Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Facebook, Cheese Whiz, My Husband and other such things

Cheese Whiz? TMZ? Farmville? Justin Bieber? Any shameful indulgences you’re not particularly proud of? Any guilty pleasure you’d like precisely no one else to know about?
Three weeks ago a secret sin of mine was revealed to the greater Facebook community by none other than the man I married. That was the day I quit Facebook.
Those in my world know me as an English teacher, as a reader, a writer, a lover of words. I watch very little television, read whenever possible, and accuse most mass media of numbing the American mind.
Yet there I was that Wednesday night, doing schoolwork on my laptop while Nashville, a nighttime soap opera set in the country music scene, played in the background. It was then that my husband walked in.
This was not the woman he had married.
He stared at me in disbelief and grabbed his iPhone. “I cannot believe what my wife is watching,” he typed and said aloud at the same time. His salacious post inspired much speculation from our Facebook friends. The Kardashians? Barney? Polyamory? Home Shopping Network?
“Stop right now,” I warned him, carefully articulating each word and never losing eye contact.
But he didn’t.
Humorous Facebook comments from others followed, calling me out for my hypocrisy: “This from the queen of high culture?” “Does this mean we can listen to country music during our English department meetings?”  ”GET OUT NOW,” another warned, “first Nashville, next NASCAR, then Monster Trucks.”
I was not as amused as they were. Watching a country soap opera was not a badge I cared to wear. It was a mindless diversion, an escape, a stress ball for the eyes.  It was my guilty pleasure. I neither desired nor appreciated public commentary about it.
What followed was at once immature and life changing.
First, the immature part: My final Facebook post was “I just unfriended Mike Felske.”
I immediately hated that post. For its rudeness, its pettiness, its association in any and every way with me. I then decided I would, at once, return to the practice of using words for meaningful and beautiful purposes, period. And that, for me, meant no more Facebook.
The more I thought about what had just happened, the stranger it seemed.
Strange to unfriend my best friend, unfriend the one person I this world I willingly and enthusiastically agreed to spend my life with.
Strange that social media somehow compelled my soulmate to reveal something to the world that I had expressly asked him not to.
Strange that I would willingly partake in Facebook, that which I now viewed as a vainglorious middle schoolesque platform, often spending 30 minutes or more on it per day.
Strangest of all that I cared about any of this.
So amid all of these strangenesses, I quit.
(That’s the life changing part).  
Three weeks later, here’s my report on being Facebook-free:
  1. I’m more productive: I no longer begin my laptop work sessions with a time-draining cruise down Facebook lane. After a quick email check, I get right to work.
  2. I’m more present: If I’m enjoying an amazing meal, I don’t feel compelled to tell anyone other than the person across the table from me. If my son says something hilarious, I laugh and stay fully in the moment with him instead of documenting it on Facebook.
  3. I’m more observant: I find myself noticing others’ cell phone behavior as deviant and anti-social. Facebook frequenters now strike me as willfully inviting a certain freneticism into their lives. Three weeks ago, that was me. 
You may, dear reader, be asking yourself at this point what any of this has to do with education. This is an educational blog, right? Good point. So here it is: educational relevance.
I’d like to challenge my Facebook-using students and colleagues to ask themselves this question and answer with candor:
Why do you use Facebook?
Is it to avoid your to do list? Is it to gain approval? Is it to exercise your self-righteousness? Is it for self-affirmation? Vanity? Do you feel deflated if a post of yours receives few likes or none? Do you spend 20, 30, 60, 90 minutes or more on Facebook per day? Is the something else more productive or rewarding you could do with that time? Wish you had more time to read, to play with your kids, to exercise? Do you find yourself documenting your life instead of fully experiencing it?  
If you don’t like one or more of your answers, give serious consideration to whether stay or leave the Face Place.
If we, as educators, are trying to model authentic experiences,self empowerment, and a strong work ethic and focus, perhaps we could all stand a reexamination of Facebook’s value (or lack thereof) in our lives.
What is the quality, after all, of our Facebook communications?  What is the quality of our Facebook friendships?  Exactly two (of several hundred FB friends) have contacted me to see if and why I quit (I posted no formal farewell). Only a few more asked my husband of my whereabouts. This suggests what I’d always suspected: most Facebook friendships are superficial: “friends” who are happy to comment if I post, but otherwise I’m off their radar.
At the end of the day, If you don’t document the sushi you’re eating, is it any less delicious? If you don’t post your child’s silver medal in gymnastics, is it a lesser achievement? Are there more authentic ways for us to feel “liked” and connected than a Facebook post?