When I first heard about Facebook, I assumed it was a cosmetic makeover store. I soon learned otherwise. “It’s a social networking site,” a student told me. “You should join.”
“Yeah, well, I already know too many people,“ I growled. “And I’m way too old. They don’t want people on there who remember Richard Nixon or still look things up in books.”
The student smiled. “Sure they do,” she said. “The fastest-growing group of users are women your age [399 in dog years] trying to find old boyfriends.”
That made me shudder.
Then, one day, I heard of a site on Facebook that I needed to read; a list of nice things people were saying about me. I’m always a sucker for cheap compliments, so I rushed to the computer.
Sadly, the only way to read it was to join, so I did. I read the list. Then I forgot about it. Until the next day, when I had three e-mails from people wanting to be my “Facebook friend.” I ignored them. The next day I had five more, then eight more. They were multiplying like feral kittens.
I grumpily deleted all of them. Then someone said, “My daughter’s feelings were hurt that you won’t be her Facebook friend. All you have to do is click a little box and she will be happy.” Sigh. It was either play or miff two people.
So I went and clicked away and immediately had 34 friends. What was bizarre is that I didn’t know more than half of them; they were evidently people who had read things I’d written or heard me on the radio. I looked at the “profile page” of one person I did know. She had posted 157 pictures of herself on Facebook. I soon learned she was a shrinking violet; my niece has 1,020 pictures of herself.
I remembered what a famous British scientist said when he was first shown television: “Congratulations. You have perfected the biggest time-waster in history.” I hope the poor man didn’t live to see Facebook.
One night, while walking the dog, I had a sudden inspiration: I’ll see how many Facebook friends I can get without even trying. So, once a day, I dutifully went on and signed them up.
Soon I had 100, then 300. Two of these were, in fact, people I had lost touch with and was delighted to hear from.
But others began complaining that I had no pictures of myself. In fact, I have one very cute one, taken in May 1952. I am 6 weeks old and smiling, possibly for the last time. But I didn’t know how to put it on Facebook. So I called a young(er) person and asked, “Sandi, could you put a picture on Facebook for me?” Within moments, I had the picture I wanted: The official Soviet portrait of Josef Stalin in his marshal’s uniform at the end of World War II.
“See, I knew you could grow a mustache, but I think you’ve put on some weight,“ a Presbyterian minister in California wrote to me.
J. Vissarionovich’s mug did lose me a cyber amigo who “de-friended” me. At least he had the courtesy to tell me first. “My family came here from Europe, and I don’t need the immigration after me,” he wrote.
“Uncle Joe’s been dead 56 years,” I replied. “I think the pressure is off.” So I talked about this on the radio, and about how stupid this whole phenomenon seemed. Within a twinkling, I had 200 more Facebook friends. I decided I should learn about the younger generation, and started reading some of what they had posted on their “walls.” A lot of it was like this:
“Just got up and am looking out the window. I am just wasted!!! I so totally don’t want to work today!!!” Then, 11 minutes later: “Still not off the couch. I need to get coffee and haul ass soon.”
I made a mental note not to read his wall on his wedding night. I was, however, soon spooked when I had my first wall-writing experience, to tell another 50-something about the illness of a mutual friend.
“Thanks, but did you know everyone can see what you write?” That was the end of scribbling on Facebook walls for me. My love affair with socially challenging networks was swiftly cooling, even as I clicked in new friends.
“Why don’t you join Plaxo, too?” one suggested.
I didn’t want to join anything that sounded like denture adhesive. Nor did I want to tweet, Twitter, or be Linked In. The next day, the America Online headline read: “Bill Gates Quits Facebook Over Too Many Friends.”
“It was just too much trouble, so I gave it up,” he said.
Who am I to quarrel with the planet’s most successful man? I tried to figure out how to say goodbye to 639 mostly anonymous buddies.
Failing to find the proper text message, I pondered my face in the mirror. No doubt about it, I would have been better off with a cosmetic makeover.