I had a revelation recently. In that moment of clarity I realized that the online relationship site Facebook is as close to Heaven as reality will ever be for me.
Now I should explain that I am not a religious person and if pressed I would go beyond even agnostic to call myself an atheist. However I do remember in my younger days of religious belief thinking to myself that in the afterlife I would be able to catch up with all those people who went in and out of my life “like waiters in a restaurant” (to steal a line from the movie “Stand By Me.”) I pictured myself walking through the clouds, harp slung on my back, passing all these people whom I once called family, friends or even enemies.
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“Hey, Joe from my co-ed dorm in college!” I would say, “What have you been up to in the (hopefully) 60 years since I saw you last?”
“Hey really cute girl down the hall from my current cubicle IT job. I was married in life but now it should be okay to talk to you.”
This is how we would spend eternity, and we would never ever have to separate again. We would be friends forever. And ever. And ever.
Now comes Facebook. I have been an active member for just a few months now (although I actually opened the account two years ago), and in that time I have caught up with several old high school acquaintances, college friends and even someone who I was close with me back in my earliest elementary school. Some of my family is there, as are my current friends and several co-workers. Facebook has a sampling of everyone in my life with the exception of those who really are dead. (Although if my Grandma from Iowa suddenly sent me a friend request, I would only be slightly surprised).
I am now (virtually) surrounded by all the people that I either care about or have had some impact on my life, and I did not even need to die to gather them together.
My Facebook friends message back and forth; Keep each other up to date on our lives (not just event to event but moment to moment); Share pictures from our non-online lives (although the very act of that sharing blurs the line between what is “real” and what is “virtual”) and generally just keep in close contact. Every waking day without a break. No vacations from it (in fact vacations just give you more stuff to share) and no down time (“Facebooking” is technically downtime).
And here we get a hint of what all those Twilight Zone episodes were warning us about years ago: Eternity is a very, very, very, very, very, very, very long time.
I guess I was just starting my third month with Facebook when after reading about what all my friends had eaten that night before, where they had gone out to (the single ones), how they felt about whichever day that happened to be (Mondays, Ugh!) and which ones were changing relationship partners, that I began to think a thought: How long can I keep this going? I do not want to give up these connections, but in reality they are only digitally transmitted bits of random thought, and I only have so many hours in the day.
I find myself checking it as often as I can. Who is on? What funny thing did they say? There is a meme on the net where we connect the word Crack (as in cocaine) to anything technological that become all-consuming. Blackberry becomes Crackberry and so forth. I am rapidly becoming a Crackbook junkie. I love it but I am willful enough to pull back and wonder how long this can continue.
Jean Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people” which he exemplified with his play “No Exit.” In that play three doomed people were trapped in a room as the events of their lives were played out before them. It has a spooky parallel to Facebook if you think about it.
The truth is I love Facebook but I also fear it. Because the people you share your life with are “friends”, you still have to hide many of your inner-most thoughts because of the harm it may do them. One of the saddest moments (so far it has not happened to me) is to be “de-friended”. But it is known to happen especially if you choose to flame a friend or criticize them strongly.
I am constantly bombarded by updates from religious friends who want everyone to know that God (must use the big G for this) has done something good for them. (Strangely they never seem to blame him when they’re having a bummer of a day.) However if I were to step forward and comment on their post that talking to invisible old men is usually considered crazy, I would be the bad guy. So I don’t do it. But I am forced to read about it every day.
The truth is I do like being part of this community. Unlike Hell, I can turn it off whenever I want. But the truth is I am finding it harder and harder to turn it off. In Sartre’s play it was suggested that the inmates of Hell kept themselves locked up by their own emotional limitations.
I titled this piece “Is this Heaven. No it’s Facebook”, and more and more I am wondering “just when will all these people go back into the cornfield?” Or is it really that I will be posting back and forth with them forever? And ever. And ever.