Facebook vs The Real World by Tawni Waters

     Several years ago, before I pulled my proverbial head out of my proverbial ass, I was dating a mildly good-looking, extremely dangerous ex-convict.  (Yes, you read that right.)  He was wildly charming, and we spent a few months of torrid weekends together before brilliant me let lunatic him move into my house and found out that no matter how good someone’s excuse for almost slitting someone’s else’s throat may be (self-defense), chances are good that if he went to jail for violent assault, he’s a psychopath.  (Duh.  Who falls for that shit, right?  The answer is Tawni, pre-head-out-of-ass.  I fell for that shit.)

 

     So Mr. Psychopath did all the things that good psychopaths do–cut me off from friends and family, made sure I never slept so that I wouldn’t be able to think, constantly threatened to kill me, did everything in his power to try to make me lose my job, forced me to eat tons of food so I would become less attractive (tell me someone can’t force you to eat, and I’ll show you a crazy ex-con piling food on your plate and telling you to finish with a sinister look that says if you don’t, he’s going to go to that not-so-nice flip-out place where you fear for your life), and on, and on, and on.

 

     Beyond destroying me emotionally and physically, Mr. Psychopath’s endgame was to abuse me until I allowed his entire psychopath family to move into my beautiful home.  He came from a family of dysfunctional losers (Daddy was in jail for murder) who survived by the only skills they had–intimidation, conning, and manipulation.  Thanks to this motley band of uneducated, unsavory lunatics, my life became a living hell, and if not for divine intervention that came in the form of loving friends and family who knew something was wrong even though I couldn’t tell them, I doubt I would have survived it.  It was a page right out of Lifetime for Women.  Or Dante’s Inferno.  Or something.  I remember locking myself in the bathroom at work, desperately calling the people who loved me, trying to come up with some kind of scenario that got me out of the relationship with my head intact.  (My sweet boyfriend had an obsession with cutting off my head.)

 

     But.  You know where my life looked really good?  On Facebook.  One of the things my darling torturer monitored was my Facebook page.  If I didn’t show enough love for him on my wall, it would be leveled as proof that I was cheating on him, and abuse would commence.  So I became ridiculously in-love, Facebook style.  I posted pictures of him constantly, talking about how handsome he was, how much I loved him.  Every time he did something nice for me (and he did–abusers are great at giving flowers when they have just finished almost killing you), I posted a gushing thank you.  I posted romantic songs and tagged him in them.  Love notes.  My Facebook friends responded enthusiastically, writing to let me know how happy they were that I was “finally really happy.”  Right up to the day I left him (by saying I was going to take my daughter to the airport and then flying to the other side of the country to hide in friends’ basements until Scary Pants left my house), I was posting flowery odes to my “love,” who by then, I pretty much hated with every fibre of being.

     Which brings me to my point.  While it may be fun a great way to locate recipes, articles about gun control, and cat memes, Facebook is not real.  I love Facebook as much as the next person–probably more–but it frightens me the way that Facebook, and other media, have become a replacement for life.  Of course, most people aren’t concealing diabolical abuse the way that I was, but I don’t think anyone tells the whole truth on Facebook, nor do I think that they should.  Social nicety asks that I not tell the whole world about the explosive diarrhea that kept me up all night.  But since we know that this medium isn’t presenting an accurate picture of reality, shouldn’t we at least balance it with real world experiences?  I worry that we, as a society, are missing out on the wonders and challenges that real life has to offer because we are so immersed in the fictional world presented by social media.

 

     The other day, I was flying home from an epic weekend following the rock band that has become the staple of my existence, and I happened to look up from my own iPhone long enough to see the other people in the airport waiting area.  They were all staring blankly, as if they had been hypnotized or drugged.  No one was talking.  No one was moving.  It was like a weird scene from a Twilight Zone episode.  Or The Walking Dead.  For a moment, I couldn’t figure out what was happening.  Then, I realized that like me, they were all staring at tiny screens held in the palms of their hands.

 

     That moment scared me.  It woke me up.  For a day at least, I got de-zombie-fied.  I took my headphones out, turned off my phone, and walked around the airport, trying to see, really see, my physical environment.  (Airports have cool art displays.  Who knew?)  I went to a bar and started a conversation with a stranger.  She was in the middle of a divorce, and she was sad.  I think talking to me helped her, made her feel less alone.  Would she have shared the vulnerable information she shared with me in-person via her Facebook wall?  I doubt it.  She would have glossed over the truth, gotten some superficial replies, and never actually made a human connection that might ease her pain even a tiny bit.  In his 1940 masterpiece The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin spoke words that now feel prophetic.  He said:
 

  “Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.”

 

     I think of the speed of the internet, the way that being able to “reach out and touch someone” (remember that ad, old people?) instantly has somehow managed to make it so we rarely truly connect at all.  Speed has shut us in.  I think about the fact that I have 600-ish Facebook “friends,” and I only really “know” 20 of them.  I think about the fact that many of the people who don’t know me probably feel like they do because they’ve seen so much of me on Facebook.  But they’ve only seen pieces of me.  The prettiest ones.  The airbrushed ones.  The edited ones.  My true friends are the friends who see un-airbrushed me, sobbing and snotting into a wine bottle and 3 a.m., and love me anyway.  My true friends were the ones who saw through my Facebook bullshit when I was being abused and wrote to say, “Something doesn’t feel right–are you ok?”  Ultimately, my real friends saved my life.  But would I ever develop those real friendships if all I did was sit on Facebook “connecting” with airbrushed people?

 

     I think about the way that social media has made us hard and unkind.  I think about the vicious things people say on Facebook, things that they would never say in “real life.”  On the other side of the coin, I think about the beautiful things people post on Facebook to mask the truly terrible things they do in real life.  I think about my dear friend who is constantly badgered by derisive comments from people who barely know her because her abusive ex-husband looks so “nice” on Facebook.  Yes, he publicly supports charities.  Yes, he has launched a “poor me” smear campaign against her to punish her for having the audacity to leave him.  And when he was married to her, he regularly told her she was going to end up on the Investigations Discovery Channel.  But no one cares about that.  He’s got a great Facebook image!  I worry because Facebook provides the perfect tool for truly dangerous people to doctor their images so that they can deceive and hurt the vulnerable.

 

     I worry that the fake world presented on Facebook makes people feel badly about their real lives.  Why doesn’t my relationship look like that “happily married” couple that just posted the smiling, hugging photo?  (They may be on the verge of divorce.)  Why don’t I look like that girl with the porcelain skin?  (She filtered the photo.)  Why isn’t my house as pretty as my new Facebook friend’s house?  (She angled the camera so you couldn’t see the pile of laundry and cat box in the corner.)  Facebook isn’t real, and yet, so many of us are worried that our real lives aren’t good enough because of strategic camera angles and edited life-stories.

 

     I worry that while I am staring at my screen, chatting with someone I only know from Facebook photos–someone I may never actually meet, someone who probably isn’t coming close to letting me know her (and I’m sure as hell not letting her know me either)–life, real, un-airbrushed, unedited life, is passing me by.  Someday, I will die.  When my life rushes before my eyes, as people say it does when you are leaving this world, I don’t want it to look like a series of screenshots.

 

     Outside my door, the sun is shining.  Children are singing.  Cats are yowling.  Women are dancing.  In the restaurant down the road, there is a plate of food with my name written on it–real, messy food, not the cleverly arranged kind pictured on Facebook.  It would be served by a live waitress who might just smile back if I smiled at her and asked her how her day was.  She would have wrinkles–no photo shop out there–but they would make her even more beautiful.  Her crooked tooth would give her character.  After lunch, I could go for a walk and watch the sunlight sparkle on ripples in a pond.  I could bury my face in a lilac bush and inhale.  I could feed a stray dog leftovers.  I could lie in the grass and feel it tickle my back.  All these things I used to do more often, these things that were so thrilling before Facebook existed, before I could get the endorphin rush of instant “likes” for every thought I had, are still out there, waiting for me to turn off the computer.

 

     Today, and every day, I hope I am going to be mindful of this.  I am not going to swear off Facebook, because it’s fun, and I get to see pictures of my friends’ dogs.  But I am going to remind myself constantly that Facebook is a pretend world, a pretty lie, a pale imitation of the intricate, nuanced, messy, beautiful real world waiting outside my front door.  
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