By Wes J. Pimentel
Social networking sites. Genius. Absolutely genius and I abhor them with the same contempt crack-heads reserve for their pipes. I think my hatred for them stems primarily from the fact that I didn’t start one of them. Yes, deep within my disdain is a thinly veiled seed of jealousy.
I login to my account every day, multiple times. I can’t stop. I have consciously and deliberately handed over large portions of my focus to the mundane details of the lives of people I’ve known. The word “mundane” doesn’t even begin to cover it, actually. Jobs are mundane. Chores are mundane. What members of these sites, myself included, choose to publish as “status updates” is truly disturbing, and I can’t get enough. Please, someone tell me how your last shopping trip went. I don’t give a shit, but I desperately want to read about it. I want to know what your kids were for Halloween, I want to know who won your husband’s softball game, and don’t you dare deprive me of what you think about as you mow the lawn! I need these insignificant tidbits of peoples’ private lives like I yearn for my next breath. The need has become a sinister, bottomless bucket, which no amount of triviality can fill.
Please note that I said I want to read about these details. I don’t actually want to talk to anyone. Phone calls are just way too intimate in today’s social climate[i]. Even emails are a little intrusive, coming from social network site “friends”. I mean, they go right into my inbox. I don’t want these people in my box. I like a nice, site-generated message telling me you just did the laundry, that’s it. No real contact. If you want to talk to me, post a comment on my message board, which I will read dismissively, as I plan my next message-board comment for someone else, which will hopefully be read and quickly dismissed. That’s how it goes. I tell you I just got a haircut and you tell someone else you’re taking a nap. Or you can tell everyone, which is better. That way nobody feels like they need to respond.
The apprehension about fully contacting these people comes from the fact that they aren’t your current, actual friends. They are all a social stratus removed from your current life. You don’t hang out with them, see them, or attend the same events. They’re like those extended family members your mom makes you talk to, on the phone. You know they exist, you have a voyeuristic interest in their private lives, but actually talking to them is way too close for comfort. Subscribing to these sites is like walking a social tight-rope, below which the perils of intimacy ominously loom.
I first joined the two big sites as a way to promote my writing. I joined with the aloof air of someone not wanting to become truly involved. I joined the major one first because everyone (yes, I mean all 6.5 billion people on earth) said it’s a great tool for promoting one’s projects. We’ll call it MicePace, for all intents and purposes. I was heartily disappointed with that site, as it felt like I had nothing in common with my “friends,” nor was I interested in the flirtations of junior high-school students. I then joined the other one. It rhymes with FaceLook. Like an unsuspecting rookie prostitute, casually agreeing to her first shot of heroin, I built my profile and have ever since been entwined in the seedy underworld of internet social networking.
I referred my wife to the site, and after some vehement refusals, she eventually joined. As I watched her create her profile and react to her initial batch of “friend” requests, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt. I knew it would only be a matter of time before she too was ensnared in the grasp of this cyber-seductress. They say misery loves company, well so does addiction. I don’t want to be the only freak in the household with my nose in everyone’s slightly public business. I felt what it must be like to hold the lighter for a novice crack smoker.
I tried to get my dad “on it,” but his resolve proved stronger than my marketing skills. He is a much greater challenge than my wife. Being that he is from Brooklyn, and Puerto Rican, and gay makes him practically immune to any sort of influence or persuasion. When a gay Puerto Rican from Brooklyn says, “No,” you can bet your ass, it’s final (although I wouldn’t recommend that particular wager, all things considered). My wife is a much easier mark, having been born and raised in Dubuque, Iowa.
Anyone who is a member of this site will attest that they have encountered the following scenario, which is ending up with several (if not dozens of) unknown “friends”. At first, you’re a little naïve and you don’t want to offend, so you don’t refuse any friend-requests. The site also has a built-in system by which it recommends people you may know. Seeing all of these suggested friends appeals to our egos and our need for inclusion, so we diligently send our own friend-requests to these expansive lists of individuals who sound and/or look familiar and who may have been in our biology class one semester. I, personally, ended up with 48 “friends” I didn’t know. I recently deleted them because being informed about the insignificant details of the lives of people you know is one thing, but hearing those same details about random primates is absolutely intolerable.
I must confess that I did not “break up” with all of the unknowns. Quite a few of the people still left on my “friends” list appear to be some of those distant relatives that I hear about from my parents’ generation. I feel inclined to delete them too, but I suspect the familial backlash would be far less tolerable than hearing about their gardening projects and jury duty.
So, basically, I don’t know what I’m saying here. Some might take this as a warning, while others might draw from this that last bit of encouragement needed to commit to “the Book”. Either way, the choice you make will affect the rest of your life. You will either end up feeling like someone standing at the gate of a Grateful Dead concert, or giddy with the anticipation of starting a new chapter in your life, like a thirteen-year-old girl, puckering for her first hit off a joint. Either way, I wish you luck.
[i] What’s with everybody talking about “climates” nowadays? There’s an economic climate, a political climate, a consumer climate, etc. Whatever happened to trends? I miss trends. All this climate talk makes me feel like the world is having one big small-talk session about the weather.