Ever since I joined facebook my past has been creeping up on me. For so many years I had done a good job of keeping my past behind me, compressed and folded away into the back of my closet. Now it seems to have returned with a vengeance- and for this I have only myself to blame. For months my wife has been urging me to join facebook. “It’s a great way to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances and it is also a good way for you to re-connect with people from your past,” she would always tell me. “I have few friends that I need to remain pre-occupied with and why would I want to revisit a past that I always got seriously wrong?” I would reply. Besides- I saw facebook as another shackle to the on-line brave new world that I have witnessed slowly swallowing many people alive. I try to keep my on-line commitments and activities to a minimum so as not to become a mere digital reflection of the flesh and blood that I really am.
I am a man of contradictions. For as long as I can remember my thoughts and beliefs have rarely lined up with my actions. One day I may swear allegiance to one thing and the next day- despise it. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that a man of contradictions was a sign of a brilliant mind- but in my case I think it is nothing more than a sign of my confusion about who I really am. So not to make a long story short- not too long ago, I joined facebook and nothing has been quite the same since.
I first began with the hesitancy of a cat crossing a busy street. I posted one or two pictures of myself and made no more than five friends. But as the weeks passed my mailbox filled with requests for friendships- which I granted. Soon after this I was receiving greetings from people I had not heard from in quite some time. I felt mildly excited about this new way to connect with people I had thought I had lost touch with. I returned their greetings with affirmations and interest. Like most others, I was having fun stirring up old friendships on facebook without having to leave the sanctity of my house. My wife and I also began to communicate over facebook more than we communicated over the dinner table- and for a few weeks I thought that facebook was the greatest invention since sliced bread.
But like all good things, something went seriously wrong. I felt agitated by the numerous requests I was receiving that asked me to give gifts, accept gifts, join organizations and get involved in causes. I am a simple man and like many aspiring Taoists, I believed (and still believe) that happiness is to be found by being in the world but not of the world. I try to maintain a simple life but facebook seemed to be making my life much more complex. I was becoming jealous about the fact that some of my new found friends seemed to be happy and “success filled” while I still struggled to maintain my monthly rent payments and was terribly uncertain about what happiness meant. On the other hand, those of my friends who were still struggling to survive and “down-in-the-dumps” made me feel an uncomfortable relief that some people were doing worse than I.
My past started to encroach upon my present when long lost girlfriends and old photos of me from centuries ago- found me on facebook. The photos filled my mind with not only a younger self that I have been trying hard to forget but also an awareness of the relentless passing of time that has cleared away years of my life in the blink of an eye. I made contact with my x-girlfriends and began struggling through weeks of insomnia that I am convinced was induced by old memories. I would lye in bed and be dumbfounded by the question- “where did all the time go?” I would recall may teenage years with the vividness of a movie screen right behind my eyes. The young faces of my x-lovers would follow me around all day and the only thing I could do to mitigate my strange emotional reactions was to return to facebook and read more.
“Randall is attending an art show in his head,” “Randall is happily flying with the birds,” “Randall just awoke from a nap and is going back to sleep-“ I would find myself spending hours of time contemplating what kind of clever entry I would make- that would allow my 56 friends to know how clever Randall was at that moment. When I had a break from my job I would run to the computer and make entries and check up on what friends were up to. I reached a point where I was making entries into facebook at least 5 times a day. My wife and I would make comments over each others entries and we were actually having more fun together on facebook than in our real life!! Even though I was enjoying this newly found fun with my wife and friends- I could not get away from the thought that something was seriously wrong.
After a conversation with my therapist- we both thought that it would be best if I took some time off from facebook. My past was haunting me like a bad dream and my relationship with my wife was becoming dysfunctional, in person. I was constantly checking my face and pulse for signs of aging- since I had becoming overtly conscious of time’s passing since joining facebook. I was spending more time on facebook than I was in my life and I think it would not be unfair to say that I started to confuse the two. Facebook became a social gathering for me (and I am a guy who is not very social and considers himself a self declared introvert). My withdrawal from facebook was hard and lonely but once I got back into the swing of living my life in the present and off-line, I found that I forgot about my on-line community of friends and began my life again where I once left off. I was no longer plagued by the burden of my past and the perpetual responsibility of maintaining 56 friendships.
After a month of abstaining from facebook I have gone back to it with a more moderate approach. I know that I do not like what facebook can do to me, so I have to use it with caution. I keep my friends down to a manageable number and I only allow myself to make an entry every other day. My wife and I have agreed to not communicate on each others facebook but rather try and communicate over the dinner table. I realize that I am susceptible to falling back into the digital jaws of facebook (I feel the urge now and then)- but with weekly meetings with my therapist, a supportive wife and the ability to choose only certain x-girlfriends that I am willing to communicate with- I have been able, so far, to maintain my distance from the things that I do not like about facebook…….