There's a girl that my kids went to school with about five years ago. She moved away and they've forgotten her but when she was in L.A. she'd hang around a lot and her living situation was so grim that I'll always remember her. She's nineteen now and she moved out of state a couple years ago. Her father died in pathetic circumstances last year and her mother has never much been in the picture. She friended the kids on Facebook and while they are of the out of sight, out of mind persuasion they ascribe to a quantity over quality philosophy with regard to amassing Facebook friends. When her name came up I sent her a note and we had an emotional exchange and she told me that my interest and affection meant a lot to her. She posts regularly, often fragments of poignant poetry which may be original or for all I know, hip-hop lyrics. There are photos of her with her friends and sometimes reports of activities which I presume are just as illegal in her current state of residence as they are in California. Recently, she posted a photo of the first spliff she'd rolled. It was indeed workmanlike. My own kids nearly wet themselves in hilarity at my pronunciation of “spliff,” slang for what I have always referred to as a joint. Alas, they have never witnessed their own mother's rolling abilities, which, back in the day, would have given their former friend a run for the money.
This imprudent girl is just a Facebook friend and not my kid although given her lack of an anchor, I am sometimes tempted to parent her a little and counsel her not to burn any bridges by posting incriminating stuff on Facebook. I chew this around but finally accept that it's not my place. I get enough guff telling my own kids what to do. About a year ago a picture of our eldest puffing on a cigarette surfaced. Himself and I went ballistic but were chastened when the boy pointed out that the photo was taken at a children's theater event and that the glowing cancer stick was actually a prop. This week a friend posted a photo of our boy glowering at the camera and flipping the bird. Here in hipsterland a dad arrived at a nursery school birthday party wearing a t-shirt with an image of Johnny Cash sporting a single finger salute but we try to tell our boy he's not in Silver Lake anymore.
We remind the lad about the case of Stacey Snyder who was in a Pennsylvania teacher training program. She posted a picture of herself on MySpace holding a paper cup and wearing a pirate hat. The caption was “drunken pirate” and based on this she was dismissed from the teaching college and is ineligible to ever apply for a teaching credential in the state of Pennsylvania. The boy says he doesn't want to teach anyway and wouldn't apply for any job that would entail scrutinizing his Facebook postings. You can afford this lofty moral stance when you're a nineteen year old college student but Himself reports that his students, most of whom have enormous college loan debt, in addition to families, are often asked to open their Facebook page or even provide the password as part of the job interview process. They don't have the luxury of our own kid's highfalutin' righteousness.
Mr. College often castigates his parents for being unable to get through a meal without mentioning Facebook. I defend our slavishness to the social network and point out that we don't have a slew of dormitory pals to chill with when we need to take a break and refresh with a bit of social interaction. He points out, pathetically naïve with regard to the dynamics of a twenty year marriage, that we have each other. I admit, just like my mother stressed out about reciprocating dinner invitations and keeping careful lists of gifts given and received, lest she regift back to the original giver, that lately Facebook sometimes feels more like an obligation than a pleasure. I strive not to miss a birthday or fail to recognize a milestone. I like wishing people a happy birthday because it's easy plus for me it softens the blow, when people from all different eras of my life give me a nod, that each birthday signifies my closer proximately to death. I've never defriended anyone but I admit I have opted out of the feeds for some of the most egregious cute kitten and child braggart posters. But even some of the content that isn't particularly banal or self promoting, just doesn't interest me.
I try to post things that raise the level of discourse but get the most attention it seems with cute pets and puerile humor. I have friended a number of writers I admire and marvel at how self involved and trivial many of them are. I have about 200 friends and there about a dozen I can depend on to post things that are consistently interesting and provocative. This means I usually have to mine through about a hundred status reports I don't give a rat's ass about to get to the one posting that makes it all worthwhile.
In the “research I would not have funded” category, several recent studies reveal that narcissistic personality disorder is prevalent in Facebook users who make frequent self congratulatory postings and cultivate long lists of friends. It took me about a nanosecond to realize that people pretty much behave the same way on a social network as they do in real life. I'm not saying that my participation in Facebook isn't ego driven. There are photos on me braless and in a schmatta on the couch next to the most hilarious of dogs that I have forbidden my children to post. I think that most people like to be perceived of as smart and attractive and I cultivate this myself but, and maybe I'm self-delusional, the greatest satisfaction comes not from the “You like me. You really like me,” aspect. I've been out of college for decades and work in a small office. It is nice to feel a part of something bigger and, in addition to the cute pet stuff, I've been exposed to things that I am better for having seen or pondered and like to think also that I've raised the consciousness of a handful of kindred spirits with regard to things that have touched me.
I am aware that the warm fuzzy Facebook obfuscates a darkness that merits concern. I've been called a Pollyanna and I've accused certain loved ones of being conspiracy theory nut cases. Since government disregard for the Constitution was so exposed and discredited in the aftermath of the McCarthy era and the turbulence of 1960s it seemed to me that no one in the government would have the balls again to encroach on citizens' rights by resorting to illegal surveillance. The ginormous shift to the right, which I believe is largely fueled by racism in the wake of Obama's election, makes even Pollyanna a wee bit paranoid. Now that it's been so co-opted by their parents, one of my sons has signed off of Facebook and the other only looks at it a couple times a week and sneers every time his parents mention it. Perhaps the novelty of on-line networking has worn off for the teenage crowd and Facebook will be primarily habituated by the my own less ambulatory demographic, less vulnerable to having lapses of judgment come back to bite us in the ass. I will probably never have to apply for another job, but you never know so it is better to boast here in the last paragraph of a blog no one reads that I still can roll a joint more dextrously than any Johnny-Come-Lately teen wannabee.