I adore your column and have seen you speak in person, and I'm just one more person who appreciates what you do and how you bring your personal experience to the table.
I have what appears to be a simple problem: A childhood friend found me on Facebook and wants to be my Friend, and I am faced with a monumental decision.
This "friend" was never a good friend of mine anyway, but was friends with my friends. All these "friends" I no longer consider to be friends. They are all lovely, good people, but they are also small-minded and rather boring ... like most people in my hometown. I left for a reason, and I'm not going back. When I visit, they'll try to hunt me down and hang out. All very fine, but I can't stand being around them or even thinking of them. All they seem to represent is a fear, a fear of a life I could have chosen had I not wanted to flee it. A life of boredom, a life of satisfaction with whatever you've been handed. These people live within a mile or two of where they grew up, are active volunteers (good people, right? salt of the earth) at the schools we went to. They've never gone far and they don't seem to want to. It scares and infuriates me. Deep down I think it gets to some problem of mine that I'm sort of curious about.
But the problem is, if I don't Friend this guy, that's just mean. I've never turned down a request. But the other option is worse. If I do Friend him, it will open up the floodgates of mediocrity. It will signal to the rest of them to come after me, to inspect my life, to comment on and judge it, to reduce me to a "Seinfeld" character (everything in life can be reduced thusly by them). I don't live a crazy life at all! I just happened to have moved on and eventually landed in San Francisco, where I'm very happy to be. I just don't want their snarky comments. I don't want to know that people can lead such sad lives. But I feel so bad being forced to deny or delete them. I would rather they never contact me and vice versa and let the past be the past. I want nothing to do with them, but I don't want them to know that.
To Friend or Not to Friend
I'm very glad you asked this. There is now a backlog of pending Friend requests on the Facebook account; having addressed them I will come back and report on what I found.
You want me to do what?
How large a goat?
OK, I'm back. I needed time to think certain things through.
Perhaps, after reflection, I will throw some goats at people. But not yet.
It's taken me a while to understand what this is all about.
In "Friends, Friendsters, and MySpace Top 8: Writing Communities Into Being on Social Network Sites," danah boyd explains, quite admirably, I think, what has remained until now a baffling and seemingly faux-social activity that anyone raised in the late high-modernist tradition of the depth model of self would characterize, on the whole, as disturbingly centerless and distracting. Indeed, the neurology of writing in the traditional way seems to require the undisturbed waters of the introvert side; Facebook seems to bring out the shallow, easily distracted extrovert, who, once out, is difficult to calm down and put back in the bottle. So I personally have tried to avoid Facebook in order to get some work done. Having now, as a matter of research, engaged in a whirlwind of communication bursts in order to just catch up, I feel somewhat exhausted and scattered and am behind on the column!
What im sg s tht 1c u chk yr fb act, ur toast. ur hd s msd up. u cnt thk of sht.
So that is one thing.
The crux of it, which boyd makes clear, is that we are creating a social space and projecting our created selves into it. This is not a new, fun contact list for our current friends. It is not something old in a new form. This is something new in a new form. We are creating a new social space and new selves as well, selves unencumbered by our high school ranking and our boring past.
The problem: Here comes an incursion of boring latecomers from Bumfuck, Iowa, where you come from but would rather forget. Your first impulse is exclusionary and protectionist. You feel threatened, like if they came in, the room would suddenly be uncool.
How do you keep them out and/or is it possible/desirable?
I think you let them in but ignore them. Let them go in the kitchen and open bottles with their teeth.
Most of us have pasts.
I'd venture to say all.
But you have already created a new self full of powerful alliances; people will come to your rescue. You have already become more powerful than your old friends. You go on creating this new self and if they can't handle it they will have to find their own amusements.
So I suggest you let them in and don't give it another thought.
The main thing is to re- create yourself. It is an art project. It is a creative act -- "writing community into being," as boyd says.
What? You want more advice?
- Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
- See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
- Ask for advice. Letter writers: Please think carefully! By sending a letter to email@example.com, you are giving Salon permission to publish it. Once you submit it, it may not be possible to rescind it. So be sure. If you are not sure, sleep on it. You can always send tomorrow. Ready? OK, Submit your letter for publication.
- Or, just make a comment to Cary Tennis not for publication.
- Or, send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.