I probably should stay off of Facebook, but I can’t. After 20 years, it’s just no use.
I should back up.
Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows I’ve spent the good portion of my life behind a keyboard, specifically one attached to a computer. My parents were (for my taste), woefully late to the home computer game – it was 1993 before the Shea household has a PC, and even then it wasn’t really for us, but rather my dad’s business. Generously, he let us use it, but it came with the usual caveats, most of which were directed toward me as bright and shiny objects are my Achilles Heel. My sisters, while interested, never embraced technology as though my father were Moses coming down the mountain with tablets under his arms.
My date for Homecoming (an awesomely sweet computer nerd of gigantic proportions) came over in the Fall of that to show us all how to really use our computer. Or, as is more apt in hindsight, show me how to use it so we could spend inordinate amounts of time chatting on bulletin board systems.
A goodly portion of my senior year of high school was spent sneaking downstairs late at night to log on to the computer and hang out in BBSs my friends had either created or joined. I’d bring with me a pillow to muffle the sound of the modem dialing in, and pray to God no one woke up. The entire endeavor was mild and chaste; nerdy teenagers in the early 90s who spent time on their computers on the regular did not know any other way to be. For me, the thrill was in how much easier it was to talk to someone without all of the messy social cues I hadn’t come to grasp.
Writing out what I needed to say was simple; opening my pie hole and forming words without tripping over the boulders of self-consciousness in my way was another thing entirely.
College wasn’t much different, nor was early adulthood. Middle-age doesn’t seem to be showing any signs of improving, either. For as much as I am an extrovert, I am among that category of extroverts who are as introverted as extroverts can be. We are those of big egos but small confidence.
If there is an incarnation of online communication to be had, I am sure to find it and glom on to it. In the beginning it was BBSs and IRC and AOL. Now it’s just Facebook and Instagram. The biggest difference is that the inhabitants of these communities are not solely my nerdy “online” friends, but rather everyone I’ve ever known.
The only people who pooh-pooh forms of electronic expression are those for whom real-life is not a hurdle to overcome but simply a state in which to exist. This isn’t to say I’m completely socially inept, but the most real version of myself is the one manifested on a screen through words. If I was writing this as a 26-year-old I’d apologize for that. But at 37, I don’t find a need. Besides, considering how long I’ve been online, I’m less likely to act a real fool – exhibit poor grammar, abuse all caps or repost recipes that call for condensed soup and processed cheese as ingredients.
Don’t get me started with the Share if You Hate “X” memes.
All that said, I know I should work on scaling back. I post more than my fair share of pictures of my kid. A day rarely passes without me providing my 904 Facebook friends a glimpse into my mood. I share too many slanted news articles and too few unbiased ones. I’m wise about not starting shit with people on their own Facebook walls – I live by the rule that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all – but even then I get sucked into some toxic places online, and who has time for that anymore? This thinking is why I reactivated my library cards seven months ago and started reading actual books again.
There is a harbinger of the happy medium, and that’s the rapid onset of age. For in as much as I remain a faithful embracer of technology, I am also a victim of gravity and time. Which, loosely translated, means I don’t get Snapchat, and I think most people who use Vine are ridiculous. I miss the days where there were some prerequisites for being online; now it’s just accessible WiFi.
I’m swatting people off of my virtual lawn left and right, I know.
If I’m lucky, eventually technology will surpass me, and the pull I have to retire some place with spotty Internet access but a wealth of quiet will be made real. I’ve looked online. I know those places exist.