The New Nature of Friendship

all_friends-512I’m Friends with 736 people. Most of whom I haven’t seen in something like 25 years. A few I’ve never met. But we’re still friends. How is that possible?

First Friends

Our first friends are chosen for us. We don’t have a say in it. Our siblings are our first friends, or maybe the children of our parents friends. But we didn’t choose them. Your first friends were the kids your parents inadvertently decided on for you. That’s how it works when you are a baby. You can’t make those decisions for yourself. You are too busy learning to walk and talk and clap. Babies love clapping.

The older we get the more say we have in who is or isn’t our friend. We see personality traits we like and attempt to become friends with people who share those traits. When I was six I was friends with girls who enjoyed purple as much as I did. As I grew a little older and more mature, it was stickers. If you had a lot of stickers, I wanted to be your friend. In grade school my best friend was the girl who came before me in alphabetical order. We sat next to one another for five years and her family lived a short walk from mine. A friendship was born.

But how long is a friendship based on last names or love of stickers supposed to last? Your grade school friends either became your Jr. High friends, or you were put into different classes and developed new friendships. When it became clear that my Alphabetically Based Friend and I had little left in common, our friendship just passed into memory. It wasn’t a sad thing. It wasn’t a thing at all. We just outgrew each other. Nobody expected you to stay BFF’s with the kid you sat next to in Ms. Partridge’s Fifth Grade home room, or that girl who wore horse shirts every day.

But there they are in your News Feed. Every day. You get to see the children, dogs, cats, hamburgers, family holidays, work complaints and Halloween costumes of every person you ever met in your entire life who happens to remember your name.

Facebook Friends

It was a simpler time. A time before Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. A time when you met people at school or church or work or your local D&D game or the market and if you liked one another – you became friends. If one of you moved away, sadly the friendship would loosen its grip. Long distance friendships lasted only if both parties were good communicators. And remember, it was only the telephone and letter writing. Like with a pen on paper. If you couldn’t manage to keep up with your letter writing or phone calls, the friendship would die out.

These days I see the daily minutia of 736 people. For example, I know that some of my friends in Austin floated the river today. I know that another friend of mine from high school adopted an adorable kitten named Winston. I know which of my exes have gotten fat and which have gotten remarried. I also happen to know that one friend is “Trying the meatloaf”, while another is “Just over it.” Facebook isn’t really about friendships, it’s about self promotion. It’s a one-way street – MY Street. I’ll talk about what I want, and if you are my friend you are obligated to look at it. But is that really a friendship?I’m not casting stones from my fancy glass castle, so settle down. I am well aware that I am guilty of posting pointless pictures of cats to Facebook. And I don’t even own a cat.

someecards-enemies-real-life-block-youI guess I’m saying that since we (as a society) have decided that we want to know people forever, we need to start being a little more discerning about what we put out there. I mean, I would never bring someone over to my house and make them look at photo after photo after photo of my cat or my child. Or my lunch. So perhaps I shouldn’t be doing it online either. Perhaps less is more.

Friends used to be people you saw often and hung out with, people you shared secrets with. In person. Now a friend is just a click away. You don’t really have to put time or effort into a Facebook Friend. Once you agree, that’s it. You are friends.

Terminus

Until you get deleted. And that is pretty easy also. You can edit actual people from your life with just a click of a button. You don’t have to write a long letter explaining why you can’t be friends anymore. Heck you don’t even have to look the person in the eye or be in the same time zone. All you have to do is click. They might not even notice. It’s that easy. Facebook prolongs the period it takes to get over someone, because you have an open window into their life, whether you want to or not. You see their updates, their pictures and their relationship status. You see how happy they are. Or at least how happy they seem. Either way it isn’t healthy. It’s a mecca for passive aggressive behavior.

We call people we know on Facebook our friends whether or not we know them in any real sense, or even like them. Most of your FB friends are just people you used to know. Sure you know what they ate for dinner last night, but it’s a one-sided deal. True friendship is built upon trust and interaction. Real friendship is deeper than words on a computer screen or photos of desserts. A Friend is someone you socialize with in person, someone you have an emotional investment in and feel a connection with. It seems crazy to expect the same experience from a computer screen.

So for good or bad, Facebook makes it easy to form and maintain friendships. We can post a quick happy birthday on a wall and we don’t have to worry about sending a card. If a friend is bugging you with her political postings or boring stories of his workplace, just log off. Personally I don’t give a rat’s posterior if you are “Having a hurried Friday” or if little Johnny “took forty minutes to tie his shoes”. And I certainly don’t care to know which GoT character a classmate from third grade is.

So how do we continue? What is the solution to the problem of online friends? It’s so easy to just hide or block those that don’t fit into the little online kingdoms we have created for ourselves. But that isn’t really doing anything to improve friendships or our online experiences with other people. We need to start conducting ourselves better online. Don’t post every thought that comes into your head no matter how hilarious you think it is. Use good judgement. Ask yourself if all 736 people you know online need to see the ice cream cone you are eating.

Ignore all of the bullshit. Don’t comment on everything. Use restraint. Don’t friend everyone that asks. Treat people online (or off) with respect. Having lots of friends and dozens of “likes” on a status can feel-good. I get it. But when things get tough, “likes” and comments won’t replace a real shoulder to lean on. Being a real friend takes time. I guess ol’ Will Shakespeare said it best, “A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

Why I quit Facebook

super-hero-facebook-likes1I quit Facebook yesterday. I came home from work and deleted my account. Someone posted something stupid and it made me mad. It made me mad all day. It made me mad all day until I realized I had a choice. I’d let someone who I hardly know infuriate me. I gave someone who isn’t a part of my life, power in my life. No more. I’ve been threatening to do it for a while now, but I just couldn’t commit. I had justification – My blog is connected to Facebook. Being a writer was a great excuse for “needing” a Facebook account. It is easy, free and convenient. But that is just an excuse. This blog has a few hundred followers outside of Facebook. If someone misses me, they know where to find me.

My FB lifestyle was not jiving with my personal beliefs, and who I am in “real life”. I am tired of holding my tongue and I am tired of getting upset. I shouldn’t have to delete “friends” because they use sexist language, are idiots, or I haven’t seen/spoken to them in years. What a pain in the ass. I realized that it is far easier to just remove myself from the equation all together. I am tired of being attached to Facebook and I am tired of looking at pictures of your dog, your kids, your lunch and your neighbors pet chicken. I don’t care what you are listening to. I have no need or desire to play Farmville with you, nor do I give any shits at all about where you have checked in. Your score on Bedazzled doesn’t interest anyone and thank you so much for posting the score of Jimmy’s soccer game. I was totally losing sleep over it.

Two days in and I must say, I feel lighter. I have so many better things to do with my time. I thought I would feel uneasy or nervous, but I don’t. I feel relief. And I don’t suffer from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) so I should be alright. FOMO is the #1 reason people keep their FB accounts while posting about how much they hate Facebook. How often do you check your FB? I bet it is at least in the double digits. Every single glance at all the badass things your friends (and enemies, let’s be honest) are doing just fuels the fire. You start wondering why you aren’t doing badass stuff like climbing mountains, getting married, or getting wasted with a group of Russian tourists.

Start playing the comparison game and you’ll lose every time. That’s how the game works. It starts innocently enough… maybe just a little filter on that picture of your hamburger to make it look brighter. Then, maybe  a second filter to show each and every seed on the bun. By the time you are finished, your photo looks nothing like that thing you ate which gave you indigestion. The only way to win is not to play at all. It’s a losing game. Everybody will always be thinner than you on Facebook. They will be smarter than you. Their Angry Bird score will be better than yours. Their friends will always be hipper than your friends. Their Instagram account will have cooler shots than yours. They will get married before you. Their kids will have cooler names than yours. Their dog will be cuter than your dog. Their cat will be more popular on Youtube than your cat.

You will always lose at Facebook.

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Crawdads (Austin, TX) Alicia Brooks photo

But it doesn’t matter because it’s all a lie. All of it. Take my profile for example. Just recently I posted this picture. Looks incredible, right? Well, here is what I didn’t tell you. That picture was taken at the world’s most boring party. The food you see was not seasoned – at all – until it was thrown in the bowl. Then about six different people took turns salting it. The conversation  was about as exciting as the food. The highlight of the party seemed to be when the host dared a guest to let a crawdad latch onto his nipple… for $5. I kid you not. But, I knew that I could take a very cool picture of the food and nobody needed to know the rest. Facebook is a facilitator of lies.

Everyday we are presented with an endless montage of small excitements disguised as every day activities. We judge ourselves against the carefully cultivated and created profiles that people present as truth. That is absurd behavior. Facebook is the ghost in the machine. It works on your behalf when you are not there. It actively distorts us to our friends, and worse yet to users whom we have never met. Facebook is exploitive and unnecessary. It makes us yearn for approval in the form of “likes”, the more the better. As a writer I began to see my worth in the amount of likes or views a piece got. How backwards is that?

So, I guess I quit in pursuit of happiness. Facebook was affecting my moods and my life so I am taking a sabbatical. How can I attempt to live a minimalist life with the clutter of Facebook in my… face? It might be a week, it might be a month, it might be longer. I don’t know. All I know is that when and if I decide to go back, it will be with a new outlook on the tool. And it is a tool. Just more for the folks at Facebook than for you. I’m not here preaching for you to quit social media sites. Do what you will. I’m here saying take a look at what you post, how often, and how often you are posting. Be aware and maybe take a day off and see how you feel. I feel like I just sprouted wings.

The 5 Best Shows You Aren’t Watching

I don’t own a television. I haven’t owned one since 2005. It’s not that I don’t like T.V shows, it’s that I don’t like having to pay cable companies in order to watch them. So I don’t. I watch the shows I like on-line. That way I can keep up with American Idol, Downton Abbey and The Biggest Loser commercial free, cable free, and hell, just free! It also makes me very mindful of what I watch. I can’t just turn it on and see “what’s on”. I have to make a conscious decision to watch television. After I decide what I want to watch (if anything) I have to find it online, and then stream it. It’s still super fast and easy, but I don’t end up wasting time on crap TV like The Real Housewives of Who the Fuck Cares, or Zooey Deschanel in “The Zaney Adventures of a 33-year-old Woman Desperately Trying to Convince the World and Herself that she is 25… Which is also a rip off of Three’s Company”… or whatever it’s called.

You can stream all of these shows on-line. Or on TV or whatever you do to watch shows.

  1. Anthony Bourdain: The Layover (The Travel channel) – url-2Take Anthony Bourdain, give him a film crew and a 24 hour layover in a cool city and see what happens. It’s awesome. It not only inspires you to check out new places in a city you might already know (or live in!), but you get to feel super cool if he talks about one of your favorite places. He spends time talking to locals about their favorite spots to take visitors. He asks cab drivers where to get the best street food. He gets wasted at a tiki lounge with another chef. It’s all very good fun. Check it out.
  2. Shameless (Showtime)????????????????????You think you have a fucked up family? This show (starring William H. Macy as “Frank Gallagher”. The world’s worst, and I mean WORST, alcoholic/drug abusing father. Ever.) gives dysfunction a whole new name. And that name is Gallager. But this show isn’t for the faint of heart, or folks who can’t stand to hear toddlers drop the F-bomb. And that’s saying nothing about the nudity, violence, barf inducing filth or, graphic sex scenes between any number of people of any varied race, gender, age or sexual orientations. I’ll just say there is an awesome lack of dignity in this show, and I love it. It’s funny, over the top, and even sweet at times.
  3. Louie (FX) – This show is like walking inside Louie CK’s mind. It’s funny, sweet, sad and often times uncomfortable. Louie tackles every subject you can think of: kids, single fathers, drinking, working, sloth, dating, assholes, pizza, crazy people, New York City, religion… You get the picture. If you are not a fan of Louis CK yet, then you haven’t watched this show.  Here’s a little bit. 
  4. King of the Nerds (TBS)22588_001_0358_R (1)That’s right, NERDS! It’s a reality based game show that pits nerd against nerd in wacky nerd based challenges like life-size chess, and live gaming. They all live together in “Nerdvana” and compete to see who will sit atop the Throne of Games! I know! Of course there are some totally hate-able and obnoxious freaks who you hope get voted away quickly, but the show also has contestants who work for NASA and are brain surgeons and shit like that. It’s a show that let’s the “nerds” show off their unique talents and show us that they are more than just characters in a silly movie. Speaking of which, the show is hosted by Curtis Armstrong and Robert Carradine. If you don’t know who they are, then you don’t deserve to be called a nerd.
  5. The Taste (ABC)la-dd-the-taste-recap-20130129-001Yes, another cooking game show. I know. But this is my first! I never got into Top Chef, and I occasionally check out Iron Chef, but nothing solid. This show has a twist. Four “Mentors” blind taste each contestants food and judge it purely on taste. With ONE BITE. Only. They don’t know if it is a man or woman, pro chef or home chef – they just get one bite, and that’s it. Only after they vote do they see who cooked it. It’s pretty good fun. It made me both hungry and want to cook, so that’s good. And the “mentors” are Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, Anthony Bourdain and Brian Malarkey. The banter is good, the food looks good and the competition is fierce.

The Cult of ME

There is a virus going around right now. You have probably seen it, or even caught a strain of it yourself. It thrives on your need to be seen and be a little self indulgent and it encourages you to become the vapid narcissist you always accused Jennifer Lopez, Paris Hilton and Madonna of being. This virus is called Facebook. And it is eating your soul.

I am no judge here, I have fallen victim to it myself, but I have now seen the error of my ways.

In the past few weeks, a harmless little not has been circulating the on line community of my “friends”. It is called 25 Random Things About You… Now, at first glance it is a cute little note in which you share with your friends some little tid-bits that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. When I posted this myself, I was happy to find that my REAL friends already knew all of my so called Random facts. Why? Because they are my friends. I wrote of some quirky habits and that I like to sing. Not real news to anyone who knows me.

Evolution.

In the past four months or so, people that I knew in high school have been “requesting my friendship” on Facebook. Again. At first it was a morbid curiosity to see who got fat, what people looked like 20 years later and see what they were doing. Now, I am a bit put off by it. I think there is a reason i am not friends with most of them anymore. I have nothing in common with them. I have realized this after reading some the random things about these people.

I now know people who: Are scared of ALL Muslims. Think Barack Obama is going to lead America into the 7th ring of Hell. Take pride in the fact that they worked as a “war Contractor” – or War Profiteer as it should be called. Think George W. Bush was someone to be thankful for. Think Global Warming is a “myth”. Belong to the NRA. Think war is the answer. Hate gay people. Have more money and “stuff” than god and complain about the state of the economy. Think that “protecting their children” means hating.

You get where I am going here. If wouldn’t tolerate these people in my “real” life, why am I doing it online? Because we have a shared past? We had the same teacher in the sixth grade? We grew up knowing the same people? I don’t know if it is enough, and I don’t know if I can keep letting myself get upset and annoyed by how ugly some people have become. I don’t claim to be perfect by any means,and i am not intolerant of a “conservative” viewpoint. I just do not understand the need people have to broadcast it to the world.

If you are stupid enough to “publish” your burgeoning relationship on the site – the world knows when you have broken up. Your friends now know that you are shit at scrabble and that you read books like “The Da Vinci Code”. You feel special because yo have so many friends. They know you are a poor speller and they stalk you daily. Possible employers look at your page and wonder about your habits, hobbies and your wife. It’s just all out there and it’s out there because YOU did it.

I know what you are thinking. “Alicia…um…what about this blog?” Well, let me defend myself by saying – FIRST: this was created because I am lazy and didn’t want to email everyone I know when I moved to Europe. SECOND: It is you choice to read it. You have to actually seek it out.

This is not the case on Facebook. I am constantly inundated with peoples every thought and feeling whether I like it or not. That is just plain intrusive. I spent years cultivating a life that is pleasant and that involves positive and uplifting people from all walks of life that share similar and opposing views to my own. Now i feel trapped in these fake friendships that i was fine living without. Sure, I have reconnected with some people on Facebook that I have missed over the years, and I have found the new friendship to be just as rewarding as the old. but, I guess you just don’t know that until you “Accept” them as a friend.

And I guess that’s the point. I don’t know that I do – accept them – that is. And maybe they feel the same way about me.