Monday, October 18, 2010

The Electronic Friendship Generator. Monday, Oct. 18, 2010.

“There's a certain detachment involved when you're surfing the Web, sitting alone at the computer, facing an inanimate screen. But there are real people to be found on the other end of the ‘intertubes.’”-Anne Hammock CNN

“Your account has been blocked,” the message said. A virus, Koobface, had been detected in it. In order to run the program that would remove the virus, I had to choose which of five wall photos belonged to five FB Friends – and I could only attempt this once an hour. Uh-oh!

The first thing I did was check SNOPES, and sure enough, the problem was legit. (Damn.) Because I have a firewall at work, I had to choose the photos from my home computer – and the photos displayed weren’t of my FB Friends’ faces. They were of poems and puppies and kittens and sunsets. Ack! It took five long days for me to unblock my account.

Recently I was offline for over a week during a trip with my husband. But this time, the choice wasn’t mine, and I felt like I was grounded on the night of the Senior Prom! What was going on in Facebook land? What was I missing? I felt lonely, disconnected, and strangely sad. The lyrics of “FACEBOOK UNBLOCK ME” seemed to be written with me in mind.

So here’s the part where some people would say that I should “get a life.” I should get friends and activities “IRL” (In Real Life”) and not “waste time” on the “Electronic Friendship Generator.” My mom is one of those people who says she “can’t figure out why someone would want to sit at a computer when there is a whole world out there.”

Well, I have a real life, thank you very much. I have a full-time job that’s fulfilling and interesting. I have a husband and son who I love very much. I’m very involved in our church, and I participate in peace activities. I have, by most measures, a very full life. And part of that full life happens to include Facebook and the Friends I meet there.

For a host of reasons both professional and personal, I’ve chosen to limit the number of people who know about my bipolar disorder, and even fewer know of my suicide attempt. Perhaps I should be “fighting the stigma” by coming out of the closet – but I fear the ramifications to my job and family would be too great.

So there is a part of me – a big part of me – that’s known mostly in cyber-space. And that means some of my relationships with Facebook Friends are as intimate – or even more intimate – than many of my relationships “IRL.”

Right now, Facebook meets a need in my life. It provides the support group that I couldn’t find when I checked Google and the Yellow Pages. And I won’t be ashamed of it. I need all the support I can get.

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