A Faceless Phenomenon

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Facebook, how do I love and hate thee? Hold on, I think there’s an application on my Super Wall that lets me count the ways.

During my first week of social networking, I had six friends. Then there were fifteen. Then they poured in like sand through my hourglass. Eighty-nine friends have therapeutically quelled any fears left over from first grade as the new kid with a patch over her lazy eye. While others have three-hundred and twenty-six friends, and belong to three separate networks, I’m happy with the eighty-nine I can handle.

I like to believe that furtive developers with names like Brady invented their Facebook applications for connectors like me. But while Brady codes his application with delusions of grandeur, hoping for the next application to transport YouBoob© videos, I wonder if his friend Aaron thinks about how many virtual teddy bear hugs one boomerangs before he or she is dis-friended. But Facebook has proven worthy of me. It’s letting me work my inherited gene, the one I’ve watched my father work during his seventy years to perfect networking.

I keep it simple. I stick to videos and accepting friends, and notice that some are there to participate in our adult popularity contest, while others have forced me to be honest when I ask, “How do I know thee?”

Like Kevin, who landed in my Facebook Inbox to tell me that he liked my “style.” I’ll admit that his picture was precious and the thought of a boy-toy under the Christmas tree appealed to me, but Kevin was no one I knew and reeked of smack-talking spam.

The next week, two best friends of my seventh grade and college boyfriend, respectively, both found me on Facebook one afternoon. When I asked my seventh grade friend, Andrew, who he was, since I didn’t remember, he admitted his behavior from the past. “I was really shy around you as you were deemed one of the Wilmette Junior High School hotties.” I scrolled down to see if I could update my mood to “Flattered,” thanked him for the twenty-year-old compliment, and accepted our newfound friendship.

Then the madness began. I got emails every time anyone touched my page. Michael in Australia posted something on my Wall. Carola in Korea sent me a video (turned out it was a case of mistaken identity). Craig poked and asked if it was good for me (I sent a dirty reply). What next? Sarah picking her nose and pasting it on my FunWall? I wanted out of these hourly interruptions.

Then a friend (a MySpace employee) posted an article explaining that Facebook was tracking all of my roving about and selling it to marketers! So, the nifty little network was taking the chats with those I loved across two oceans and profiting from my actions? Not to mention the applications that tended to freeze up just when I was about to socially climax. I was miffed again. I preferred social networking sites that didn’t have secret intentions or bugs.

I bitched about my woes by status update, and fantasized what it might feel like leaving Facebook and my friends altogether, satisfied that we’d be just as close the next time I saw them in ten years. Then just when I was about to select all my friends and send them my farewell boomerang, Facebook did something remarkable: it wooed me back.

I had decided to research whether cute random Kevin in my Inbox was for real. Kevin belonged to my same network and some intriguing groups. Groups were something I still hadn’t participated in since I had enough real-time groups to keep my calendar occupied.

I noticed that Kevin had joined the Four guys, one destination, one mission: Suicide Prevention group, and when I clicked on the link, I was touched by their story. They had dealt with their friend’s suicide attempt by talking about it with him and pledged the next day to do more with their lives, by cycling from Texas to Alaska once they graduated. I told them how happy I was to see twenty-year-olds banding together, they were the ones who could combat the camouflaged phenomenon of male depression, and then I joined their group.

Then above my post, Phoenix Rising’s words caught my eye. His post read:

“Thirteen months ago I stepped out of the darkness and into the path of an Amtrak Acela high-speed train. I lost my left leg, my right arm and, thank god, over the past year, my uncontrollable desire to end my life. I’ve decided to dedicate a portion of each day to increasing awareness that suicide is not a rational choice, but rather the tragic byproduct of terror, confusion, and false perception.”

With Phoenix reaching out to the group about his experience, I wondered if he’d have any insight into how my boyfriend felt when he took his own life earlier this year. I emailed Phoenix about a new group he had created, The USSS: The Unsinkable Society of Suicide Survivors, and I asked this captain if I could come aboard. Phoenix immediately accepted me as a passenger and then he blew my mind. Turns out this social networking thing did work, because Phoenix read my profile and asked to be my friend, and then he followed that by telling me that we went to the same high school.

I realized that while I had been on Phoenix’s personal website watching a video of him sharing his robotic hand (before he had made our high school connection), the thought crossed my mind that Phoenix seemed familiar. But since many people start to look familiar as you circle through life as an adult, I hadn’t put much emphasis on it.

Then the next day, while driving with a girlfriend and telling her the story, an image of Phoenix from high school popped into my mind. Though I hadn’t known him well (he was a senior, while I was a freshman), stuck in my hippocampus’ gray matter was an eighteen-year-old version of Phoenix. Was it possible that Facebook was helping to rewire my brain? I made a mental note to ask the one brain researcher I knew if anyone had started the study.

I’m now the acting Julie on the Promenade deck of The USSS. I’ve found an important community, one that I unknowingly had been searching for during those times I had a laugh, or a frustration, or two. Phoenix and I are posting YouTube videos of songs with lyrics that mean something for those who have struggled, like him, or for those left to understand, like me. He’s charting the course while I continue as the connector. And whether Facebook catches swift wind or travels at an unprecedented knot, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that life has come full circle, and my brain is reevaluating the past. Isn’t that what most of this is all about, anyway?



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