A long time ago, when I was a reporter in Sacramento, I decided to throw a party for my newsroom friends. At the time, we lived an hour west of California’s capital city and about 45 minutes east of San Francisco. Bill was working in San Francisco, and we had decided to split the difference with our respective commutes.
I had just had one of the girls, but I really cannot remember which. I do remember that my mother had flown out from New Jersey to feed me seaweed soup and help care for the new baby. She cooked up a magnificent Korean feast, putting all her effort into feeding my friends and making sure their long drive would be worth their while.
I don’t remember exactly what happened that day, but it was a very busy news day in Sacramento, and perhaps the one-hour drive down Route 80 was more daunting than I realized. Despite the RSVPs, only two people showed up. I was upset mostly on behalf of my mother, who had worked so hard to be a great hostess. I think she felt sorry for me because she thought I didn’t have any friends.
Ever since then, I’ve had this fear: what if I threw a party and nobody came?
This is a feeling akin to what I’m feeling about Facebook right now. This explains why I don’t post my birthday, for example. Forget about posting the year of my birth. I don’t mind that I’m on the downhill side of 50. But I don’t need all my Facebook friends to know that, especially those I have not seen literally in decades. I do have a little bit of vanity.
A part of me is afraid to post my birthday because what if it came and went and nobody wished me happy birthday? Or what if only a handful of people did? This is nonsense, right? And yet, when I recently saw that a former colleague had only two birthday wishes on her Facebook page, I rushed to write a nice note across the miles, even though we weren’t really close. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise, except that I felt bad and thought, well, that could so easily be me.
Katie and Molly’s birthdays are only three years and three weeks apart. They each have hundreds of friends compared to my paltry 219; Katie actually has more than 1,000 Facebook friends, but who’s counting? Confession time: I actually counted who had more friends wishing them happy birthday. I couldn’t help it. In all other aspects of life, I refrain from comparing my children, but on Facebook, I couldn’t resist. And even though I knew that it was not a popularity contest, somehow, it felt like it was. Let’s just say they had an equal number of birthday wishes.
Also, seeing what other people post and keeping up with the likes and shares can be exhausting and guilt-ridden. How to like this friend’s post without liking the other? Won’t I hurt their feelings? Can’t wish that one acquaintance happy birthday without including everybody’s that month. But oh, how time-consuming and yes, even stressful!
And what is that strange, hovering feeling I get when I post something and then can’t help but peek during the day to see how many likes, shares or comments I have, and then making judgments about who said something and was it nice? And then if they do post something good, feeling like, well, next time, when that person posts, I really should reciprocate? And if they don’t say anything, well, harrumph!
Recently, I posted a marketing video I produced that features Will and his friends. I only half kid my children about wanting to post something that goes viral, so in an effort to try to make that happen, I asked all three of them to post the link on their Facebook pages. And because they love me, they did. The video is amusing and catchy and good entertainment, so I didn’t feel bad about making the request.
But I do see lots of stuff on Facebook that makes me wonder what the heck could they possibly have been thinking when they posted that, especially when it comes to pictures that are blurry, unflattering, or just plain uninteresting (to me).
And then there are the suggested friends. What if you ask to be someone’s friend and they turn you down? I know I have ignored some requests — only a handful, but still. What if you want to unfriend someone or what if they unfriend you? Isn’t that the equivalent of meting out the silent treatment or giving someone the hand? What would make you unfriend someone? That just seems so hostile.
Many businesses have turned to Facebook to push out their marketing, but mostly, they are annoying and it’s a turn-off to find them on my Facebook page. Do I really want to know who likes Target and Walmart? Is it necessary to find out online that my own husband likes Samsung Mobile? I asked him why he felt the need to endorse Samsung on Facebook. He said he had not; perhaps it is because we recently bought a Samsung TV at Best Buy. But then how did they get the information to post on his Facebook page? Is that allowed?
I love reconnecting with old friends and I do love it when they share snippets of their lives — most of the time. But at times, Facebook seems to have devolved into the electronic version of a popularity contest. Maybe this is why Facebook’s stock has faltered instead of soaring. The novelty is gone and Facebook has revealed its true soul as another huge time sucker in this age when time suckers abound — and also as a device that can make you feel like a wallflower at your own party.