Friday, March 26, 2010

To FB or not to FB, that is the question

Browsing a local paper one chilly Friday morning over a breakfast of mango-banana smoothie and bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, I came upon a letter in the Aunt Agony section. The woman was responding to an ongoing discussion about how lonely grandparents felt because their grandchildren seldom maintained correspondence with them. This spunky grandmother decided to tackle the problem head on: she opened a Facebook (FB) account, uploaded photos, posted cool stuff about her life and she reports that her grandkids love it. And they are now more frequently in touch than they ever would be if she had expected them to call her on the telephone.

That is one loving grandmother.

Now I don't know about you, but even though I'm not a grandmother yet, I am one of those people who hesitated for a long time before opening FB account. Call me old-fashioned. When digital cameras first came around in the late 90s, I was actually spending over a thousand Malaysian Ringgit on a Nikon film SLR camera. Now I regret my decision because developing pictures from film is so expensive and I had to be careful with what I photograph (the angle, lighting and composition has to be purr-fect...arrr).

So I dabbled in FB, mainly for a friend I was frantically trying to keep in touch with. She seldom responded to my e-mails and it was difficult catching her on the phone. We'd go for as long as 6 months without knowing what was going on in each other's life...and we were supposed to be BEST friends. She said she was active on FB and that I'd know about her on-goings by signing on. I resisted a bit, citing security reasons for not using FB but she assured me that one could share one's personal details while controlling access to who could see the information. Did FB help bridge the distance between my best friend and I? I'm afraid not. All right, I should have signed onto FB for myself, but hey, that's just some of the things you do for a friendship, albeit a dying one.

In a span of 6 months, I deactivated my FB account TWICE. Although I was virtually connected with over a hundred friends, I felt more disconnected from them as ever. Maybe I was expecting too much from this social network because I found FB interactions to be superficial and unsatisfying. On one hand, it is a nice way to find out what is going on with your friends' lives, not unlike reading the daily news. But the conversation is stilted, unfulfilling. Of course you could always adjourn to the Inbox for a more detailed discussion but that rarely happens. On the other hand, I kept thinking that FB and other social network cannot compensate for true human interactions.

My other pet peeve is that I felt ignored on FB. I'd pathetically sign in everyday, hoping someone would noticed my witty wall posting or (in my mind's eye) fantastic photos. Nothing. FB made me even more attention-seeking than I already was. I get jealous of other Facebookers who get TONNES of responses no matter how trivial their postings. How did they do that? I do take interest in other people's doings and make the effort. I wonder if there was anything further I could've done to improve the situation.

Of course you might say I'm projecting too much here, but maybe my FB status and activity is a reflection of my real social life. That, really, very few persons are interested in my life. So FB, being just a tool, can't change the fact that I've never been a popular friend to begin with.

I reactivated the account after two friends scolded me for quitting. Man, I have to stop living my life like that: doing things out of obligation, because, yea, true to form, I quit again a few months later for similar reasons. So what dragged me right out again, you ask? Oh, another obligation, not surprisingly. This new volunteer stint I'm doing requires me to post pictures on FB. Ah well, I reassured myself, that I can always drop out again after my task is done.

My family and husband assured me that friends are friends...that distance is a real challenge in keeping a friendship alive. That people are busy with their lives and their immediate surroundings. Those are the facts and I just have to learn to deal with being ignored or a friendship losing its spark. But that's the thing that I never quite figure out: how to be nonchalant about people not necessarily wanting to connect with you? I feel constantly trapped in this cycle of reaching out to people, then being sensitive to rejection (or perceived rejection) and I shrink away from human interaction. Perhaps I should develop a thicker skin because this cycle is hardly the way to building fulfilling friendships. I must overcome my constant fear of rejection and learn not to be overly sensitive...because it may not be rejection but just a difference in priorities, attention spans, attachment to the friendship, etc.

Now I wouldn't want my own kids to someday think I'm a weird recluse that they'll never want to be seen in public with. I also wouldn't want them to be overly anti-social. I could accept "mild" anti-social behavior in my kid if she or he happens to be introverted. There is nothing wrong with liking your own company especially when the outside world is quite confusing and somewhat tiring. At least that's from my introverted point of view. I would like my children to have dual abilities: comfortable being by themselves and when situation requires it, be sociable and cooperative so that they could blend into normal societal structures.

So for now I'll stick to e-mail and the occasional Skype phone call to the select few friends who share the same enthusiasm as me in the relationship. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, right? I actually like snail mail but I know that's pushing the if e-mail wasn't considered antiquated enough. Well, the only snail mail I get these days are bills and junk mail...argh!!!

As for FB, I recognize that it is just a tool for keeping in touch, albeit superficially. Perhaps for the hundreds of acquaintances and mere friends, this is sufficient.