I first met Danny at my friend Bob’s funeral last year. Danny is Bob’s nephew and bears more than a passing resemblance to him both in appearance and demeanor. We talked a bit, but funerals do not promote an atmosphere that favors deep, searching conversations so neither of us learned to a great deal about the other. All that I learned of Danny for certain is that he also believes Bob was a true hero despite Bob’s wish to be seen as nothing more than a citizen soldier who did the job he was assigned well. But I sat with Danny at enough meals and side bar conversations to know that I liked him in his own right – not just as a Bob simulacrum – and wanted to know him better.
After the funeral I sent Danny two pieces I’d written about Bob’s journey to Arlington National Cemetery to give to his mother (Bob’s sister), and one thing led to another. We became friends on Facebook. I haven’t seen him face-to-face since Bob’s funeral; we’ve had to be content with reading each other’s Facebook posts and occasionally sharing commentary.
Facebook posts are communications of information so spare that they often provoke undeserved pique and rash rejoinder. Since Danny and I both have strong personalities and no fear of saying whatever we wish, we’ve had to be careful talking to one another on Facebook. While our personalities mesh well, our politics are very different. Fortunately, we had the gift of face-to-face meetings prior to becoming Facebook friends to rely upon; neither of us wants our relationship to founder on the shoals of social media sound bites. So when one of us posts something that annoys the other, we’ve been careful to disagree with respect and restraint. And each time we disagree in this public forum we’ve tried to find a point of common interest or belief to fall back upon to preserve our nascent friendship. We’ve gone so far on line as to wish that we could meet over a good meal to explore our differences in depth. It is clear that we share certain basic beliefs; it is equally clear that we are on different ends of a spectrum that uses these shared beliefs as a fulcrum. Each of us is interested in what has caused the other to take a different direction from our shared starting point – me to the left and Danny to the right.
Facebook is no substitute for a searching, one-on-one discussion over a shared meal. Facebook posts only reveal flashes of a discrete portion of someone’s personality. Facebookers tend to react only to another’s post by high level agreement or disagreement, often with the push of a single button. And many times – if not most of the time – they fail to read anything more than the headline of an article the other posted before reacting to it. In other words, Facebook is nothing more than a visceral world lacking any depth whatsoever. It is pidgin language rather than true intellectual conversation. This is so true that when the term “social media” is applied to Facebook, it becomes an oxymoron. Facebook exchanges are nothing more than the thin gruel Oliver Twist hesitantly requested more of. They are not the wholesome ingredients of a good, satisfying, three course meal of deep thoughts and well-prepared food; rather, they are little more than leftovers that don’t merit refrigeration.
So why do I maintain a Facebook account? I do so because it is a way of staying in touch with far-flung family and with those folks I once knew well enough to call “friend” but with whom I may never share another great meal of ideas because of time and/or distance. As to family members, Facebook serves to keep me up to date between meals. As to old friends, the snapshots of self which it displays prompt fond memories of someone I knew well when we last interacted in person. I am wholly aware that our Facebook friendship will survive only as long as I remember that I am ignorant of who they became following that last meeting or that they might have escaped long ago from the boxes in which I’ve chosen to file my memories of them.
If I were to choose to go beyond this pool of family and old friends on Facebook I would stumble into the depths of the social media sea that are populated by sharks and trolls. So I limit my Facebook friendships to those with whom I share some sort of history. No strangers need apply! I don’t need or wish to communicate with scarecrows, sharks, trolls, or ‘toons.
But Danny is different – he’s not only the right stuff, but is a member of a group I think of as my extended family. And even if our history is brief, it is long enough for him to have piqued my interest. Bob’s death brought us together and each of us has enough trust in Bob to know that a stronger relationship would be enjoyable.
So until we can meet in person again, our friendship will just have to muddle through on a diet of measly Facebook gruel until we’re finally able to share a real meal of good food and in-depth discussion I’m looking forward to it.