Finding a long-lost friend through Facebook is a joyous moment. Friends and foes from every stage of our lives reappear through the social networking site, bringing back memories we wish to cherish or banish for the rest of our existence. Sometimes we find old flames — or unrequited loves — only to find ourselves digitally resuscitating old passions, bringing smoldering coals to life by any means allowable by site administrators or spouses acquired since the last meeting in the real world.
Despite all the criticism of this means of social engagement, Facebook gains more and more followers every day. For most of us Facebookers, browsing others’ mundane status updates and pampering our fragile egos through the same channel can be quite addictive, enough so that we load Facebook onto our smartphones and cuddle them close, as if they were dear companions, feeling instantly insecure when these gadgets fall somewhere outside of our immediate grasp.
For me personally, I prefer face-to-face contact with people, but I can’t deny that Facebook really does make life easier in terms of making acquaintances, appointments and dates.
Praise Lord Zuckerberg for Facebook! In general, using Facebook does little harm — but then again, you do hear stories of ill-fated Facebookers who forget that they have befriended their bosses online, some tasting the bitterness of being fired for revealing discontentment with their employer in a posting. Others get caught out by a significant other in a flirtatious exchange with another.
As with any relationship, there are phases to go through — or in this case, click through. First, the introduction phase: We sign up, fill out our profiles, upload our photos, search out our friends, browse though their friends and request an online friendship from those that make the cut.
Second, there is the small-talk phase, in which we court our friends, stroking their egos by commenting on their status, photos and superficial revelations.
But my favorite phase is the third, where we grow tired of the navel-gazing of others and boredom drives us to indifference.
Afterward, the tumbleweeds breeze over our electronic relationships. This is the phase that proves the quality of friendship, whether we are truly good friends or just good sycophants.
But I wonder what happens when a Facebooker dies and the word doesn’t get around to all his or her friends. Let’s say this unfortunate Facebooker works alone on a remote island with solar panels to power his computer, no family or friends who will miss him. Or perhaps he is just a lone computer fanatic in a cosmopolitan apartment and lives in an autistic Facebook world rather than forming real-life relationships. And what if this person’s Facebooker friends have already fallen into the third phase of indifference and could not care less about the person. Now that would be a virtual tragedy.
Perhaps it would take years for the Facebook administrators to realize the account holder is dead and deactivate the account. Then click! And off he goes into a final and lasting oblivion.
Who knows — this could happen to any of us. (Although I hope it doesn’t.) But I suggest we start to contemplate the possibility that the smallest personal setback could send us into a downward spiral, ending up in a tiny room connected only to the greater world via computer.
Perhaps it would be wise to write our own epitaphs and seek out trustworthy Facebook friends to publish them and gather comments of condolence at the time of our “deactivation.”
My own — and admittedly I’m biased — would say: “Here lies a man of tainted integrity, who strove to redeem his soul by helping, cheering and supporting others in his own peculiar way, who usually ended up being taken by others as a nosy prier. He was a warmhearted, gentle man, who respected others and wanted to learn from everyone who crossed his path. He judged no one, labeled no one and loved all. He was cherished by his loved ones for his honesty, loyalty, guidance, dependableness and cheerfulness. May he rest in revelry.”
That, at least, is what my epitaph would be if I were to post it today. It may change with more of life’s maddening trials — or as with other things on Facebook, with the next moment’s whim — but nonetheless, I could say I had kept to the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”