I don’t know if this letter will come as a shock to you after all this time. I mean, it’s been three years now since your digital charms overcame my bookish resistance (it was February 27, 2009, not that I’m counting or anything! God, I’m so transparent). We know each other pretty well, what with me constantly checking in with you, posting links to my latest obsessions, telling you carefully constructed little tidbits about my day and my frame of mind, and you, well, always being there. Really, always. Even when I’m trying to get something done. It’s a little annoying, but how can I ever be mad at you? Wait, what was I saying? The Internet has totally fried my attention span, no thanks to you for that, either.
What I was going to say. The point of this missive.
Okay, deep breath. Here goes.
I love you.
Oh, my God. Are you still there? I said it! I finally said it! I LOVE YOU, FACEBOOK! I…I love you.
No, I’m not drunk-blogging you. I’m stone-cold sober. I may need a drink afterward, though. This confession business is thirsty work.
Look, let me explain. You and I were never meant to be. Here’s you: “Ooooh, I’m Facebook! Post your party pictures! Tell me your Life Events! Check in at the coffee shop! Put your friends in lists so I’ll know how you all met each other! Hey, didn’t you go to junior high with these twenty people?” You’re the kind of shallow, frivolous extrovert a girl like me usually just glares balefully at over the top of her glasses, then shakes her head and returns to her book. I like books, you know, always have. Books are reliable. Their format has remained virtually unchanged for almost 2,000 years, unlike you, my mercurial darling, with your shifting configurations and privacy controls and nomenclature, your maddening mutability that makes people threaten to walk out on you three or four times a year, as if they could. God, I wish I could.
I tried to resist you. Believe me, I tried. When people told me about you, I didn’t want to hear it. Not for me, I said. That’s for kids, I said. That’s for profoundly unserious people with whom I have nothing in common. That’s for people who aren’t sure whether they exist unless they’re telling everyone what they ate for breakfast. You and I both know I’m not that kind of girl. I read novels with long words and big ideas. I’ve been to graduate school several times. I possess within me vast realms of trivia that would make Ken Jennings bite the inside of his lip nervously.
But opposites attract, and I fell for your glossy, superficial enticements, and now I am hopelessly yours, like it or not.
Not everyone falls for you this hard. Some people can take you or leave you. I know some who can go for weeks without stopping in to see you, several others who have quit you altogether, and many who have never even deigned to introduce themselves. Others just know how to play your game without getting sucked in. My friend Elena knows how to handle you and your ilk. She has a method of managing the distractions that allows her to engage, but never to lose herself entirely in you or any other Internet Romeo. She’s a strong woman, that Elena. But not me. Oh, no. Not me.
How do I love thee? Well, like the sister said, let me count the ways.
As an exceedingly nosy person, I love the opportunity you give me to peek into the lives of those I don’t see very often (or who don’t know how to use their privacy controls), to see whether time has been kind to them, whether their children resemble them, whether they’re engaged with the world or lost in Farmville, setting goals for the future or swamped in nostalgia. And although epiphanic posts beat culinary ones, I enjoy discovering that my friend halfway across the country has cooked something noteworthy for dinner, or that her chocolate truffles tasted better than they looked. I like the chance to touch the texture of someone else’s daily life, or the little swatch of it they post online, particularly if it is a life in which I was once closely bound.
I love how you compress time and space, pulling people from all parts of my life together into one place where I can see them all. I love how you reassemble scattered communities, recreating vanished neighborhoods, dorms, workplaces, and Little League teams, reuniting people who had wondered about each other for decades, never guessing they might meet again. You sate at least some of our hunger to connect, even as we worry that you foster our disconnection and loneliness. Really, every large real-world social gathering I’ve attended for the last year or two has been organized with your assistance and probably wouldn’t have taken place without it. (Oh, sweetheart, you’re so misunderstood! But I get you! I really do!)
To me, spending time with you doesn’t feel lonely at all. Quite the contrary: you make me feel like the saloniste I wish I could be, were my house neater and my organizational skills a lot more advanced. I can pose a question about parenting, a provocative editorial, a request for opinions or recommendations, and spark a lively debate with dozens of geographically scattered people I like, possessed of a wide range of interests and perspectives, who interact not only with me, but with each other, sometimes even forging their own new connections. It isn’t possible for them to do it sitting around my dining room table. The only way that magic can ever work is through your good offices, my dear.
Now, you and I know both know what a chameleon you are. You’re a little different with everyone, aren’t you? Hmmm? Come on, you know it’s true. I guess you could say that we all get exactly the experience of you we deserve, because we can eliminate the people and the kinds of content we don’t like, and choose everything and everyone we enjoy. For some people, you’re nothing but Zynga, cat videos, and “inspirational” posters. For others, effusive, misspelled exchanges full of the promiscuous use of exclamation points and texting abbreviations. You’re an endless political war, or a forum for complaining about how bored and unhappy one is, or how there’s nothing on TV.
But for me, you dress up in wit and warmth, with geeky cartoons, photos of friends’ adorable babies, about as much of politics as I can stand, and, what the hell, the occasional cat video. Apparently, that’s the Facebook experience I deserve, or maybe you tell that to all the girls.
Someday, perhaps, I’ll write you another letter, scolding you for all your roguishness, not all of which is charming, I’ll have you know. Another day, when I’m not feeling quite so enamored, we’ll have a little talk about the tricks you play, how you seduce people into constructing artificial selves through carefully cultivated words and images, how easy you make it for us to mistake these curated productions of the self for the living, complex, fallen, infinite, glorious human beings throwing these shadows on the walls of the electronic cave. We may have to quarrel, just a little, about the way you distract people from their messy, but rewarding, real-world relationships with family, lovers, and friends, how you feed both our vanity and our insecurity. Perhaps we’ll have a few strong words about the collapse of the English language you appear hell-bent on accelerating, too, as long as we’re fighting.
But not now, darling. Not today.
Because this letter is about nothing but love.