Monday, November 17, 2008

Cyber Personalities and Walking Turds

I'm fairly certain that I have a Facebook page. I signed up several months ago because I wanted to see some pictures of a friend's baby, and the only way I could do that was to create a Facebook account. So I did. Then I got a flurry of requests from people, some of whom I didn't even know, who wanted to be my friend. That was nice, so I clicked the Facebook button that said, "Sure, you can be my friend," and I meant it. I've never even looked at my Facebook page, and I'm also fairly certain that my face does not appear there, but the requests to be somebody's friend still keep rolling in. And I say "Yeah, you bet" every time. Give me your tired, your poor, your wretched, friendless cyberhordes, and I will be your friend. You just call out my name, and I'll be virtually there.

It's a strange phenomenon, this Internet. This article by Hal Niedzviecki appeared several weeks ago in The New York Times. You can read the original article here, or just read it below. It's worth your time:

One day this past summer, I logged on to Facebook and realized that I was very close to having 700 online “friends.” Not bad, I thought to myself, absurdly proud of how many cyberpals, connections, acquaintances and even strangers I’d managed to sign up.

But the number made me uneasy as well. I had just fallen out with a friend I’d spent a lot of time with. I’d disconnected with a few other ones for the usual reasons — jobs in other cities, family life limiting social time. I was as much to blame as they were. I had a 2-year-old kid of my own at home. Add to that my workaholic irritability, my love of being left alone and my lack of an office environment or mysterious association with the Masons from which to derive an instant network of cronies. I had fewer friends to hang out with than I’d ever had before.

So I decided to have a Facebook party. I used Facebook to create an “event” and invite my digital chums. Some of them, of course, didn’t live in Toronto, but I figured, it’s summer and people travel. You never know who might be in town. If they lived in Buffalo or Vancouver, they could just click “not attending,” and that would be that. Facebook gives people the option of R.S.V.P.’ing in three categories — “attending,” “maybe attending” and “not attending.”

After a week the responses stopped coming in and were ready to be tabulated. Fifteen people said they were attending, and 60 said maybe. A few hundred said not, and the rest just ignored the invitation altogether. I figured that about 20 people would show up. That sounded pretty good to me. Twenty potential new friends.

On the evening in question I took a shower. I shaved. I splashed on my tingly man perfume. I put on new pants and a favorite shirt. Brimming with optimism, I headed over to the neighborhood watering hole and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Eventually, one person showed up.

I chatted with my new potential friend, Paula, doing my best to pretend I wasn’t dismayed and embarrassed. But I was too self-conscious to be genuine. I kept apologizing for the lack of attendance. I looked over my shoulder every time the door opened and someone new came in. Paula was nice about it, assuring me that people probably just felt shy about the idea of making a new friend. She said she herself had almost decided not to come.

“And now you have me all to yourself,” I said, trying to sound beneficent and unworried. We smiled at each other awkwardly.

We made small talk. I found out about her job, her boyfriend, her soccer team. Paula became my Facebook friend after noticing I was connected to a friend of hers. She thought it would be interesting to drop by and meet me.

Eventually we ran out of things to say. Anyway, she had to work in the morning. I picked up the tab on her Tom Collins and watched as she strode out into the night, not entirely sure if our friendship would grow.

After she left, I renewed my vigil, waiting for someone to show. It was getting on 11 o’clock and all my rationalizations — for example, that people needed time to get home from work, eat dinner, relax a bit — were wearing out.

I would learn, when I asked some people who didn’t show up the next day, that “definitely attending” on Facebook means “maybe” and “maybe attending” means “likely not.” So I probably shouldn’t have taken it personally. But the combination of alcohol and solitude turned my thoughts to self-pity. Was I really that big of a loser? Or was it that no one wants to get together in real life anymore? It wasn’t Facebook’s fault; all those digital pals were better than nothing. For chipping away at past friendships and blocking honest new efforts, you really have to blame the entire modern world. People want to hang out with you, I assured myself. They just don’t have the time.

By now it was nearing midnight. My head was clouded by drink, and it was finally starting to sink in: no one else was coming. I’d have to think up some other way to revitalize my social life. I ordered one more drink.

The beer arrived, a British import: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout. I raised my glass in a solitary toast and promised myself I’d spend less time online. Then I took a gulp: the beer was delicious but bittersweet. Seven hundred friends, and I was drinking alone.

I've never thrown a Facebook event, but I'd be afraid to do so, fearing that the result would be no different from Hal's. So I tell myself that it's better to keep it at the level of the impersonal and the pixelated. Here I can be whoever I want to be. I can write about rock 'n roll. I can filter my life through a lens that casts all events in a nostalgic, elegiac tint. I can think deep Christian thoughts, and exude a kind of thoughtful, compassionate, progressive evangelical hipness. And parts of that are even true, and that's the most heinous kind of deception, because there's enough truth mixed in with the bullshit to make you, and even me, swallow it whole. Here's why: I am a walking turd. In real life, you probably don't want to be my friend. I will let you down.

To that end, I'm going to declare a moratorium on all but the music-related posts. I've always listened to music, regardless of the circumstances in which I found myself, and I have no reason to think that will change. So I might as well write about that. It's something I love, and on some level it sustains me. But I won't be writing about politics, and the Church, and doing my little bit to pretend that I'm some sort of social critic. There's a proverb in the gospel of Luke. Jesus is speaking, and he says:

"No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.'"

The general meaning is to attend to one's own defects, rather than criticizing defects in others. It's pretty good advice, but I'm not a physician. So I'll amend it to "Turd, flush thyself." For what it's worth, this isn't a pity party. This is my life. I desperately need all the crap to be flushed away. For those of you who are praying types, I'd appreciate your prayers. And for those of you who know me in real life, and who unfathomably determine to hang out in the midst of the stench, bless you, thank you, and bring the Lysol.


Anonymous said...

I for one will miss those posts you're flushing. They're why I come here.

I care about what you say, and who you are, cyber-stranger.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your posts to this point, regardless of the topic. Glad you'll continue to let the music play. Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

To that end, I'm going to declare a moratorium on all but the music-related posts.

Our loss, Andy. Our loss.

Anonymous said...


hilarious. i blogged this article too.


Andy Whitman said...

Caleb, I know. Guess where I saw it? :-)

Dad said...

The proverb you're quoting from Jesus - I totally didn't understand your application. You must have been thinking about the "Log in your eye" story or something.


Anonymous said...

I think it's a shame, my friend. You have more to say than to just talk about music.

Perhaps you'll reconsider...?

FOR THE RECORD: If you have a Facebook party, I will show - even if you don't pick up the tab for my Maker's Mark.

Natsthename said...

Well, I'll miss your thoughts on other topics, but I respect your decision. Just keep the music coming, please. There are not enough ANdy articles/reviews in Paste, if you ask me.

John McCollum said...

"Turd, Flush Yourself."

NOW I know what to have carved on my headstone.

It's either that or, "I told you I was sick."


Regarding the moratorium, I look forward to seeing a commensurate increase in your comments on other people's blogs. It'll be almost the same, right?

Michael N. said...

Do what you need to do, Andy. I enjoy (and learn from) your music posts, but if you go back to commenting on the rest of life, I dig that, too.

For what it's worth, I really show up to events I mark "Will Be Attending" on Facebook. Be careful what you wish for...

jackscrow said...

Make a bet?

anchors said...

i'll take the over

Pilgrim said...

Go read the reviews of Pat Boone In a Metal Mood on Amazon, and you'll feel better.