Category Archives: Technology

The Facebook Phenomenon, continued

Yesterday I wrote about Facebook and how it prevented me from feeling socially isolated while going through a divorce.

That’s true – it’s definitely kept me from feeling that way. On the other hand, I think it could be bad if one starts to think of FB as a substitute to actual human-to-human interaction. Y’know – when you’re in the same room together. Same with any kind of forums, listservs, emails, etc. It’s still not the same as being there.

The other thing I noticed is how people of my generation tend to look at FB differently from, say, Allie’s generation. She de-friends people with no regret. She doesn’t talk to them anymore – poof! they’re gone. She was in school with them and now she’s not – poof! goodbye. Not in the same activities anymore – see ya…

She says to me, I don’t talk to that person, so why should I be friends (FB friends, that is) with them?

Good question.

On the other hand, if I de-friended every person in my “friends” who I don’t talk to regularly I would have, like, five of them. Okay, more if you counted my colleagues and former students, but a whole lot of the people in my friends are people who I don’t talk to regularly.

And, even weirder, haven’t seen in 30 – literally 30 – years.

Since joining FB I’ve rediscovered people from junior high, old boyfriends (unfortunately one is gay and one is happily married), old colleagues, old friends of my brother’s, sorority sisters. I’m excited to friend them, catch up, and then share a little of our lives since last we spoke.

And then what?

Where do we go from there?

I mean, I don’t exactly know them. I did when we were 17; or 24 or 30, but, well, things have changed.

Depending on how active they are at posting photos or status updates I may know that they like to watch Lost or that they’re Cubs fans (my condolences) or that they just attended their new nephew’s bris (and as an aside – is it REALLY necessary to post photos of a bris on FB?).

I guess FB has become the proverbial “Hi! How are you?” exchange when you run into an old friend. One where you don’t even have to wait for the other person to pull out their wallet (or iPhone) with photos.

After the initial exchange, then what?

I made the mistake a couple of times of sharing, well, more than maybe I should have on FB with those old friends. I have a sneaking suspicion that the old friend with whom I shared the news of the divorce, the events of the last five years which precipated it, the ins and outs of couples counseling didn’t really want to have those details. Not sure why I did it, either, except that there’s a certain safety in it – it’s almost therapeutic. And I guess I figured that my real friends didn’t want to hear it any more.

Ha ha – I guess it’s no different than posting my day-to-day stuff here, except you don’t have to come here and read it, right? On FB, I feel this obligation to actually read everything that’s in my inbox.

Sorry, FB friends – I won’t do it again. Blog readers – thanks for putting up with me.

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The Facebook Phenomenon, part one

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Okay. So I’m on Facebook. I actually have been for quite some time – longer than most of my peers in my age group (the old people, I guess). Not nearly as long as my recent college-graduate daughter, of course. I initially signed on so that I could see her photos (because a mother never can get quite enough of seeing photos of her 20-something daughter drinking, holding suspicious-looking red cups, or with people who are drinking or holding suspicious-looking red cups), but as I friended and became friended it took on other meaning for me.

Over the last year I’ve reconnected with old – old – friends; people I haven’t seen in 30 years. I’ve also used it as a remarkable networking tool with professional colleagues and people I meet at conferences or workshops. I’ve gotten a little work here and there and even had a fascinating discussion on it the other night resulting from a status update about digital immigrants and digital natives (stuff I talk about in my real life, not my “I’m getting divorced and it’s all about me life”). It has an awesome combination of real-time communication and asynchronous communication that really, I think, facilitates connection for everybody.

Once the divorce stuff started, it was interesting to see the role that Facebook played in it. The first thing was my relationship change. I did that early on – right after Mr. Ex moved out – and within about one second of my changing my relationship status Allie called me on my cell to ask if I really wanted that showing up on everyone’s feed. You know, the thing that seems to be alive on the screen; telling you that these people became friends, this person is doing laundry, this person just changed their profile picture… Hmmm. She was right – while I wanted it out there, I didn’t want it hitting everyone’s screen (everyone being everyone who was my friend) before the girls and I had the chance to actually speak to some people and tell them. So I changed the privacy setting of my relationship. Easy enough to do, but it really made me think about the immediacy of the Internet and how powerful that immediacy could be. What used to take days, months, perhaps years to get around could now spread through cyberspace in mere seconds.

As the months progressed FB continued to play a role in the divorce communication. And admittedly, it also played a small role in some snooping. Mr. Ex and I are still FB friends, so I see a little bit of what he’s up to. Nothing stalker-ish (I’m not driving past his house at midnight, y’know?), but I can see his status, notes on his wall, invitations he receives. I could see when he and his former, ahem, special friend (and I don’t mean special like in small school bus, either) became friends. And I have to admit to getting a small bit of satisfaction when I clicked on “don’t show this person again” when FB suggested she and I become friends. Sigh. A snub – even a blind cyber one – can still feel so good to administer.

It also felt good when his friends (real ones and FB ones) reached out to me when the divorce news spread to offer support, when my own friends chat me at midnight to chide me about a snippy status, or when a wistful status update (my favorite one is that I’m grateful for the love and support of good friends, family and colleagues – duh… who isn’t?) gets me the proverbial cyber-hugs that I can’t get for real at midnight when I’m alone at home.

To be honest, I think that one of the scariest things that a midlife divorcee faces is the ease with which one can become socially isolated. Think about it; when you have young children who need you to continue to function – drive them to soccer practice, pick them up from Hebrew school, take them to the school concert – much of that is what keeps you from becoming socially isolated. I mean, if you’re a sane and responsible parent you pretty much buck it up and suck it up and do what you have to do because the kids need you to. But for those of us whose child-rearing and child driving days are behind us, it’s easy to just hang out at home and wallow in social loneliness.

To a certain degree, FB helps you avoid that isolation, even if it only facilitates contact via a laptop screen and keyboard. And while it’s not the same as a gentle touch on the shoulder or a close friend’s hug and it lacks non-verbal communication signals like body language and facial expressions, it’s better than nothing. I know that in the last almost-six months it’s been invaluable for making me feel like I’m not alone, that I will survive, and that there are people out there who have survived this before me. Not to mention that it often makes it easier to make a date for coffee or breakfast or invite a former babysitter, now a  young mom of four going through a nasty divorce, to Shabbat dinner.

tomorrow – more thoughts on FB and divorce

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