Tuesday, March 30, 2010


If I weren’t going to California, I would resent getting up at 6:30am for a 9am flight out of Kennedy. But it’s L.A. – my favorite place in the U.S. that isn’t New York. I can hardly wait.
So, I’m at JetBlue terminal 5 at JFK, buying my $9 turkey sandwich with one slice of actual turkey, which will be so warm by the time I want to eat it, that I’ll probably just shove it in the seat back and eat gummi bears instead. And just as I get in line to board the flight, I hear, “Eric? Eric Stine?”
It was fun to run into Jenni – whom I haven’t seen in twenty years (yes, twenty. Argh.) We went to high school together – actually, we went to junior high school together. She was at my Bar Mitzvah. We co-starred in Our Town senior year.
Now she had three kids and a husband and is trekking across the country for Spring Break (a trip that will take them to LA, San Diego and Vegas – my idea of a good trip, actually, though I imagine our itineraries are vastly different.)
We chatted for a bit while boarding the plane. “You look great,” she marveled. (It’s true. I do. Given, however, that I weighed over 250 pounds in high school and had a bushy head of wiry Jew-hair, an improvement was unlikely.) “I never would have recognized you if it weren’t for your Facebook pictures.”
Ah, the Facebook photo. The universal identifier stored in the “cloud.” An identifying avatar that tells your “friends” what you look like today (and please use your own damn photo; photos of your kids, photos of you as a baby, cartoons and icons are gay. Yes, I am gay and I just used “gay” as a pejorative. Suck it.) Click on them and your profile becomes a portal to a birthday party, a beach weekend, a family vacation or an embarrassing evening out – all of which provide a window into your life for people who haven’t seen you since the Reagan administration but might wind up five feet away from you in the airport one early Saturday morning.
At which point you might gossip about a classmate whose recent status update was "Free At Last!" speculating if it were a new job or a divorce.  (It was a divorce.)

I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school, and I’m not connected to many of those people via Facebook (and, with the exception of some friends of my sister’s, I’m connected to only one – loosely – in my real life.) Likewise, college. And law school.

But I’m connected to enough people via Facebook to have had an experience that makes me think about the ease with which I accept those friend requests, the occasions when I’ll meander through lists looking for people I seldom think about, the scrutiny with which I scour their profiles and their photos.
Why do we do this? Our lives certainly aren’t emptier without these people, and aren’t fuller when we find them. Few, if any, of us actually reconnect with these folks for anything more than wall posts, and the occasional drink which includes easily-made and rarely-executed promises of getting together again. (This excludes the subculture of men who look for former girlfriends and sexual partners for the exclusive purpose of having sex with them again, then ignoring them as cruelly as they did the first time around. Those guys get a special hell all their own.)

We look at their lives to see what we can surmise. We look at their spouses and boyfriends and girlfriends. We look at their kids, their houses, their vacations. It’s like going to your reunion without having to show up in person; where no one can watch you scrutinize your classmates for signs of happiness or misery, success or failure. We can find out who got fat, who got divorced, and who got lost from the safety of our couches. We can applaud ourselves when the good-looking guy who always acted like dick lost his job, his wife or his hair (shut up – I shave my head; there’s a difference. OK, there isn’t.) We don’t have to publicly cover our surprise if a burnout winds up with a decent life.

My guess: we’re not looking to make a connection; we’re keeping score. (Which is why - in all my Facebook photos - I either look adorable or my arms look huge.)
Interestingly, the best friend I have isn’t my friend on Facebook at all: my husband. He started using the site about a year before I did, and wouldn’t accept my friend request when I finally came online. He argued that he saw me everyday anyway, and didn’t need an update to tell him that I liked cereal, hated broccoli or saw a squirrel. He hears my stories and my jokes anyway, usually multiple times, since I repeat them. We share the same photos, the same vacations and the same house – he wasn’t going to learn anything from being my friend in a virtual world given how much of the real world we occupied jointly.

Smart man.

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