Months To Years Fall 2018 Months To Years Fall 2018 - Page 19

shoulders flex around the phone’s screen. One hand is one of my first contacts. Our friendship’s life cycle was cupping the device, claw-like, and the other hand is in a nearing its end because we didn’t live in the same city and fist, but with my pointer finger moving purposefully as if no longer worked together. So when Facebook seemed conducting a symphony. Meanwhile, snippets of memory to announce to the world, “You never have to lose touch continue to pass through me. again!” we “added” each other intent on keeping close. Jessica was five years older than me. Her life experience and formal vocabulary impressed me. In casual And it wasn’t just Jessica that Facebook worked its magic conversation, she started sentences with transition words on. When the social glow of young adulthood dimmed, like “alternatively” or “subsequently,” a probable byproduct social media stepped in promising me just what I lacked. of being on a college debate team. She was one of those You see, I had fewer friends by the year due to moving for empowered academic types that I hoped to become. I jobs, and getting older, but on Facebook, I was popular. looked up to her. Like ghosts, the people of yesteryear appeared before me each time I logged in and these “friends” “liked” me. I keep searching online but still don’t know how she died. The phone is flat, shiny and hotter by the minute. I refresh Popularity was easy to control too: the more I participated, Jessica’s profile again and again and again. The trickle the more attention I got back. Yet, the truth is that most of condolences wanes and I realize that I’ve seen what of my online connections didn’t step foot into my actual there is to see on Facebook. How long have I been sitting life, even the ones I interacted with daily. Even the ones I here? I lift my head out of the screen’s gravity and return really cared about, like Jessica. All we had were clicks and to the park where I’m still sitting on a bench, but not La comments. Banche. I watch my dog. I breathe; my body loosens. I call a friend who knew Jessica. “Yeah,” he says, “I saw that on I settled for it though because managing relationships Facebook.” this effortlessly was too tempting to resist. Calls felt hard *** At the time of Jessica’s death, I hadn’t seen or talked to her in years even though we had been “Facebook friends” with each other for over a decade, and real friends for another five. Had we remained close, I would have known it was Lupus that took her life. Even though I couldn’t pull my eyes away, scrolling through Facebook for answers was a disturbing way to spend my first moments of grief. And when Jessica’s profile morphed into a Legacy Page, my unease turned to anger. The Legacy Page felt trite, unreal, voyeuristic, public, flattened out. Jessica was a real person, not an avatar. And she was dead. Was this just the anger of grief, or was grief enabling me to see clearly? This question began my quest to track Facebook’s role in my relationship with Jessica: Did Facebook, built to narrate human life and death, deserve all the trust I had so thoughtlessly given it? When I joined Facebook, over ten years ago, Jessica was compared to likes; before I knew it, I had quarantined most of my interactions to Facebook. I was part of a generation who never learned how to maintain relationships without software. And thanks to Facebook, I had a lot of “friends.” In this sense, their platform solved the problem they created: I needed software to keep up with hundreds of “Facebook friends.” Before social media, I had five or six close friends and I made time to nurture those relationships. But with hundreds of friends the best I could hope for was to monitor connections online by scanning for highlights and clicking accordingly. This friend collection wasn’t intimate. From the very beginning, the norm was that everyone adds everyone. I had my boss, professors, students, my mom, college roommates, Jessica, and my extended family all in the same virtual room. This made authenticity difficult, if not impossible. I found it safest to post inoffensive mumbles and my personality neutralized. Yet, I watched friends’ posts believing theirs were real. It was, in retrospect, a perfect example of the fundamental attribution error. 19