04 September 2009

Facebook Revisited

I have a confession to make: despite my longstanding, principled refusal to do so, I have signed up for Facebook. I’ve been there several months, in fact, and I don’t entirely regret it. With friends from Opera World, Facebook is an excellent way to maintain contact, when I’m unable to stake out the stage door. This is unexpected, but true. However, I’ve truly been forced to eat my words in the multiple cases of those people with whom I’d lost touch completely over the years.

In the weeks leading up to and since my thirtieth high-school reunion, I’ve rediscovered a number of people, without having to fly to Dallas. We don’t have much in common, necessarily, and yet we keep discovering that we’re not terribly different, either. One person’s experience corresponds to another’s; one person’s taste complements mine. One junior-high “frenemy” (long before the word was coined) has grown from chatterbox girl* to perfectly charming woman, as mad as I about music, whose life history post-Westwood not only touches me but also chimes in many ways with my own. Moreover, she’s got a really cool car, with a horn that doesn’t just honk, it moos.

Mooing Violations: The famous cow car

Especially in the case of people I knew in Texas, I’m conscious that, while it wasn’t a mistake to hurry out of the state at the first opportunity, I did leave much behind. “Only connect,” Forster urges us in Howards End, and Facebook turns out to be one way to connect, or to reconnect. Better than some, no worse than others.

I had pretty much forgotten I’d ever known Mary Peoples Winter; she attended a different high school, so we lost contact after junior high. She was, as you see, exceptionally pretty, and an artist. But I don’t know much more than that, because shortly after she and I “friended” each other on Facebook, Mary passed away suddenly, in the Pacific Northwest. She lived there with her husband, whom I have never met.

The randomness of life — so hard to ignore, so much of the time — hadn’t invaded my little corner of Facebook, prior to Mary’s death. Now I wonder what I missed. Everything, really. Mary had been to Venice, I see from one photograph; I’ve never been. She might have told me, from the perspective of a woman who cared about art, where to go and what to look at, what to study and what to pass up.

For all I know, her life may have been as frenetic as mine, or so quiet I might at first think it was dull. I daresay she could have corrected that mistake, if we’d ever had a chance to talk about it. I’d like to say Mary Peoples Winter was my friend, but I can’t. She was my “friend,” a Facebook term that is both a noun and a verb, yet means not quite enough.

So there is this to regret about Facebook: it is no substitute for knowing somebody. It’s a means of communication, and most of us use it for only the most superficial news and greetings; many of us stop commenting on each other’s activities, or reaching out in any way, after a few days. We accumulate “friends,” but not friends. Those are best cultivated — still — in other ways.

*NOTE: I was such a chatterbox myself, it’s a wonder I noticed that anybody else was talking in junior high.

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