Saturday, August 13, 2011
Despite my not quite knowing what to do with them, I have a Facebook and a Twitter account. I gave up on the latter about a year ago, if only because I was unable to reduce what I wanted to say on any given occasion to a trite formula in the abbreviated telegraphese required by the "network". (I was taken by surprise once by a tweet from Martin Amis, whose criticism I read avidly.)
Facebook is better, but only slightly. I have found it to be a source of both wonder and frustration - wonder at its ability to reconnect me with people I'd lost touch with, frustration at my inability to find anything to say to them after all these years. It's strange, to put it mildly, to have them back with no other frame of reference than a brief shared history, however ancient.
Like attending a 20th high school reunion, we can see that the intervening years haven't been kind to any of us. Some of us are essentially the same. But others are utterly changed. Some remember what I remember with a sense of humor. Others have forgotten or would like to forget the past.
All these people are classified by Facebook as "friends". But are they? They may have been, once upon a time, fifteen or twenty years ago. Now they arouse somewhat embarrassed, awkward feelings, almost like looking at old photographs or video of oneself. It's really you in the picture, but there is no longer any way you can account for him. You have long since washed your hands of that person, of everything he may have said or done.
The big difference is that I am more than a decade older than most of my friends. That age difference grows less important as the years pass, but I can never escape it. So at the same time I was thirty-two or thirty-five, they were nineteen or twenty-one. What they might regard as the sins of their youth today was the time of my life.
Last June, sitting in an internet cafe here in a backwater of the Philippines while my Facebook friends were getting along in their lives somewhere in the contiguous United States, or somewhere a lot closer, I felt moved to write something that exceeded the maximum number of characters and had to be posted as a "note":
I check up on friends and family here, which is one of the few ways left to me from the distance at which I find myself. And I wonder at how much my being an icon on their computer screens is an act of faith. It's just about the closest I come any more to prayer when I open my facebook page. How insubstantial it is. And yet it's as beautiful as those paper streamers that once stretched between passengers on a ship and their loved ones on the pier. Only mine is several thousand miles long.
I got no replies - no "comments" - and no one liked it enough to click on "Like". I wasn't surprised, but still disappointed. I'm sure what I wrote made them feel the same awkward embarrassment that they always feel when they look at my profile photo and think of all the distance that time and experience have stretched between us.