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I'll Be Your Friend if You'll Accept My Request

This is my first blog entry. It’s an essay I wrote a few years ago when I joined Facebook.

“It’s a sign of an older person,” my daughter, Zoe, said in a voice I have yet to identify, but was some combination of a mock tolerance and affection. Anyone over the age of sixty with digitally sophisticated offspring would recognize the tone. I was holding up my cell phone checking a message and Zoe, a beautiful and savvy documentary filmmaker, was pointing to the strip taped to the back of the phone case. It was, I’m embarrassed to admit, my cell phone number. How was I to remember it? I never called myself. When I gave it to someone, I either e-mailed the number or read it over the phone one time. Suddenly I felt like ripping the paper off the case, sure that everyone could see my inappropriateness, as sure as if my birthdate was tattooed across my forehead. Nevermind. What did I care? Who was I trying to fool?

I had to get with the program; so many of my younger friends and relatives kept telling me. For years as a photographer, other shutterbugs told me I had to go digital. I had to get out of the darkroom and scrub the chemical stain off my hands. “But what about the quality of the light and shadow?” I wanted to know. “What about the control?”

“We do it all in Photoshop,” they had said. “A click of the mouse and you have black and white. You’ll love it.”

Well, I got the damn digital, but I never used it for black and white. Okay, maybe once.

And then, a woman in my MFA writing program said, “You are living in the dark ages,” and she didn’t mean the darkroom. “You complain about getting rejected in the print literary journals. You need an online presence. You must have a platform.”

“But I have a website,” I said.

“Is there a blog?”

“Well, I don’t use it.”

“It’s static. You need to go on Facebook.”

“No,” I cried. “I don’t want to go on Facebook. I don’t want to tweet. I don’t want to report my every fart to the world.” I may have been a senior citizen, but I sounded like a four year old.

So, I pretended I was the adult that I wasn’t and promised I would give it a chance. At least for a summer. This past June, I joined Facebook. First, I had to find a photo of myself. The challenge was to locate something that didn’t have a double chin plus opened eyes. Finally, I discovered an acceptable one with my hands in a bowl of grapes leaning against an old black-and-white TV in my kitchen. I posted it and immediately got responses.

“Why is your hand in a bowl of grapes?” my cousin Fran wanted to know.

“What is that old TV doing in your house?” my nephew Steve asked.

I soon learned Facebook lesson number one: Everyone has an opinion. However, I did get twenty-five likes. But did these people like my photo, my grapes, my TV, or me?

Speaking of likes, soon I became obsessed with having friends. Immediately, people from my e-mail list swarmed around me as potential friends, even though I had thought they were already my friends. What if someone from this list denied my friend request? Or even worse, what if some of these people didn’t answer at all? Didn’t they want to be my friend? Did they avoid their Facebook page? I searched their pages. There was no way to be certain. I didn’t know enough about settings and how people could avoid others.

Then my own network spread like the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game on speed. People I hardly knew or hadn’t seen in forty years suddenly requested to be my friend. What would I say to them? Would they want to have lunch with me?

I worried about the number of friends I had. I only had ninety friends and many of my friends had at least a hundred. Of course, there were a few poor souls with only twenty or thirty. I had to have more than Cousin Fran and my old friend Judy that was for sure; after all, I was certainly more likeable, or was I?

I am not proud of the hours I spent looking up old boyfriends, the majority of whom I couldn’t find. Did this mean they were dead or, like me, too old or too confused to get on FB? I became quite expert at finding people: searching alumnae lists, professional organizations, academic groups, etc. One thing would lead to another. I did what I knew I would do and swore I never would: wasted endless time wasting time.

What was more, I was reverting to high-school behavior, though I had never been like this in high school. The whole concept of Facebook was so high school. The words “like” and “friends” and the idea of accepting and rejecting people were designed to keep you in social hysteria. There was only one thing to do: call my daughter who knew the ins and outs of FB etiquette.

I flipped open my cell phone and pressed Zoe’s number. “I don’t want to be friends with everyone and his grandmother,” I whined. “I have to get off this site at once. I am getting social anxiety.”

“Wait,” she said. “You have to get the true spirit down. You can’t reject anyone.” Zoe could afford to talk. She had 2,352 Facebook friends.

My shrink, who had fifty-two Facebook friends and was seventy-three years old, disagreed. She had told me she weeded out her friends’ list and only kept people she truly wanted on it. She didn’t feel badly if she rejected anyone. (That was why she was a shrink.)

When I mentioned this to Zoe, she did the unthinkable: She criticized my shrink. “She has the wrong attitude. People on Facebook are not friends like you know friends. These are casual online acquaintances. You probably won’t ever talk to most of them. They are passing in your stratosphere. Just accept anyone who requests your friendship. It’s a kind of goodwill gesture.”

“Anyone, even someone I don’t know?” I asked.

“Okay, you should know them.”

“Thank God, I’ll have some standards.”

“And then just enjoy it. Scroll through the posts and don’t take them seriously.”

 

This morning Zoe called to say that I wished her friend Lauren a happy birthday, but her birthday is next week.

“But I got an e-mail from Facebook telling me it was her birthday,” I said.

“Oh, that’s just to let you know that it’s coming up.”

“I was wondering why no one else wished her a happy on my newsfeed.” I was proud that I knew the lingo.

“The same thing happened with me last month for my birthday,” Zoe said. “I got a message a week before from Uncle Seymour.”

“Oh no,” I said. Uncle Seymour is eighty-five, the oldest person I know on FB.

Perhaps I should print out a note not to wish happy birthdays on FB prematurely and paste it on my computer, I thought, as I lay my cell phone on my desk, with the back side facing me. In case any of my FB friends asked for my number, I’d have it right there. Oops, a red dot just appeared on my phone under the Facebook logo. I’d better go look; maybe I got a new friend.