(Tomorrow: "Maybe I don't like your politics, but your grandkids are adorable." Anne O'Connor offers a contrasting view.)
Susie Eaton Hopper, who has worked as an editor at the Star Tribune, the Pioneer Press and the Twin Cities Reader, is now an editor for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines.
I have given up Facebook for the holidays. It's not that I don't like Facebook. I may like it too much.
Several recent events have spurred this decision. On a recent trip to New York, I had lunch with old friends from Minneapolis. One of them is a frequent flier on Facebook too, and she's known me for 30 years. We have a close Facebook connection, liking one another's posts, commenting, encouraging. She said, in front of the collected crew: "The image you project on FB from Des Moines is remarkable. You obviously love it there and it all seems so special."
I almost spit my bread pudding across the room. For the first time, I realized that my Facebook posts were a crafted project. Unconsciously, I think, I had put the positive out there, fawning over Des Moines' sculpture garden and the pristine, groomed downtown to tout my new city. But in doing so, I had indeed put forth a version of my life that was just part of the truth. The pretty part of the truth.
Moving from Minneapolis after 28 years there was not without pain. Friends, family, colleagues were left behind. Girlfriends — Gwen, Jeanne, Sharon, Melinda — fantastic, can't-live-without-them girlfriends, are now reduced to FB posts. We talk on the phone sometimes. But it's not like the old days, when I actually saw them often and read their Facebook posts as an aside, not as the touchstone they are for me living 350 miles away.
Yes, I'm in a new place with a great new job. But lifelong friends aren't made overnight. There are times when I am so homesick I want to cry. Sometimes I do. I once posted that fact on Facebook. My daughter saw it and chastised me for "oversharing."
On that same trip to New York, my daughter asked if I was more interested in Facebook than in having a conversation with her because I spent so much time online. It was one of those remarks that scalds your interior life and brings on an awful guilt trip.
Was I that kind of mother, so superficial and self-involved that I had put my computer conversations ahead of my own wonderful child? Had I started to communicate long distance even when I was with her? In the nine months since I moved, had I lost my ability to be present and instead become the dreaded FB Mom? Apparently so.
The next day, while having a casual in-person chat with one of my daughter's friends and her boyfriend at their apartment, I again opened my computer and checked in. Seriously. I did that. After being told just the day before that I was oblivious to other humans, I turned to my beloved Facebook in the presence of other humans. I thought it was somehow OK, but it hurt the feelings of the people I was with.
Then a dear friend who has a 3-year-old son told me he had trained this darling boy to pay attention when someone enters the room. The toddler was asked to put down his trucks and books and say hello, to note that he was glad to see the person. It seemed like a wonderful and precocious effort. My friend said simply, "He has to appreciate that people are more important than things."
That hit me hard. I guess I thought Facebook was people. But Facebook is people in the same way that watching "Sex in the City" is having girlfriends: not really. I had mistakenly thought that I was communicating on Facebook, when I was really only typing.
In just five days in New York, where I had to interact with people and not a computer, I had heard three people say things that made me want to change my ways. I wanted to pay attention to real people again, because they are, indeed, more important than things.
I decided to come home and work on the relationships I do have. Those with my old friends in Minneapolis and elsewhere. I now call two people a week and really try and have a good chat, like the ones we used to have before we were merely Facebook pals. To find out what's going on and not just what they found on YouTube today. And I am listening to the people I love, my daughters, who feel I have bypassed their company for a superficial social media tool. All was not right in my world, and my Facebook addiction had something to do with it.
At least until after the holidays, I am using the time I put into Facebook, which was much more time than I wanted to admit, to solve problems that need attention in my real world. I am volunteering at a homeless shelter down the street. I am reading books that had piled up all over my apartment, unread. I am asking people right here in my new city to do things with me. Go for a walk, go to a movie, come over for coffee.
For now, that feels like a better way to update my status.