Facebook is not a Village

Last year when I was trying to market books, I added to my Facebook friends list anyone who hit that button to request. And since then I joined a few groups with huge numbers. Both were a mistake.

The world-wide-web may reach the world, but there is no universal context, there are no cultural norms. Many Americans assume everyone posting is in America. (I am actually kind of grateful for this continuous little nag because of what it has taught me about my own privileges and cultural myopia.)

When I posted a while back about my acute complex grief, I received dozens of private messages from other people about their own grief. Weird how that personal contact – which feels like whispering – can make one feel simultaneously less alone & more ashamed. It was overwhelming.

I have been sorting out what I wanted with that post – why I chose to reveal so much on Facebook and not here. I think it is because of the illusion of anonymity on Facebook – the inconceivable number of posts. It is something of a gamble – to slip out a word and see if anyone catches it.

This past couple of months one of the people whose posts are in my feed (no doubt because I have hit “care” often – though commented only once) has been going through unimaginable trauma. And with a kind of Aristotelian dramaturgy. We’ve reached the high point.

When this person’s posts appear in my feed I have to remind myself that this narrative is real – in real-time – and I am thinking to “unfriend” because in a real-life situation I would note the actual friends kneeling next to this person, comforting and I would know that I needed to take my empathy elsewhere to put it to good use. I would know the social context and respect my place in the community.

But then – to “unfriend” or even unfollow – to look away – seems wrong as well. This isn’t something that hasn’t been talked about before, I know that. But it seems people often fall on a “side” of blaming “oversharing” or judging one another in other ways – for their lack of mastery over the cultural norms on the world-wide-web, according to their personal understanding of the norms. Or there is… pity. Assumptions of ignorance, naivete, or helplessness. Either way – a rubric that one holds to for one’s own comfort.

If I remember the pop-science correctly, the average person has 5 good friends. And the capacity for about 150 names and faces that are meaningful to them. And an insatiable need for renown.

It seems like I used to see my friends’ posts in my feed. Now I see every post a friend comments on in my feed. I see sides of these people they may not wish to show me. I see new names and faces and opinions that are fed through in exponential numbers. I am thinking of the old Organics shampoo commercial: “…and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on…” I am thinking of the exponential element of outrage, contempt -and the distortion of information (that I have participated in so often it is difficult to admit to myself). About the human nature to judge – quickly. About the sense of urgency and speed and the need to stay “relevant” culturally, even when that means jumping the gun in terms of facts.

One of the classes I teach is Theater Ensemble. The various organizational models – hierarchies and flat structures. And my personal belief is that as primates we can never move away from a hierarchy. If we are lucky the hierarchy structure shifts continually in the social process, but we are not The Borg. (Yeah, most of my students have no idea what that is a reference to because we do not have a common cultural inheritance. But I haven’t heard of a truly flat structure in nature.)

One year in Theater History, I stupidly stumbled into a discussion about the “facts” of theater history being theories. And that theories can change with new information – thus changing the “fact”. But I can’t get it out of my head that even though I know the hard sciences work this way as well, I want something to be a real – hard & true – fact. Not something made true by the loudest voice, or the most votes.

This fact today: from where I stand, the Hunting Moon is waning in the pale morning sky. The wind is blowing. Leonard is sleeping by my feet. I am yearning for all the vague atmosphere that the word village brings to mind. I want to live there.

And I want this person in my Facebook feed to be comforted somehow. By someone real. To be held – not in thoughts – but in body.

4 Replies to “Facebook is not a Village”

  1. No pun intended, Ren, but I feel you. Both in regards to FB and also in regards to humans’ limited capacity for maintaining relationships, both of which I’ve written about.


  2. Thank you for your empathy and your wisdom in seeing & saying that in-person empathy seems better than internet empathy here. You enlightened and comforted me, as I’ve witnessed FB friends in their struggles, too, not knowing what to do except express sorrow and wish them well. I do fear that there is no one comforting them in person, alas, but I see that I can still not do more than send support.