Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On the Flip Side #NFBNBD

"They're thinking of making a Facebook group for all the people who live in my condo complex," said my dad, over the fourth of July weekend, as we all gathered at our little cottage-house way up in northern NH. It's a place where there is very little cell service, no computers, and no cable, situated on the outskirts of a town with a total of two stores, lots of woods, farms, tractors, some bears, nice air to breathe, and a chance to recover from real life if even just a bit.

My response was automatic. "Great! Great way to connect," while my brother said, "Why can't they just email?" and my sister in law said, "Oh, but you're all right there, right? Right on those couple of roads? Why not just go outside and talk to each other?" She wasn't being snarky. She was genuinely curious about this. Why not go outside and talk to each other. Huh.

My sister in law is a person who grew up in a log cabin without electricity or running water or any of the amenities, really, that make certain parts of life as easy as they are. And I can't help but note that she's the most creative, quick-thinking, well-read, perceptive, strongly woven woman I know. She is not on Facebook, or Twitter, or Insta, or Snapchat. She does not need Pinterest in her life. She is the human form of Pinterest. She has a flip phone which is mostly never on. When she does use her phone, it's usually to talk. To talk!! Her question was a valid one, a great one.

"You just don't really see people outside that much," my dad responded.

"Huh? What are they doing instead?" we all asked, or wondered. I figured many go away a lot, but also couldn't help but picture these baby boomer neighbors sitting at their computers, tucked away in a corner of their home. It wasn't that hard to picture it because I've been that person many times before.

Like so many, I've created a chaotic little cyber world for myself. It's relatively contained; I'm only on Facebook. And I'm relatively tame about it as well, I think (I hope). I tried instagram for awhile, but when I couldn't figure out how to delete Lena Dunham, who posts every 3 seconds, out of my feed, I gave up on it. I mean, I deleted her, and then she reappeared. And then I deleted again and she returned yet again. Addiction evaded.

Admittedly, however, I have a difficult time switching off, turning away from the updates on the very significant and rather mundane goings-on of all the people in (and those who are not really not all that in) my life. People, whether you really know them, think you know them, or don't know a thing about them, are just damn fascinating. I've come to view Facebook as a reality show with people you know or used to know or have only recently met (or never met for some, I guess). Some friends have filters and some have none at all. Some of them are seen only seldom and some fill the screen with tales of bad relationships or unbelievably amazing vacations or what they had for dinner or who has just died. It is all over the place. Nine years (?) after joining it, I still find it nearly impossible to really look away. I give a shit about almost all of it (except the dinner part. I honestly, truly, in no way now or ever, will ever give one flying hoot about what anyone else had for dinner or lunch. Maybe breakfast, though. Maybe I'd care about that because breakfast is awesome).

We all have our own reasons for staying on this Godforsaken site that has taken months, maybe years of potential learning opportunities and good book reading hours completely out of my life (and probably yours. If you're reading this, you are most likely on fb because, hell, that's the only way anyone on earth would ever even consider clicking on my silly posts. But, seriously, thank you for that, Facebook).

Most of the time we fb post, we are, in fact, presenting the best parts of our days and weeks, our prouder moments and our photos with the best lighting, the awards we've won, the children we've made, the moments that amused us and, we hope, you as well. I can speak to no other medium but Facebook, but what I have found is a communal place to boast or rant or ask for (or provide) congratulations or sympathy or, in the most pragmatic of posts, gather information, maybe spread it as well. Birthdays are better with Facebook, especially for grown-ups who don't get to go to school with a tupperware container full of homemade cupcakes that instantly remind our friends that HELL YEAH IT'S MY BIRTHDAY TODAY! (But who am I kidding… kids can basically only bring in like a box of unsharpened pencil to pass out to friends nowadays).

I have used Facebook for all of these things, not consciously or categorically, but it would be callous to assume any more or less of myself. Facebook allows us to connect in whatever way we may want - or need - to be connected. I have to assume we're all kind of on the same page about this because we keep going back to it and sharing more and getting something out of the whole inane cyber universe in which we are enveloped.

I see the benefits and have consistently let those outweigh the costs. Primarily, this forum really does provide an accessible framework for the maintenance and at times rejuvenation of personal connections. We all have examples. My favorite is my West Virginia cousins and uncle, whom I know so more about now than I ever did before -- or ever would have -- without our long ago "friending" on Facebook. We were never going to talk on the phone or write letters, so now, in the place of our potential mutual silence is a (semi)real understanding of who we are growing up to be. I love seeing friends from high school who I once worried about, now thriving; it allows for profound perspective on the different directions your life can take, no matter where you came from, who you once were, or who you are now.

But I struggle, for obvious reasons.

It can be endless, the knowledge you seek and find about people.

And the problem is, there are other people around us who are asking for us now. Our focus, our energy, our warmth, our genuine attention. And I'm not always present; I try, but I'm not.

We become wrapped up in our contained, virtual world, but life still proceeds. And when we're looking down, we're missing everything above our hunched over shoulders. We are missing moments. Smiles pointed towards us, not a photo to later by displayed. And smiles that are real, not tiny yellow circular faces used to somehow express our less than simple emotions. You know all of this. We all know it. We're still doing it.

A friend shared this video on Facebook, which just so elegantly captures our current state, in such a perfectly heartbreaking way.

Removed - Earthables

It seems like an exaggeration but it's not. The wedding day one; would that happen? Of course it would. Can't you picture it? #thisgarderisootightonmythigh #hubbylooksHOT #Abouttoconsummatethis

I wrote most of this the day before I learned about Pokemon Go, which happened when my husband came home one day and excitedly asked if we'd heard about Pokemon Go and I said 'huh?' as he grabbed both kids and started walking them around the neighborhood.

"But! What???"

"It's exercise!" He yelled over his shoulder as the three of them stared at his phone looking for a cartoon character hanging out in the neighbors' yards.

"Great… now we're just going to have people walking around staring at their phones all the time!" I thought. But within seconds, I dropped the righteousness. Because come on. That's exactly what we've been doing for years.

I make no secret that I am torn about social media and the myriad ways in which we can and do access it - wherever we are, whatever we are doing. I think there's a good amount of us who might feel the same. I have this underlying guilt and self-reproach that clicks on whenever I …. click on.

My children, whom these days I am with all day, every day, are as observant as ever. During a diplomatic conversation we had a week ago, after a day of block throwing and Lego diamond stealing (a continuous battle in our house. WHY is there only one pink diamond (which Grace MUST HAVE) among Noah's 5 billion Legos?) and painful whining on all our parts, we made some new rules, wrote them down, said them out loud, to ourselves, to each other. And then I said, "OK, you know the behavior I want you to change. Now, it's your turn. What can Mommy do differently that would make you happier?"
Selfie "you want to take away my waaa?"

I knew the answer before he said it.

"The phone, Mama. Less phone. That's it."

That's it. A small step that embarrassingly feels nearly insurmountable. Just no Facebook. On my phone. No Facebook on my phone. No Facebook on my phone!!! (but laptop still a go).

Extra challenge: I am doing this as we are in the midst of summer when days seem… especially long at times.

Selfie "A'ight. It's cool. I'm cool. No fb,
 no big deal."
It cannot hurt to be reminded what life was like with a flip phone, when I was just a little less connected. I will have to find other ways to channel my boredom or curb my curiosity, or cope with my shyness (phones serve their purpose in uncomfortable settings. You know what I'm talking about).

One app to remove; I'll try it for a month. This is good, I think. I can't have my kids become white noise as I finish clicking through the list of 13 Celebs who were A$$holes in High School (yes, I clicked). I want to be better than that. God, I really do.