Where the Past is Ever Present: Facebook

“Don’t look back, you can never look back.” ~ Don Henley

The party was in full swing long before I got there. I had hung back as I so often do; resisting the pressure, the nagging feeling that I was missing something; that I was, perish the thought, out of it.

But, finally, about six months ago, partly out of curiosity but mostly in an attempt to stay current, to fully experience the times in which I live, I gave in. I signed up for Facebook.

I pretty much knew what to expect. I enjoyed, at least initially, the predictable flurry of high-school friends and acquaintances that came out of the woodwork. And, forewarned, I had braced myself for the residual teenage angst that followed. Funny how the popular kids still prevail in middle-age, banded together, all these years later, in chummy little cyber-cliques.

And as someone who never had much success mixing friends (Earth Day 1989, in particular, memorable for all the wrong reasons), I knew entering the world of online social networking meant the end of my heretofore comfortably compartmentalized life.

What has surprised me, though, is the realization that we now live in a world in which it is virtually impossible to leave anyone behind, even when doing so might be the most prudent, and even the healthiest, thing to do.

Gone are the days when friends drifted apart naturally, often without explanation or even acknowledgement. Indeed, we have entered an era in which they very concept of the long-lost friend or the long-lost love has gone the way of the 8-track tape and the rotary dial.

Of course, you can take the overt action of ignoring or even “unfriending” someone. But, thanks to six degrees of separation and the vast, tangled web that is Facebook, you never know when a painful reminder will appear on your computer screen. It’s harder than ever to forget let alone forgive.

Some of this is old news, I know. My group of classmates originally reconnected back in 2002 via an MSN message board. But after an intense flurry of emails and posts, and a couple of real-world reunions, things calmed down considerably. A few friendships had been genuinely rekindled, but most everyone else returned to their real lives, their families and jobs.

But Facebook is different. Maybe it’s the constant status updates, the relentless, real-time musings, the in-your-face minutiae of old friends who, in spite of their accessibility these past few years, had remained safely tucked away in the corner of my consciousness reserved for the past.

As so many of us of a certain age reconnect online, I can’t help but wonder about those who have grown up with social-networking sites. What will it be like to never have the pleasure of reuniting with anyone because you’ve never been able to lose track of them in the first place?

And what about perspective? How will the ability to effortlessly stay in touch with everyone we’ve ever known affect our ability to move forward, to grow emotionally, intellectually, spiritually? How do we learn from the past if we’re never truly able to leave it behind?

I wonder, too, about the creative process. How many artists and writers have found their muse in memory, their inspiration in the hazy, lovely ache of nostalgia?

These are some of the things I find myself struggling with as I start over, alone, in this new place.

It can feel a little daunting: this new terrain, the forging of new friendships, the discovery and evolution of self. It would be easy to rely on comfortable connections, to broadcast the details of my new life and wait for the comments and encouragement to come forth.

The truth is, it’s just not my style. And so I go it alone, without a Greek chorus, without the people of my distant and recent pasts looking over my shoulder. I focus instead on the path ahead, a path I have chosen for the very fact that it will lead me, finally, away from them.

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4 Responses to Where the Past is Ever Present: Facebook

  1. girlinhat42 says:

    I’ve actually quit my Facebook, for a variety of reasons but mostly what you’ve said. Sometimes, you’ve gotta move forward and part with people. It’s apparently become the wrong thing to do, let friendships die off naturally, but it does have a purpose. As friends grow distant you realize that they were part of your past, and that you’re not in the past anymore, but moving forward. Like a road sign, as they pass by and out of sight you can mark how far you’ve traveled.

    Essentially, that’s why I quit, because I’m moving ahead in my life and my old Highschool friends don’t fit into what I’m moving into. The main reason for that is that I’m transsexual and many of them aren’t accepting. I’m not going to hold onto former friends who still view and treat me as male. I don’t deserve that, and they don’t deserve to keep living in blissful ignorance. If they cannot accept what’s happening, then I don’t need them.

    Also, for me Facebook is a security risk. If anyone knows my name and some basic info, like where I live or my Highschool, they can easily track me down, and Facebook keeps information in strange in mysterious ways. If my past catches up to me, it could end badly, so I’m closing my account and hopefully cutting off one loose end.

  2. cigi says:

    Hello. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. Your story is quite different from mine and yet the underlying themes are the same. I think this new societal trend of indiscriminately carrying our pasts, and the people from our pasts, with us will eventually take its toll. It’s just not healthy. Your road sign metaphor is spot on and something I will keep in mind as I move forward. I’m moved by what you’ve written here and wish you the very best on your journey. Thanks again for stopping by and for taking the time to comment.

  3. girlinhat42 says:

    Well, your blog said more than “I had a sammich today, that’s my news” so it was worth commenting on. Facebook has an unnatural ability to bring people out of the woodwork. One thing that made me lose faith in it all was when I was getting friend suggestions, and requests, from people in the highschool I went to three years ago, from Freshmen. Because they’re in the same social network, I appeared on their suggested list. I’ve never met these people and I know I don’t like them (because most of them have the same last name as a jock/prep/cheerleader, or a faculty member. Family status was so important in that school.) When that started happening, I figured it was time to cut the chords.

    Also, I think we’ll see a lull in things in a few years. Social networking is relatively new, as opposed to old things such as roads or sending letters (the previous methods for finding and talking). Eventually, most people will realize, “I have 500 friends and can only describe two of them” and things will settle down. Sure, there will still be the friend gatherers who get a ton because… well, I don’t know why! But, those people will be few and far between. Maybe I’m niave and hopeful, but I see people coming to their senses eventually.

    Coincidentally, I read an article about a 10 and 12 year old girl who got themselves stuck in a big flash-flood drainage pipe, and used their fancy phones to let people on Facebook know they were stuck. One of their friends eventually called the fire department, but the girls, who obviously had phones, didn’t think to do such a thing. So maybe I’m giving humanity way too much credit!

  4. cigi says:

    I’ve heard of blogging from emergency situations but sending a message out on Facebook…that’s a new one.

    As far as the friend whores go, I think it’s just ego and insecurity that drive people to collect other people like that, a way of building themselves up. They might be desperately lonely in real life but as long as they have hundreds of “friends” online they (and their lives) must be OK!

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