Monday, October 25, 2021

Can My Friendships Survive Facebook?

I remember how we communicated back in the day, 'cause I was fully alive back in the day. I'm Gen X; we communicated by snail mail before it was called that AND jumped on the Internet bandwagon as soon as we were able.

And that day was long before Facebook, even well before the Internet became part of our daily lives. In that "day," I talked to friends on the phone. If one of us moved, we wrote actual letters. Handwritten! In cursive! I have some dating back to the '80s in a shoebox, and the most recent going back to the 2000s (anything via snail mail after that came from parents who are old enough that they never picked up the Internet, smartphones, or any sign of living in the 21st century). 

Over time, those friends and I also exchanged email (in addition to phone calls). Then Facebook came. At first it was so cool, a way to stay a little in touch several times a week. We were in touch even if we didn't directly interact with each other; we got a window into each other's lives through whatever we posted. Emails to catch up with each other's lives slowly bled away. Phone calls became something we didn't do just to chat, not unless it was with older relatives who didn't use the Internet or know how to text.

Facebook became our only way of staying in contact across the distance, across the years. There are people I would like to know the rest of my life; Facebook both aids and threatens that connection. At some point, I worry they will tire of Facebook, or feel it takes too much of their time, and abandon it. Or perhaps the platform itself will disappear or change in a way that alters our communications (it recently went down for hours and people were shook. I bet others realized they didn't really need it much at all and use it even less now).

However it happens, I fear that one day some friends, and one in particular I very much want to stay in touch with throughout our lives, will fade from my reach. I have no illusion that those friends who once were happy to chat on the phone or put pen to paper will ever return to that form of communication with me, though I would gladly do it for them. Not to mention the friends who are attached to me by a thinner thread, one that never would have stretched to staying in touch at all without social media.

Facebook let us all be in a minor sort of contact much more often, but it weakened the quality of that contact, that bond, for me, at least. Now that contact could easily blow away like a stack of old letters when an opening door ushers in a rush of air. And then the door will close, close in a way it may never be opened again.

This is my fear.

Due to mobility issues that sprang up way too early in life and knocked me down, hard, I left the full-time, in-person working world and a career I'd worked very hard for nearly 15 years ago. I do a little writing and freelance editing from home, but I haven't had an office life in years. My husband and I moved shortly after the mobility issues started, so I was in a new place, knowing no one and no way to easily get out and socialize. Which means, even long before the pandemic, I was limited in my chances to interact in person with others because I can't walk far at a stretch or climb more than a few stairs, and no longer went in to a daily job.

For instance, I could join a Meetup group or book club, but if it met somewhere that required more than a few steps to get in, I was sunk. Or if it was a place where there was no parking beside the building, where you'd have to take your chances with how far away you'd have to park and walk, I was also sunk. Ones that involved walks and tours wouldn't work for me, even if I brought my mobility scooter, which I use to get around stores and parks. Odds are good the event would at some point involve going somewhere my scooter couldn't go, and I'd be stuck in the middle of an event. And event organizers weren't great about letting me know if it was accessible, even when I said I totally understood if it wasn't, I just needed to know so I could decide whether I could attend. The careless and sometimes incorrect responses I got led me to not even try for events that weren't clearly perfectly accessible. And of those, many were things I wasn't interested in.

With all this to contend with, Facebook and other social media has been good for me in many ways, but it also has meant a sense of being surrounded by others while actually being in sometimes lonely exile, floating ever more distant from real contact by the day. I'm an introvert, so it's not as bad as it would be for some, but my tethers to people other than my husband have faded quite a bit.

This is my reality.

Will I lose that light slice of online contact over time as people drift away from Facebook? Especially with that particular friend who once-upon-a-time was a very good friend in real life, but now is connected to me by much thinner strands?

Time will tell. I'll be watching.

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