Back in the early years of the new millennium, Facebook was something we old, crunchy boomers only heard about dimly. It was some Internet something or other that had to do with lord knows what. It was as alien to us as love-ins, The Jefferson Airplane and peyote simmering on the stove were to our parents.
The first flood of invitations to join Facebook came as a big surprise to people of our generation. Why would we want or need this? And for those of us who had children, grown or not, we might have felt disposed to let them hold onto those things that are righteously theirs. Would we have wanted our parents donning tight jeans and loose leather fringe, or purchasing their own Hendrix tapes on eight track? I don’t think so.
And yet Facebook has caught on with a large number of boomers. I don’t know if we love it, but we are addicted to it. Conceivably, support groups are already forming.
I think the younger generation is frankly appalled at how enthusiastically we’ve embraced this art form. They enjoy Facebook, too, but they’re so busy tweeting, texting and bringing their smartphones within viewing distance of their face (I swear, next they’ll invent a cap that holds it directly over their foreheads like lamps on miner’s helmets) that for them, Facebook is simply one of many social media.
But as much as we’ve taken to Facebook like mushrooms to spongy dark spaces, we’re still groping our way. I, too have mushroomed myself into this spongy dark space, and an issue has begun to haunt me lately. Many of my Facebook friends were already actual friends, while others were re-discovered friends, community acquaintances or friends of friends. All well and good. But who are these virtual friends that we accumulate in one way or another? If their correspondence has been cordial and engrossing, then a pen pal affinity is achieved and you become genuine friends. To meet one of them in person, which happens routinely in a small community like ours, is a genuine pleasure.
But every so often one of these virtual friends turns unsustainable in one way or another — critical, sneering, even hostile. You are then forced to do a thing that leads you to feel unkind: You unfriend that person, to use the parlance of social networking.
Happily, this event of evicting a person from your digital real estate can be accomplished without unnecessary rudeness. No message of unfriending is dispatched. The unfriend may never notice. Your snippets of wit and photos of dahlias will no longer appear on the unfriend’s news feed. Many months could elapse before he or she even stops to wonder where you’ve gone.
If the unfriend is aware that he or she has grown offensive and makes an effort to log onto your page, there will be no page to speak of, only a name and perhaps a photo, and an invitation to “send friend request” which is unlikely to be reasserted.
My son, my electronic age guru, has said repeatedly from the very beginning: “Mom, be careful who you friend. Make sure it’s someone you know. There are too many people out there ready to pick a fight.”
So who have I reluctantly let go? There was one woman last winter who became incredibly cross over a riff I’d been doing on green smoothies — those blender shakes with bananas and handfuls of spinach or kale or Swiss chard. I honestly don’t understand why; if this annoyed her, she could have devoted her time to more exciting Facebook contacts.
But she had to go.
More recently I encountered a rash of angry comments following an essay I’d posted for an online newspaper. Fine. You expect this when you blabber your own sorry suggestions for how the world should work, in this case how schools might improve, a hot button topic. Most of the comments were sympathetic, but the ones that were not touched off a firestorm. Ouch.
All this was manageable, but a few ungentle comments spilled over onto my Facebook page.
Most of the time Facebook is one long love fest. You sprained your ankle? Poor baby! Your daughter in law received a Pulitzer? Champagne corks pop all over the virtual country. So I was surprised when several friends expressed outrage without the diplomacy or gentleness of real friends.
Once more into the unfriending breach.
All of which makes me even more grateful and loving toward my true and gallant and talented friends, real and/or digital. Happy New Year, old chums, and may we and all the generations on every side of us continue to make each other’s lives truly sparkle and thrive.
Gazette contributor Holly Nadler lives in Oak Bluffs.