Facebook, Revisited

Three years later, I am back on Facebook.

It’s strange, bittersweet even, to see how much people I once considered friends have changed. Children appear that I knew only as infants. Children exist when they previously didn’t altogether. There are altered physical appearances, jobs, locations: some entirely out of left field. My return exacerbates the feeling I had during my time in Japan of a life in pause. More than that, it underlines the gulf in place – emerging before Japan – between my life and theirs, a mutual creation. Some former acquaintances leave my friend request hanging even as I see they remain active users; perhaps they were offended by my drifting, or are simply indifferent to my renewed presence. I’m a bit saddened by that, though it only reinforces a truth I already know.

For those who do accept my friend request, or send one over my way, I have made no additional effort to catch up. I don’t know that I will ever develop that urge. To be fair, it’s a two-way street. In the meantime, I am already being confronted again with annoying traits of particular individuals: narcissism, self-righteousness, and so forth. There is so much attention-whoring and self-congratulatory drivel and, in some instances, melodramatic self-pity.* The superficial and transient nature of it all smacks me in the face too. Maybe I’m just annoyed that I’m not fully engaged, or that I’m not winning the popularity contest. But even when I do want to share content, I’m all too cognizant about the justified criticism of echo chambers.

*Even more than can be found on this blog! 😉

Of course it has not all been unequivocally bad. On a practical level, I have been able to reach out for a quick question or chat or photoshare here and there, at times with people I probably wouldn’t have been sought out otherwise. More fundamentally, I get a glimpse – even if a superficial one – into the lives of people I was close to and still care about, at some level. It is perhaps a healthy deterrent to my natural inclination to sever completely, irrevocably. Meanwhile, for those who I remain close to and deeply care about, I get to witness another side of their personality, peer into their friendships and their past and present lives. Naturally, if selfishly, I get to show a bit more of myself to them in the process too.

Thus far though, I have largely been a passive consumer of content, forgoing the role of active producer I used to play. I reserve my activity to the sporadic photograph, status update, and ‘likes.’ There is a chance that a small handful of relatives, close friends, even lost acquaintances would appreciate it if I were to expand my presence on social media. But I don’t know that I can be that person now.* I don’t know that I have ever been that person, online or off. Indeed, one of my oldest friends told me once that I was selfish because I didn’t share more of myself with people in general. I remain convinced he overestimates both my appeal to others and – more relevant – my tolerance of others.

*For instance, sharing my Instagram seems supremely self-centered. Meanwhile, this blog is a bit too near and dear to share actively and indiscriminately with people I know, as counter-intuitive as that may seem.

Yet, there is no doubt I have different feelings about Facebook now than I did in the waning months of my previous stint. During that time, I felt the need to cleanse myself of the casual acquaintances that seemed confined to a shared – and aggressively inclusive – graduate school experience. The website seemed a reminder of all that I could not shed, of the facade that all of us were supposed to maintain. But I don’t necessarily see it as that anymore. Perhaps the time away has allowed me to feel like I have indeed moved on, or at least, like I have proven to myself of that. I can look back at those people and those relationships with a degree of objectivity, and not feel resentful that I am tethered to them without a real choice.

I am deluding myself a bit. There is admittedly a comfort to the social network, especially during a time when I feel especially vulnerable. It is nice to know that there are ‘friends’ out there – no matter how dated and loose the term may be – who will like a photo, laugh at a status update, click on a link. Who will, stripping things bare, acknowledge my existence. I don’t know what that says about me. I justify it by saying I want to reduce the burden on my best friend, on other close friends, so that I don’t become too needy, so that I don’t warp the relationships that actually matter to me. There is some truth to that. But maybe it has to do with narcissism too, with my desire to secure a little more validation. I do not deny that possibility.

For now though, in part because of the ambivalence, I feel a bit in limbo, as though I have returned to Facebook without quite committing to it all the way. Maybe this is my new status quo, the means through which I reconcile my need for the social network with my distaste for many of its aspects. Or maybe, it’s a matter of time before I decide to move on once again.

(Photo by momo – https://www.flickr.com/photos/kudumomo/5476683654, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37919316)

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