This is a picture of the cherry tree in our front yard. It is beautiful this time of year.
The blossoms are extravagant bunchy pink bundles which rain down petals in the wind, until one day you look up and realize you missed it — it's just leaves up there, from now till summer's end.
It's home for now, but it's not community. It's beautiful, but it's not shared.
I do social media for work.
Not a lot. Only 1-4 posts per weekday. However, I do have to get in there at least once every weekday, which means I end up doing social media every day whether I want to or not.
Once in a while, you see someone disable their account. Facebook gets to be too annoying, too much of a time drain, too upsetting for any number of reasons. I understand this impulse. It's refreshing to remember there is a world outside your status, gratifying to remember that this outside world is bigger, more beautiful, more tangible than the other.
Then again it's kind of weird, to deactivate your online persona. It's weird that this is sometimes necessary, weird that we have something called "an online persona" at all, weird that these personas have the ability to swallow us up, and that we therefore have to be so deliberate about setting boundaries now and then. Creating space. Buying it back. Trading in our persona; redeeming it for our person.
So anyway, I can't do that. I need my personal account to access my client accounts, so I'm pretty much always going to sign into Facebook once a day. (Except, often I don't touch it on the weekends. There you have it, my occasional boundary.) With the option to deactivate being, for me, not an option, I haven't given it much thought. Over the last day or two, that's changed.
What I'm realizing is that social media is a sham.
I mean sham community. If you're looking at it from a clear-headed distance, maybe it's obvious, but as long as you're nose-to-nose with it, using it every day, it's easy to try to substitute the human connection for the virtual. Especially if your daily obligations, like mine, don't in fact require you to leave your house. I don't cross paths with people naturally these days; if my path's gonna cross yours, it's because you and I intentionally collaborated on that, probably with some days of lead time and some degree of schedule-juggling. That's not my style. I've got a lazy, spontaneous streak which just folds its arms at that notion. The result is, I live alone a lot.
Which makes Facebook tempting. But it pretends to something it is not. I see these people's names scroll past me, but I'm not close to them. It's all very superficial. The feed doesn't satisfy. Still the parade has such a jolly appearance, as if all these folks are jollily linked up with one another, that after watching from the sidelines it can start to make a person feel universally rejected. "Why am I not part of it like they are?"
Once in a while, there's a meaningful letter. Sometimes it's the Facebook feed that tells me first when breaking news has hit, or when someone has a birth or wedding or death that I value knowing about. But most of the time?
When people post beautiful images, I feel grumpy. When they post long passages of poetry I skim it; I can't read those words on a screen. When I see meme after meme after advertisement after meme I wish the status bars had no photo option at all; then I'd be seeing just stuff that people wrote themselves, which, while mundane, is at least personal.
But my main beef is more confessional.
These days, I find I go to Facebook the way I used to walk into a campus cafeteria: what interesting thing might happen next? who might be in the room? maybe someone I know; maybe we'll strike up a conversation, maybe go off and ...
Except we won't, because the cafeteria doesn't exist except in our minds, and anyway it's not real food.
Social networks can do some highly fascinating, valuable things, but they aren't relationships. When I start thinking of them as such, I become intensely disgruntled and lonely. But when the community-loving, socially driven room in my soul prompts me to sign into Facebook, and I tell it, "No," suddenly, the physical space around me yawns.
It is a delicious yawning. It's tangible, this space, and its emptiness tells me the truth. The loneliness I feel is real, because I am living in a nuclear family. Two adults and one small child do not a village make. Rather than spin my time down the social drain I will sit by myself on the back porch, get bitten by mosquitoes; I'll do this writing briefly while the boy sleeps in his room and the husband performs at his show; I'll not give my soul the fairy food which fills it only as long as I'm eating, only to leave me hungry later; I'll sit in the hunger. It'll make me think to give someone a call. It'll make me think about when I might actually go out of my way to meet up with someone, or have them over.
This late-spring evening air is made to be shared.