By AA Patawaran
I often refrain from joining the conversation when they’re ranting about social media. I mean it’s so, like, 2009, 10 years ago. I must have first joined Facebook in the mid-2000s and, by 2010, I might have had enough time trying to decide exactly what I felt about Mark Zuckerberg’s groundbreaking contribution to this world.
It was a love-hate affair in those early years. I must admit it was an exciting time, trying to build my network, trying to search for long-lost friends, trying to find something in common with new acquaintances, but it was also a terrible time. There were things I didn’t have to know, but I was forced to know because they were all over my feed and there was no way I could avoid them because what have they been saying about curiosity and the cat? All the sins, literally deadly, Facebook unleashed out of human nature—envy, pride, lust, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony, all seven and more—and we thought it was all entertainment, until the kids, feeling sorry for their lack and limitations, started killing themselves in Tokyo, until kids turned up dead after eyeballing with their online lovers in Seoul and in Quezon City.
But I’m done with all that, all that loving and hating, and have come to accept social media for what it is, to take the good along with the bad.
At some point, after 2012, I made up my mind that Facebook is no less dangerous than the streets in the small hours of the day, no less fearsome than the club scene or the cocktail party or the school campus or the office premises, although you must agree with me that we all know a lot of Dr. Jekylls who on Facebook become Mr. Hyde or vice versa.
And so I have embraced social media wholeheartedly. I figured it couldn’t be my house, let alone my room. It couldn’t be a sanctuary or a refuge or some alternate universe, in which I could pretend to be other than me. I threw away the locks and keys. I set my Facebook account, my Instagram account, my Twitter account to public and began to behave accordingly.
Like life, social media can be a hurtful place, more hurtful maybe because, in its anonymity, some people get comfortable rearing their ugly heads. I know people who are so respectful in person but who spew vitriol thoughtlessly all over the nets. Backbiters have a field day on Facebook because, to them, Facebook is like war and all is fair, though those with no backbone never name names and smile with no compunction at those whose names they should have given.
Distracted from distraction by distraction. —T.S. Eliot
But none of that is unique to social media. There are people around you in real time who can give you a hug while they are plotting your assassination. It’s just life. To be fair, I haven’t been on the receiving end of hate on Facebook that much. There were a couple of people who might have posted something offensive or out of line on my comments board, but I could count them on the fingers of my one hand. I never also had to unfollow anybody, except a few who unfriended me, so I blocked them. Tit(er) for tat.
Nothing really offends me anymore on social media. I mean it has lots of jaded people so does life. I mean it has a lot of crude people so does life. It has a lot of misbehaving people so does life. But it also has a lot of wonderful people as does life and, if you are picky about the people you really get close to or surround yourself with, Facebook can be such a nice place.
Mine is a public account so it’s open to people I might have just met along the way, people I have something in common with, like my love of books, my office, my industry, or the readers of my books, many of whom I have never met. Some people I’ve met many times at parties or on official functions or on a trip or on the field, but it is on Facebook or Instagram that we make more meaningful encounters, later private messaging each other about things you would only share with friends or not even.
Sometimes, it’s sad that some of my old, decades-long friendships do not exist on Facebook or Instagram. Some are purposely absent in this parallel universe of mine, ignoring me completely while lavishing other friends we share in common with likes and loves and comments and engagement, so that’s good because then I can move on. With these people, the new frontier, which is online relationships, is a litmus test. They see on Facebook what you have become, the other worlds you have built for yourself, the other friends you have made, and maybe they are not out there to hurt you, they just don’t belong in those parts of your life. It also doesn’t necessarily mean that all your friendship is in the past, but if it does, then give it a toast and move on. You can’t be the same anyway, except for a few hours at a reunion.
On the other hand, there are also friends who aren’t that much on social media anyway and only show up when you tag them or mention them or post something they could relate to, usually something you enjoyed in the past.
Sometimes I worry that maybe they only like what I post about my life that has them in it, but what’s so wrong with that? Friendship, after all, is in one of every four cases only an intersection, where people find a common ground and there really is nothing wrong with a friendship that’s limited to that. Unlike a spouse, you need not get married to a friend. He or she doesn’t have to be all over the place, especially if there is a lot more to your life than what concerns them.
Now that I no longer complain that much about social media, I see a lot more good in it. Though I often use it for work, I spend a lot of time in it for myself, thinking about life, writing poems, writing microessays, though writing these epic captions I go beyond the 2,200-character limit on Instagram all the time. I also like finding out about this world and about our time through the posts of the people I follow on social.
I see social media as my other life, though not one to plan my posts or curate them or color-code them, it doesn’t really show any new facet of me. It’s just me finding expression in a different medium, like walking into a bar and meeting friends old and new.
If I were still in college, I’d call social media a tambayan (hangout). I just need to learn not to spend too much time in it.