Me and the FacePlace – A divorce?


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It was two years ago at my 25th high school reunion. A woman who was never exactly a friend came up to me and said, “Oh my God, Billy, I see you on Facebook and you’re doing so well in life! That’s amazing, because, back then, well… ” She then paused and rolled her eyes in a way that connoted, ‘you were a big-time mess.’

I got a big laugh out of that, because it seemed like the kind of thing you don’t say to someone at a 25th high school reunion, true or not. And truthfully I don’t live outside my own experience, so I don’t know if it was warranted. I was, let’s say, “dramatic” in high school. Lots of crises, rampant highs and lows, and always this annoying need to share my feelings with the world. Call it a tragic flaw, or maybe call it the reason I am a successful writer. I don’t know.

I’m sure if you asked many people from my high school class, they may have found my histrionics maddening, my militant political stances cringe-worthy. And probably just as many thought I was just fine, or even better than fine. That’s kind of the way it works, and when you have a big personality and live as loud as I always have, people are bound to have opinions about you.

I bring this up because recently, more and more, I’ve been feeling like I’m back in high school. It’s Facebook and social media in general. I’ve been on for more than 8 years, so none of this is new. But I’ve been feeling it more and more recently.

If you’ve read Openly Straight, you know about the camera. That camera that is trained on us all the time, how we (some of us, anyway) seem to monitor our own behavior and focus on how we think others might see us. And of course, as Rafe finds out in that novel, the secret is that no one is really thinking about us; they are, like us, thinking about themselves, and how people are viewing them.

Back in high school, that camera was on me 24/7. Part of that was being a teenager. Another part, I think, was being gay. When you are in the process of coming out, it’s almost impossible not to think about what others are seeing. For me it was questions like, “Am I masculine enough?” “Do I have value as a human being?”

I’m older now, and these questions are mostly far in my rear-view mirror. But what I’m finding recently, more and more, is that the camera is creeping in, thanks to social media.

I don’t think we were meant to live our lives under the gaze of 1,951 people (minus those who don’t follow me, etc.). I don’t believe it’s normal to get to the point that when something happens in my life, I think, “what will I post on Facebook about this?” “How many people will like what I write?” “Is my comment going to piss anyone off?”

This is not normal human behavior. Or if it is, I guess I think it shouldn’t be.

I went on vacation for two weeks, and I took a break from Facebook. I gotta say, I loved it. It was delightful not thinking about that virtual camera. I enjoyed interacting only with those around me rather than with whoever might come across what I wrote and enjoy it, or hate it, or whatever.

I think I need to mostly continue things that way. Not post my every thought on social media as I’ve been doing for 8 years. In some ways, I will miss it. The semi-connection with others. The knowledge that someone from college who I haven’t seen in years likes my picture. I won’t miss the daily deluge of anger, fear, etc., that I was sometimes part of (see above).

Besides. I think it may be in my best interest as a writer and a person to NOT overshare on social media, as I have for lo these last 8 years. Even a lovable person (and to some I seem to be that) can suffer from overexposure. And are a writer’s words diminished if they are constantly being “published” every day?

For me, the answer at the moment is yes. Maybe that will change soon. I don’t know.

I’ll come by Facebook on occasion, and as always I’ll enjoy perusing and liking things my friends post. But for now, if you want to interact with me, send me a message or write me an email. Let’s do that one-on-one, and not in front of a world audience.




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6 Responses to Me and the FacePlace – A divorce?

  1. Taryn says:

    I am from Michigan. Land of the technological dead zone, so to speak. I was on vacation in August and was up in the Silver Lake area. There was no cell service, no internet, and above all else … no Facebook. I loved it. It was a relief to be away from it for a week.

  2. Dave Hughes says:

    I have a similar debate with myself frequently. I’m not so concerned about the “camera” being on me, since I don’t think very many people are actually watching – and if they are, that’s their choice and they are obviously easily entertained.

    I’m more concerned about how much of my day it consumes. I’m concerned about the distraction factor. There are so many other things I could be doing. I need to get up from the chair in front of my computer and move around more.

    The catch is that this has become the primary means of communication for so many people and groups. For the band I play in, Desert Overture, it’s the primary medium for sharing announcements. For many friends, Facebook events are how they invite people to parties. It would be hard to cut myself off from Facebook without becoming a social hermit. And honestly, it’s how most people know that I am a wedding officiant, that I write, and when the bands I play in are performing, so there is some element of self-promotion, but that’s how it’s done these days.

    Facebook: can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

    Perhaps for me the answer is to schedule a 15-minute time slot once a day and only check for messages and invitations.

    • bkonigsberg says:

      So true… I’m finding that there’s really no way to “get away,” and I’m not even 100% sure I want to, at least as long as everyone else is still hanging out there. I just want to stop feeling so pulled to the internet and to Facebook, as if it’s an appendage. It’s useful hear that other people feel the same way. I like the 15 minute idea.

  3. Matt McMann says:

    So well said, Bill. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing this healthy perspective on ourselves and social media. A good reminder and challenge to us all.

  4. K. Cramer says:

    Thank you for this post, Bill. I really enjoyed reading it!

    As someone who rarely posts on social media, even I can relate to your comments about wondering how many likes my post might receive (or, in my case, if anyone will even read it—ha ha!).

    I also connected with Dave’s comments about social media’s potential to distract us from other, possibly more important, tasks. I don’t own a phone that allows me to get onto social media, but I can easily get lost in the feed when I hop onto Facebook or Twitter with the intention of posting something professional on my English Ed page, or tweeting about one of my candidate’s accomplishments. Fifteen minutes might disappear as I scroll through pictures of my friends’ kids. When I finally realize what I’m doing, I hop off the site so quickly that I forget my original plan. When I log back in later, the cycle begins again, unless I am really vigilant.

    My students just did some reading about managing attention … the idea that we have to be intentional about putting away the clutter and distractions in order to attend to what’s important. I think this is something we need to teach in schools. We can’t just say, “Put away your cell phone, or you’re going to get a detention.” We have to help students (and ourselves) pay attention to how we pay attention. People who are productive are generally people who are able to focus on tasks for extended periods of time. As a writer, you already know this. I think this is a literacy we need to teach our students too.

    This is something I’m going to keep working on … I like Dave’s idea about scheduling time for social media, and then stopping when time is up. I need to do that for e-mail at work. Set aside time throughout my day to read AND RESPOND to messages. And then turn it off.

    I read an article recently about how when we get a notification (e-mail, social media, etc.) our brains release a little dopamine when we check that notification. It may not even be anything pleasurable (e.g., an e-mail about another committee meeting – yay.), but our brains get a little shot of happy when we think we’re about to see something new. So, we check the notification – distract ourselves – and then we try to return to the task at hand, taking time to refocus, etc. The myth of multitasking …

    Anyway, thanks for your post, and best of luck distancing yourself somewhat from the gaze of social media.

    See you at the KATE Conference in a few weeks. Woohoo!!


  5. I go on retreats with a gay male group about three times a year. The places we pick are in rural California and many do not have cell phone or internet access. It is a cleansing. Of course, those places are getting harder and harder to find, but I’ve discovered I can make it work if I don’t take my laptop, and turn my phone off the moment I arrive. I live alone, so I any time I can spend talking to someone face-to-face, touching them, or even just sharing a meal is a much-appreciate change from my introverted writerly ways.

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