You Are How You Look
The holidays came and one friend posted some supremely awful Christmas party photos of me gnawing on a turkey leg, thinking it was funny. Of course I could not delete them, as I had not published them. Another friend posted a photo of me in my underwear, taken without my knowledge, and I learned of its existence thanks to a message from a different friend. I sent a fiery text message to the poster and the offending photo was removed.
I learned the hard way about “tags” in photos and had to spend an afternoon removing my name from photos I didn’t like while waiting for my “friends” to get around to removing them. I ultimately had to go to the extreme party-pooper level of picking up other people’s cameras and deleting photos of me that I didn’t want to appear on Facebook. I felt trapped in an insane new reality: my image no longer belonged to me. It was being used by others as content for their vanity web pages.
Let’s get one thing clear: I am not shy and love to smile for the camera. That being said, I believe that my image and reputation are all I have in society, and when people threaten my idea of that image, when my admittedly vain friends intentionally post unflattering photos of me, I get mad.
Now, I did upload crazy birthday photos complete with face paint and crotch-grabbing, middle finger-extending beer-soaked revelry. It was a fun night, and I wanted to share it with those who’d missed the high jinks because they were far away. Those were my photos and I made them visible only to my friends. Furthermore I chose flattering, non-falling-down-drunk photos, and then removed the album once people had a chance to view and download them.
I found myself thinking frequently of an experience I had in New York: one morning a coworker asked, “Don’t you hate it when you go out and drink so much that you black out and the next morning you have to piece together what happened the night before by going on Facebook to see the photos?” I was stunned into silence and genuinely disturbed for her.
The Ridiculous Before the Sublime
The content on my friend’s pages tended to skew toward the inane, the oddball and the bellybutton-gazing. My own content was often far from profound, although through the winter I was on an earnest quest to improve my health and my spiritual balance, and my wall postings and status updates reflected the personal search I had undertaken. One day I posted the question, “Who will you love today?” A girlfriend answered, “My new handbag!” and that was the only response I ever got. Hum. Another acquaintance posted endless political messages that got so extreme (not to mention smug) that I kept him as a “friend” but prevented his postings from appearing on my wall.
Having no control over what people put on a page listed under my name made me uneasy. I love my friends, and some of them are real weirdos who post some majorly nsfw things. I have both uber-religious family members and wild gay friends, both of whom faithfully post items that reflect their beliefs and thoughts – be it a bible passage or a series of shirtless self-pics taken in a mirror (yes, one of my exes too). I tried to section off my family using a filter in my friends list, but that didn’t work.
In fact, I never did find the right note to strike in choosing privacy settings. I opted not to appear to anyone, but then I couldn’t be found at all. I tried to limit who could post to my wall, but I never knew who would be the next one to write something that irked me enough to ax them from my feed. I was surprised at exactly how many of my friends posted things I just didn’t want to see.
But at this point I was addicted to Facebook and couldn’t look away. I can’t tell you how it came on, so I presume it was always happening through the whole difficult Resistance phase of the Fall into my Winter of Acceptance, which found me blogging my healthy meals and sending perky reminders to “choose love!” The feed became a part of daily life. Not to mention the practicality of saying, “Just find me on Facebook” to new acquaintances with whom I wanted to stay in contact. At a party, met someone, didn’t get their info? Find ‘em on Facebook!
This site, which I didn’t like to begin with, now occupied a large space in my life. Even at a dinner with friends, in the midst of a great time, I was reaching for my iPhone and updating my status. I told myself I was in the flux, but I was really just diverting my own attention from the lovely world around me into this cold, unfeeling machine, to these random lists of people and things that I believed might hold some clue to brilliance, inspiration, excitement.
But it wouldn’t last long…