Zero to Sixty in Six Years
In 2003, I moved overseas just as Friendster was emerging as a major networking site for the corporate world and the newborn Myspace was drawing college-age kids in droves. I saw no point in being on either site, as I fit into neither demographic.
I went to France, a country far less tech-obsessed than the US. The 18-35s have computers and smart phones, but once you get 100 kilometers outside a major city, you'd better be carrying cash, because ATMs are few and far between. The French did have Minitel, an information, chat and shopping exchange that debuted in the 1980s, although the terminals were simple and utilitarian, with a ghostly green text-only interface. When I arrived, high-speed internet coverage was still under development – I recall seeing boats laying cable in the bed of the Seine through my first few years in the country.
In 2006, I was introduced to Facebook by an American friend in Paris who convinced me that it was essential to our careers – she a UNESCO programs manager, I a musician - to have a presence on a variety of social networking sites. I opened a Myspace music page to build a fan base, and a Facebook page to see if I liked it. Myspace worked out well for me – it was free and easy to customize, and I made a crucial work contact, leading to a huge career and artistic bump. This was not the case with Facebook. My ex began pestering me on the site. None of my other friends used it, so the experience rapidly flatlined. After about two months, I deleted my account.
Or I thought I did.
Everybody Else Is Doing It…
Last Fall, newly returned to the US, I caved into peer pressure from a new group of friends and re-joined Facebook. I was prepared to build a brand new profile, since I had deleted the old one, but I learned that my account had merely been deactivated: my photo was there, old friends still on my list, as if I'd never left. Like revisiting an apartment I’d once inhabited to find that it had been held in suspended animation since I’d moved out.
Still, I was determined to get some value out of this site. If it was so fun, as my friends claimed, I wanted to enjoy it too. So I updated my profile pic. I followed Facebook’s suggestion that it comb through my email contacts to find out which of my friends was on the site. The return was formidable: about 60% of my contacts were represented.
The process of choosing whom to “friend” was a strange one. I found myself weighing abstract concepts: how long had it been since we'd been in touch; was this a friend, an acquaintance, a business contact? I needed to set parameters: if I don't know you in real life, I won't be your Facebook friend. That rule came in handy immediately, as friends of friends (and various strangers) rushed to "friend" me. "Friend", that trustworthy, stand-up noun became a verb that I found ungracious to say the least.
Lest I sound dour, let me emphasize that initially it was great fun to check my wall to see who was chatting me up, to swap greetings and videos and songs and funny things I had seen and wanted to share with others in passing. I was happy to hop on this bandwagon that gave me the impression of having a lifeline to so many great people.
The Trouble with Friends
In the analog world I have beautiful friends from various walks of life, scattered around the globe, and most of them rarely meet, even if they inhabit the same city. I have always liked this arrangement. Facebook changed all of that.
My boundary issues took a beating as the people I knew started to "friend" one another and form their own bonds independent of me. I asked a family member not to Facebook my friends, and she expressed disappointment. Since when would my family want to keep in touch with my circle of friends? What do they possibly have to talk about? Aren’t friends supposed to be an escape from family?
Very rapidly Facebook became a source of trouble in my life. That ex was “friending” me again, as were his “friends”, people in another country with whom I would otherwise have zero contact. I found myself having difficult conversations explaining why I didn't want A to “friend” B, or telling someone in person why I wouldn’t accept their “friend” request. I grew to hate the verb “friend": another name on my wall, the human relationship as status symbol.
And this was only the beginning of the trouble…