with friends of the past. I want to continue sending letters and writing notes. I doubt that I’ll send flair. However, even the goofy badges might not be as crazy as I first predicted.
It’s easy to mock the notion of flair. After all, a digital “You’re an awesome dad,” badge might seem a little too schmaltzy for a cynical world. However, there are days when a simple phrase like “I like the way you teach” or “Your kids are lucky to have you as a dad” are the types of intangible flair that push me back toward hope.
When this experiment is over, I want to be someone who affirms others.