This is going to be a long metaphor, so you’re going to have to use your imagination. The last time I tried to go all Kafka on this blog, I wrote about the squeaky wheel on the right side of my car (get it?) and I had people recommending their mechanics. I’ll never make it as a political commentator, but my car purrs like a kitten.
I swear I could write a whole book about Facebook and how it’s misused and misunderstood. Now that everyone and his Great-Aunt Christine owns a piece of it, you have too many people with too many opinions about how it should be used and more importantly how other people aren’t doing it right. Everyone thinks Zuckerberg is on a fainting couch in a gold paneled ballroom eating peeled grapes and counting his stacks of five-hundred-dollar bills, but I think he’s curled up in his mawmaw’s house mewling, “But it was supposed to be just for the Harvard kids!”
Facebook has become a cacophony of personalities, judgements, bragging, accusations of bragging, name calling, accusations of name calling, one-upmanship and the cattiest behavior since sixth grade. Remember radio dials? When you could turn the knob, running through all the channels so quickly that none of it made sense? Facebook is like that except after the first run-through the radio picks up and hurls itself through the china cabinet.
We’re all trying to figure out what the rules are, because Zuckerberg snuck off with his blankie before he told us how we were supposed to do this. Taking a cue from Steve Jobs, he figured we would intuitively know how to handle ourselves on this social media thing.
He was wrong.
I’m no better at it than anyone else, but when I’m trying to figure out how to respond to a Facebook post, I use the party analogy. Facebook is like a party. Your own Facebook page is your party at your house. You get to invite who you want and decline to invite others. You get to keep some parties secret from certain friends (which is news to many people. See my upcoming book Don’t Make Me Hit You in the Face With This Book for more on this). Every time you post something and make it visible to all of your Facebook friends, you’re saying, “Party at my house! You’re all invited!”
As the party host – and this is important here – you get to decide what the party theme will be, what food is served, and if anyone is allowed to play the piano.
Your news feed is the Nob Hill Gazette, the publication that everyone reads, so they can see what’s going on at all the other parties in town. Everyone thinks that if their picture is in the Nob Hill Gazette, everyone who sees it will be gushing over their gown and statement ring and $4,000 clutch that looks like a sparkly octopus. But they’re really snarking up a storm, thinking, Who does she think she is, going to the Opening Night High Society Gala Ball-a-Palooza? I remember when she wasn’t even a cheerleader in high school. You can tell everyone you only wanted your nieces to see your gown, but no one will believe you.
When you become someone’s Facebook friend, you get on their invitation list for their parties. Every time you see one of their Facebook posts and leave a comment or a like you are dropping into the party. And when you go to that person’s actual profile page, you are coming to the party with a cooler and your own pillow. You are in for the long haul and are in the running for the Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave. And your behavior is sometimes despicable.
You walk into the party and go right up to three people who are standing in the corner having a nice conversation and you push your way in and yell “Oh, that’s typical!” or “How can you people be so blind and stupid? Wake up!” And instead of shunning the intrusion like you would expect, the other party guests respond by throwing down their martini glasses and shouting back, knocking knick-knacks off the shelves, causing a mess and leaving the party host wondering why she even bothered to invite any of these people into her home.
Because her home started out pretty nice. In the early party days, the decorations were beautiful, even though we didn’t have cover photos yet. Everyone was dressed appropriately and came in with a good attitude. The food wasn’t as good, because we didn’t have the Tasty! videos, but people had fun. Party conversation was all about who was getting their windows washed now and who was waiting until rainy season was for sure over, updates on pet surgeries, and what was for dinner.
And then party hosts started to settle into Facebook. Feeling more comfortable sharing bits of their lives with strangers and people they knew more remotely than the real Kevin Bacon, people started to put themselves out there.
I’m thinking of becoming a vegetarian!
It’s been 10 months since my divorce and I’m feeling great! I just joined a gym!
I just signed up to register voters with the Obama campaign! HOLD THE GODDAMN PHONE WHERE DID ALL THE HATERS COME FROM?
They had been at the party all along, and she knew they didn’t agree with her politically, but she assumed they would have the good sense and the manners their mothers taught them and would talk about her behind her back like normal people. She prided herself on having spirited political discussions at her parties, but what was this bullshit? And did her old boss just call her a libtard?
Sometimes the party host has to pull the offender aside and tell him he really should STFU and then he’s likely to say that he was of the understanding that this was America and there was a little thing called Freedom of Speech and what was she trying to do, trample on his inalienable rights? Except he didn’t spell it correctly and she makes the mistake of pointing this out and things get more tense. How come she gets to talk about her political views at the party, but when he tries to disagree with her, she gets mad? Isn’t that unfair?
No, she has to tell him. It’s my party, my house, and your rights have no place here. You’re a guest in my home, she tells him. Make your mother proud. He leaves with a Tupperware container of spinach balls and the wine that he brought as a hostess gift and she never sees him again.
Most of us are suckers for the party. We know that the party is going to be like a country club, full of boorish, clannish people who cling to each other and only want to talk about the things they always talk about. We know we’re not really welcome. But we keep going to the party. Why do we do that? Why do we keep going to the party?
Because the Facebook party is free. And it’s our chance to be on stage with an audience. We haven’t had an opportunity like this since the Eighth Grade Activity Night Talent Show. We blew it then, but we’re not going to blow it now. We love the sound of our own bullshit and we are thrilled to pieces that there are people who have to listen to us. And if they recoil at our opinions — all the better. We’ll show ’em who’s boss.
We have this false sense of connectivity when we’re all at the same party, that we are somehow all the same, sympatico. We all know the host, so we all know each other, right? No, this is how deadly brawls happen. Sometimes your friends from college and your friends from church should never be in the same room.
Some public figures use Facebook to host huge parties. Syndicated columnist Connie Schultz has an open-door policy at her parties; everyone is invited because she locks up all the valuables ahead of time and only lets her guests use the downstairs bathroom. So people come into Connie’s party with their chests puffed out, thinking, “I finally got in. She has to listen to me now. I will use all caps and have a huge captive audience.” There are more than one hundred thousand people at Connie’s parties. You can insult her husband, call her a B, make fun of her dog, and when people try to shout you down, you can plug your ears and go LA LA LA LA Not listening! Freedom of speech!! America!!”
No one knows where Connie and other high profile party hosts get the courage and determination to host party after party, spending time to prepare something nice, when it usually ends in chaos and tantrums. And no one knows where Connie got that magic wand that she uses to banish the trolls and lock the door behind them.
Every now and then, Connie has to tap a wine glass and announce, “We are only going to talk about puppies today!” That makes everybody happy.
Puppies are good. If we’re going to continue to have these parties, everyone should be required to bring a puppy or a kitten. And then we can fight them. Because, Facebook.