Let me begin with this disclaimer: I love Facebook. I really do. I like keeping up with people from high school; I love seeing baby pictures and Christmas trees and trips to the Grand Canyon. I even like the sappy inspirational quotations and platitudes people post every day. But Facebook isn't all cute pictures of dogs in Halloween costumes.
Facebook gives you access to a giant community. You can fit all of your family, your friends from high school and college, your co-workers, your neighbors all in one room and you don't have to serve anyone snacks to get them to hang out. On your birthday, you can expect a flood of well wishes from the unlikeliest of candidates. The number of "likes" a post gets can really make your day. But sometimes this web of connectivity hurts in ways you cannot anticipate.
A friend and I often debate about the merits of posting about a long-standing friendship of his that dissolved over the last few years, just as Facebook took over the business of relating to people in our lives. As people we know post high school prom pictures and other scanned moments from the past, he laments his ability to not do the same for fear of scorching bridges. But he also laments that people do not know his true loss, the whole story.
This for me is the crux of the problem with Facebook. It is the illusion of the whole story. All the raw material is there -- the census data, the duck-faced pictures snapped with cell-phones, the check-ins and Foursquare and now the Timeline. The directions to the Timeline say: "Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos, and life events on your Timeline. This is where you can tell your story from beginning, to middle, to now." I read this and bristled. Could I really tell my story to this diverse web of people? Like my friend, I long for the people of this web, my personal Facebook tribe, to know my whole story and lament that in some ways it feels like bad etiquette or sour grapes to do so.
You see, I got divorced this summer. If you go by my Facebook wall, it looks like I flirted with a bunch of men, turned 37, and asked for a divorce. Many people reading would say -- wow, she totally had an affair, can't believe her husband didn't see that one coming. And I can very easily see how they would think so. But the wall is just that -- a wall -- you can't see behind it.
You don't want to go around posting your heartache on Facebook everyday; the petty nonsense of life, the wrenching moments that wear you down, the things you struggle with, the people that hurt you, the people you hurt -- most people try to leave that stuff out. This is not the stuff of polite conversation. Who wants to be a Debbie Downer?
Let's face it -- you may have 229 friends, but we know this doesn't mean friend-friends. This means 229 people you may have some tentative connection with, sometimes not even from the real world. (Another disclaimer -- this isn't to say that you can't be friend-friends with people online -- I know for a fact you can -- but the likelihood that it is all 229 is pretty slim). According to a 2011 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 22% of an average user's friends are from high school; this is the largest group followed by extended family at 12%. Co-workers come next at 10%. This diverse group makes sharing that cute corgi video a lot of fun, but telling how you really felt the morning after your husband tied one on and didn't come home is kind of like bringing rain to everyone else's parade. To further complicate things, you are probably "friends" with the husband that didn't come home too; I know I was.
This isn't to say I didn't get to share some of my tough times on Facebook. When my mom faced unexpected surgery to remove a tumor from her heart, my posts brought heartfelt offers of prayer that made getting through the days at the hospital a lot less lonely as did the distraction of playing Words with Friends.
My posts from this time don't capture the full amount of thanks I have for the people that reached out and supported my family at this time. They also don't show the evolution that my life took then as a long-time friend became more than a friend (see rumors of the affair mentioned above). My Timeline, in this case, was simply too messy to explain in the sentence of a status update.
And here is the salt in the wound aspect of Facebook. Many articles report how Facebook can be used in divorce proceedings, but they don't address the issues it brings after the fact. They don't address how tough it is to see your best friend comment on your ex-husband's vacation picture or to see your ex change her relationship status. There is no advice for me on how to deal with seeing that my ex-husband went out drinking with his friends instead of picking up our child via the post of a mutual friend. There is no button to click for how you feel in those moments. What would that button even be called? WTF, maybe?
There is no etiquette guide, no set of hard and fast rules for this great and wonderful technology that now connects us all. I am sure as we evolve a certain set of rules will too. But for now, I still feel much as I did in high school -- alone in a crowded room, unsure of what I can say and to whom.