A face in the crowd

Peter Jackson
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I am now on Facebook. I finally have “friends.”

This is a big yawner to most of you, I know. The networking service has been around for a decade. Everyone takes it for granted. Some have even tried it and moved on.

Heck, there’s even a movie out about its history.

I’ve resisted Facebook for a long time. It seemed like such a colossal waste of time. Workplace managers certainly considered it a waste of time; almost as soon as it surfaced, employees were banned from using it at work.

This is ironic, because most businesses now consider it a vital tool for networking and marketing.

I’ve only been on it for a couple of weeks, and I’m still uncertain about what I should be doing. Should I comment on what other people are saying? My comments are easily misinterpreted. I’m usually trying to be funny, but it often goes over like a lead zeppelin.

Should I post my own items?

“Hey, everyone, there’s a really good article in the Globe; you should all check it out, yada yada. …” I imagine blank stares as people just scroll on to so-and-so’s baby pictures. And, really, who wouldn’t rather look at baby pictures?

To a large extent, Facebook in­dulges people’s conceit that others might be interested in what they’re doing at any given moment — what films they’ve seen, what they’re watching on TV, what brand of ice cream they’re eating straight from the carton because they had a particularly bad day at the office and then their cat died.

Real friends, of course, are actually interested in this — to a point. Then it might get a bit tiresome.

As an important public figure who brims with clever thoughts and penetrating wisdom, I like to think I’m someone who people should want to flock to, like a guru in a cliffside monastery. I like to think this, be­cause the truth is markedly more mundane. There are all manner of seasoned Facebookers out there who are much more interesting and in­sightful than I could ever hope to be.

The first duty that arises when joining Facebook is that of finding friends. This is probably the trickiest task of all.

When you ask someone to be your friend, all of their friends pop up as possible new friends. When you select one of them, that person’s friends pop up as well. This is exponential. It’s also six degrees of separation. If you’re liberal enough in your choices, you’re bound to eventually stumble across Sir Paul McCartney or Moammar Gadhafi.

At first, I was sending requests all over the square. Then I started wondering, what must some of these people think? I don’t even know this guy? Is he that guy at the paper? Very tentatively, no doubt, a few of them went ahead and pressed “confirm.”

Now we’re “friends,” even though we may have only met in passing — or not at all. Should I send a little message? (“Hi. You don’t really know me. You may wonder why I want you as a friend. I’m not desperate or a weirdo or anything. Maybe I acted in haste. Please feel free to unfriend me. I won’t feel rejected. Anyway, I’m used to rejection.”)

Facebook has some built-in features that are, frankly, ridiculous.

One of them is “like,” as in “Peter and 7 others like this.”

You “like” something by simply clicking on the “like” option. But there is no way of knowing how sincere your assessment is.

If you post a photo, and seven people say they “like” it, what does that mean? Do they really like it, or are they just being polite? Do they like it because it makes you look attractive, or because you look like a troll? Maybe they “like” it for the worst possible reasons.

When someone says they “like” something I posted, I feel like demanding an explanation.

Then there’s “poke.” To me, it connotes something lewd or irritating. If someone pokes you, you usually tell them to knock it off. The experts say “poking” is just a quick hello, a way to get someone’s attention. In my world, one does that by saying “Excuse me” and then stating one’s business.

I haven’t done much of anything on Facebook, and already I’m second-guessing it. Maybe I’m not a social network kind of guy.

I’m not sure I want to do the Twitter thing, either. It’s a bit like Facebook stripped down. No photos or “likes” or “pokes.” It’s good for announcing or promoting stuff, and for throwing in your two cents’ worth. But how can you possibly sift through that cacophony of tweets? People all talking at once.

It reminds me of a snippet I read years ago about laser writing on the sides of mountains. At one point, the lasers projected suggestions submitted by the public.

I don’t remember the exact messages, but it started out with grand gestures like “Jesus saves” and “We are not alone,” then devolved into low-brow silliness: “For a good time, call so-and-so” and “If you can read this, you’re too close.” Graffiti writ large, essentially.

I can see the usefulness of Facebook and Twitter. Like anything else, they’re communication tools, like telephones or pens and paper. For that reason, I’ll likely keep my account active.

But my initial suspicions have been borne out. I can see how easily Facebook can hijack too much of your time and energy if you let it. There may be real friends and family at the other end, but it is still a virtual world. In the real world, there is time for reading, reflecting and, sometimes, just plain old solitude.

Solitude. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be contacted by email at

pjackson@thetelegram.com. You can find him on Facebook at, um … at Facebook.

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Recent comments

  • Anon
    March 15, 2011 - 21:30

    you just took the internet seriously, the internet wins. you lose the game.

  • Dawn Chafe
    March 15, 2011 - 10:58

    I'm with you Peter - indulging in all things social only because I have to. I'm a private person and would much rather stay that way, only the job won't allow it. Best of luck.