On July 4, 2009, the day Sarah Palin announced that she would step down from the Governorship of Alaska, the perfect quip popped into my head. As we are wont to do in this age of social media, I immediately logged onto my Facebook account and typed the most famous line from Gerald Ford’s inauguration speech into the status update box: ‘Our long national nightmare is over.’
Minutes later, a distant acquaintance (the older brother of a high school friend with whom I had long ago fallen out of touch), posted a comment that I found surprising given what I knew (from earlier Facebook comment discussions) to be his radically left-wing political views. ‘Look, I completely disagree with most of Palin’s politics,’ he wrote in the way of political throat clearing. ‘But can we at least applaud the fact that unlike 90 per cent of Americans, she chose to keep Trig rather than killing him in the womb? She made the right decision, she struck a blow for the culture of life, and she deserves our praise for that regardless of what our politics may be.’
Another ‘friend’, a young woman who had been a senior while I was a freshman in college, and whom I barely even knew at the time and hadn’t spoken to in over five years, was having none of it. ‘Where is that completely bogus statistic from?’ she demanded to know from my other ‘friend’ whom she had never met. ‘Last time I checked, 90 per cent of Americans don’t support abortion and 90 per cent of women haven’t had them. Throwing out ridiculous numbers like that really doesn’t help your argument.’ What followed was an online argument lasting past 2am, in the course of which no less than the medical journal Prenatal Diagnosis was cited.
I don’t know who coined it, but I read it on my Twitter feed, and I’m quoted it often when explaining the difference between Twitter and Facebook: “Twitter’s made me fall in love with people I’ve never met, and Facebook made me hate people I’ve known my whole life.”
I ended my time on Facebook in 2010 (or was it 2011? I can’t even remember now) because I got tired of getting mad about what I was seeing. I thought I would have a detachment issue from the site, but after two or three days, I didn’t even think about it. Beyond occasionally getting on a girlfriend’s account and playing Fuck-Marry-Kill, or getting on my mom’s Facebook to see how intolerable almost everyone she’s Friends with is, I have no interaction with Facebook or the act of Facebooking.
I was at my parents’ home a couple weeks ago and (unwisely) updated their iPad iOS for them, and in the process got them the updated Facebook app. I barely recognized the site, but it was easy to scroll through a few days worth of Wall action. It was … disturbing. A good deal of the posts was religious in nature, but my mother is quite religious, as are many of her friends. Like politics, Facebook seems an odd place to constantly post religious-themed stuff beyond the occasional Bible verse, but viral piety no doubt has its allure for those awash in the lamb’s blood.
Removed from Facebook and reading another person’s wall is an interesting experience. Although this is getting perilously close into turning into a bad Andy Rooney impersonation, I wonder if people who come across so horribly on Facebook realize that they come across that way. A frequent poster on mom’s feed is a distant relative who is my age, a failed artist who now spends their evenings critiquing the aspiring artists on the nation’s many nationally televised talent shows. He reeks of bitter and I wonder if anyone close to him has pointed out how terrible it makes him look? He was never a particularly likable fellow, and it’s always noteworthy when a person who has hundreds of Friends never gets so much as a Like on any of their diatribes against the horrible state of the Art.
I am thankful that I grew up in the last age where everything that popped into my teenage head couldn’t be shared with every person I knew. Although I used to be a newspaper columnist and, back when newspapers were a thing people read, I was also the kind of man who’d fire of angrily-worded letters to the editors. I cringe at perceived profundities I once uttered that now fall somewhere between ignorant and insane on the “profound” continuum, so the idea of unleashing the 17-year-old brex onto Facebook is, I dunno, Kafka-esque.