Thursday, October 8, 2009

One Newsfeed Item Away from an Existential Crisis

I am what one might call a self-hating Facebook stalker. I want so much to be that guy who just uses the infamous social networking tool for the events function; I want so much to laugh haughtily at the people who put every minute detail of their lives on the internet.

But I can't, because I eat that crap up.

The facebook guilt/shame spiral has spun ever-deeper as of late, too, as I've been hungrily following the sad story of a girl I knew in high school, shamelessly riding the highs and lows of her struggle along with her. As if we're friends. As if we still know each other. Maybe I would have heard about it anyway, because I'm from a small town and word gets around fast. Maybe my following her newsfeed is just the best thing I can do for her right now, sending comforting vibes out into the ether in the hopes that she somehow feels them across cyberspace and is cheered for no reason for a moment. But maybe I'm just a morbid voyer, feeding off of her personal drama.

The internet is a strange place; it presents an overwhelming phenomenon of worldwide closeness and local disconnect. The same person who might skype his or her friends in foreign countries might also text or email his or her friends down the street or in the same building, because in cyberspace they are the same distance.

There is something to be said for what we choose to put about ourselves on the internet (because at this point in social history it is largely a choice unless, of course, you wind up in an embarrassing watchdog situation like failblog, or you have an undiscerning photo-happy facebook friend.) And there is something to be said for the me-centric culture that exists today: is it developing because of social networking sites that encourage us to put up every detail about our everyday lives, implying that we are important and special, or is it our me-centric culture that makes these websites thrive? Did we as humans create our selfish culture or does modern culture make us selfish? Is it selfishness at all or simply fulfilling a basic need to reach out to our fellow man in any way that we know how?

So does it make me a jerk that you post more about your life than I do, and I judge you by it? Maybe.

And that is what keeps me up at night. Is is my fault or her fault that I am addicted to her pain? (It has to be someone's.) But as much as I want to sit on my high horse and judge anyone who puts up intimate details of his or her life on the internet, I can't. Because when she writes about her life, I read it. And I feel for her because, and maybe this is the whole point, she is revealing something very basic and human and emotional about herself, and my instinct is to corral and nurture. I read her updates obsessively but I don't want her to keep hurting; I want to read about how she's getting through it. I want my empathetic, feel-better vibes to reach her, not because I want everyone to know I'm a caring person, but because I'm human and I know pain too. I want her pain to be somehow lessened, even though I haven't seen her since high school.

Maybe that's the difference between these posts and some others I judge without shame. This girl is doing a little more than announcing into a vacuum; she's using social media to relay a painful topic to people who may want or need to know. I may not be able to empathize with her exact situation, but I can empathize with that. Last year, when my grandmother passed away, I sent out a generalized mass email to my close friends who needed to know, letting them know the details of the funeral and the charity we were accepting donations for in her behalf, and that I would not be answering my phone as I was not ready to talk out loud about it. There is something to be said for the instant communication/comforting disconnect the internet provides.

Maybe what I should do is message this girl and let her know I'm thinking about her, even though we barely know each other anymore. Even though we barely knew each other in high school. Maybe I should reach out and use Facebook for good, rather than stalking.


Dennis said...

I judge people who share the intimate, painful details of their lives on the internet. Just push it down to the pit of your stomach and ignore like the rest of us! What the fuck! When Jescie and I broke up in my early college years I got in the habit of posting sappy, depressing comments as my AIM away message. I woke up one morning with a message from HimLovesPopeyes(Anthony Damron):

qq moar fgt

I giggled gleefully and realized that he was right. Wise Anthony.

Jstone said...

Facebook has let me know that a disturbing number of my high school friends are single mothers. Their kids are adorable but its weird. That's what I stalk on facebook for, to see completely different lives that are disconnected from my own. Little windows into parallel worlds.

Miasma said...

I like that you addressed this. (Yes, I'd use the 'like' function on facebook.) I find myself annoyed sometimes, as maybe you do, that facebook has become part of [my] daily consciousness.... it comes up in conversation, but truly it's our generation's rolodex.... or phone book.... so, sometimes it's about stalking and sometimes you can't help but care and be drawn in. Why?

Well, you have a good point. it's human. and we don't know.