Thursday, October 15, 2009

Original Facebook Sin

Dear Krista,

I wish I did not know how many sex offenders lived in your county. I also wish that I did not know what level of Mafia Wars that Jackie has completed, nor what color Erin decided to paint her dining room, nor how long it has been since Rayna’s two sons had haircuts. But it took me a long time to figure out why knowing any of these things bothers me.

First, let it be known that I harbor no real ill will toward you. This is in spite of the fact that my most vivid memory of you was when you wouldn’t let me read your transcription of the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby,” when we were ten years old because you decided I wasn’t cool enough to learn them. I swear that I’ve recovered from the slight, and I’ve heard from reliable sources that you turned out to be a very friendly person and that you married David, who I always found pleasant albeit a bit maudlin. To say that we have ever been friends, though, either back in the days when you would scorn me on the school bus or nowadays when I haven’t seen you in the flesh for something like ten years, would be a gross exaggeration. That’s why it came as a surprise when, after I finally caved to sustained peer pressure and joined Facebook, I received a notification mere hours later that said, “Krista Knox added you as a friend.”

Technologically savvy people tell me that I could have clicked “Ignore,” and we probably would neither have been the worse for it, and yet I can’t bring myself to do that, either out of politeness or dark curiosity, for anyone with whom I can recall having a single conversation. The altercation about Vanilla Ice alone put you in that category. And so I clicked “Confirm” when faced with your request and many others.

And, oh my, what a deluge of information followed. I now know that my friend’s mom hosts a cooking show on the local cable channel and that my college roommate’s brother has a second child and that my boyfriend’s sister-in-law’s eye hurts today. But the vast majority of revelations come from people like you, people I went to elementary and high school with, which I suppose is only natural since we spent a lot of time squeezed into the same small town and then mostly went our separate ways. Without Facebook, I probably would have gone years, maybe a lifetime, without remembering some of these people, but now that I know where they are, it all makes perfect sense. Of course Elisa is in pharmaceutical sales, of course Tricia is a nurse practitioner in Pittsburgh, of course Sarah is a history teacher at our old junior high. And I should think, “Good for them!” and close my browser, but human feelings are rarely that simple.

There are times when I wish I could erase some of what I’ve seen in this strange digital landscape. Surfing Facebook fills me with the same dread, depression, and insatiable yen for more that an alcoholic must feel when entering a bar. This is not easy to admit, but usually the first feeling that washes over me when I look at the profile of a former Lexingtonian is cruel scorn. The things that people post often seem self-involved and petty and bizarre to me. I like to blame this on being so far away from our hometown, and I think that it does have something to do with seeing others through a lens that has become shaped by Cambodia. How can I care if Mike is hitting the gym to lose weight when I live in a country where most people survive on rice alone? How can I not roll my eyes at Brittany’s Week 23 Mommy-to-Be musings when five Khmer women die in childbirth every day? Jason says that this kind of superiority complex is useless, and he’s right, of course. It’s no better than the childish disdain you held for me and my “Ice Ice Baby” naiveté, and I’m frankly ashamed of it.

What’s worse is that it’s always mixed with a kind of acid jealousy. I envy the security and ease and distractions and blithe obliviousness that show in some of these profiles. “Is this all you want?” my scornful side says, while secretly wanting at least some of the same things myself. It’s not that I mean to devalue what many of them have—the marriage and the kids and the steady job—but it’s impossible to imagine myself arriving there by the same path that they did. That’s what’s at the heart of it, I think, the fact that writers cannot use the blueprint that seems to have delivered happiness to lots of the people I grew up with.

Then again, it’s only Facebook and who knows how faithful a copy of real life it is. I know how little of me is on my profile—a few links to articles, a silly photo of me in sunglasses. Could anyone we knew in high school find out anything about me from this? But I’m sure they make assumptions, just as I do. Do they think I am a fool when they read that I am living in Cambodia and that I’m a writer, or are they a little envious, or is it the same complicated blend of emotions that swamp me when I look at a few spare facts about them?

Maybe you are asking yourself why I don’t just delete my account or at least stop checking it, and that’s probably a wise suggestion, Krista. But I can’t—there is some part of me that is tainted by tasting the fruit of Facebook and cannot go back. I need to see Brittany’s baby photos, I need to know how Renee’s honeymoon went, I even need to know the results of whatever weird quiz you’ve taken most recently. And I need to know that maybe you’re curious about me, too.

With nostalgia and everything else,



True Sanctuary said...

Hi Shannon,

I work for a Travel Channel show coming to Cambodia the end of November/beginning of December. I'd like to get in touch with you to brainstorm ideas and possibly have you as an on camera guide. Based on your blog, it looks like you've been to some of the places we'd like to shoot. Please send an email and let me know a good time to chat with you.

Sarah Gebeke
Tremendous Entertainment ● 10100 Viking Drive, Eden Prairie, MN 55344 ● 952-303-8027 direct ● 952-258-0155 fax ● Sarah.Gebeke skype

shantiwallah said...

I can relate to this post entirely! I resisted Facebook until only a few months ago. Pressured on by an old high school friend, one that I did in fact want to stay in touch with, it has been an exercise in nostalgia. I'm surprised to see how little has changed for a lot of the people from my school when I've not even set foot in that town since. I like being in touch with some, but others I accidentally accepted as friends before I knew enough about FB to understand that I shouldn't have. I really hope that when I delete someone (because I really don't care what their score is on Mafia wars)they don't get a notice. But I'm willing to risk it in some cases!

Anna said...

When Justin and I were getting ready to leave NYC for our year of travel to - gasp! - Austin and Asheville, friends kept commenting on what an "adventure" it would be, how they could never imagine doing something so crazy. And I kept thinking, "Really?" And then I would think of you and Jason, and how THAT is what a real adventure looks and tastes and smells like.

All of this to say, I would imagine that reading stuff like that on my FB wall really gets your goat. And I don't blame you!

(Also, congrats on the True Sanctuary comment above! Did this come to anything?)