I love the craggy, unmapped moral landscape of social media:
Dear Answer Lady,
I need help. I grew up in Idaho, a pretty, if somewhat backwards, state. Recently, an acquaintance from high school posted this on Facebook: "Isnt this great? Americans have put a socialist into the White House – a socialist who wants to indoctrinate our youth with his socialist agenda. Hitler was able to spread his ideas by appealing to German youngsters. Dont let obama get a hold of our children. Socialism always fails."
This is why I can barely stand to look at Facebook.
But my real question is: Do I respond? And if so, how? My instinct is to stay out of it, because any response of mine will probably elicit a dozen angry responses from her right-wing cronies. I do think, though, that letting angry, uninformed attacks like this go unanswered is a problem. I cringe at my computer, and then do nothing. But is it possible to have a reasoned, thoughtful discussion about this? Without making her angry and without making me sound like the smug, condescending east coast liberal I have become?
I say: De-friend the shit out of him and don't look back.
The real issue here is that Facebook (which is objectively great, suck it contrarians) allows and encourages you to build and maintain friendships with people who, in 3D, you would have allowed to recede into the fog of acquaintanceship eons ago.
The greatest predictor of whether two people will be friends isn't whether they're from the same social class, or the same race, or the same age. It's simply, do they see each other every day? Proximity is friendship's petri dish. This is why you're fond of the people you work with, even though they don't have anything in common with you and steal your gouda out of the fridge.
The best — and worst — thing about social media like Facebook is that they simulate this proximity. You see your friends' pictures and updates every day. Oh, Susan has a new job! Mark's baby turned two this weekend! Ryan is out of toothpaste! This proximity, more than any of the technical features, is what makes social media so indispensable. All of us have Hometown Friends and Work Friends and Study Abroad Friends. It's objectively useful to store them all in one place, and to be able to communicate with them not just instantly, but constantly.
The downside of this, of course, is that sometimes you forget that your friend-list is lousy with people you only met once, or haven't seen in 10 years, or who you've been frenemies with for two years but can't lance because it would be too drama. Every once in awhile, by status update or general stalkery, you realize: I don't even fucking know these people.
One minor mitigator of this problem is the European approach to social media. You know someone at least reasonably well (last-name basis, say) before you add them anywhere. And, importantly, you delete often and indiscriminately. Americans seem to add everyone they pass by on the street, and hem and haw over leaving twatmonsters like the above on the cutting-room floor. Gays browse promiscuously and add each others' hot friends to their lists, operating on the premise that the blending of their work, social and dating lives is a labor-saving device rather than a recipe for herpes and exile.
Me, I'm sticking with the hard-in, easy-out model. If I'm gonna spend pixely time with these people, then as a starting point, it shouldn't be too much to ask that I like them.
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