The main idea of this project was very simple: to send a personalized message to each of my 600+ Facebook friends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The reason for doing this was because, for me at least, Facebook had started off as a really useful and interesting way to reconnect with old friends and stay connected to people who live far away, and have real time conversations with friends from all over. While that is still possible, my friend list had grown to a size that was overwhelming, and I no longer even knew who all my Facebook friends were. It was starting to become solipsistic and not at all “social” for me. In addition, because I was using Facebook also to promote my book, I felt like I needed to counteract the marketing efforts with something that kept me in personal contact with my friends, so my profile page didn’t just become a huge neon sign flashing “Buy My Book” over and over again.
And I want to say something additional about why this was so important to me because I don’t think it is at all obvious from my previous posts on the subject. Being a person who is not “religious” in a traditional sense (and that’s putting it VERY delicately, as some of you know), finding a sense of spirituality in the material world is, for me, deeply connected to how I relate to other people in the world around me. Spiritual grounding in this case means that I am not absorbed in my own path through life, and that I am conscious of the context, the people, and the world around me and how those things are affected by my actions. And because I also happen to be by nature both shy and a little cranky, none of that comes easily to me. Feeling connected, feeling grounded, is a constant struggle and is the primary challenge of my role as a human being.
I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense to anyone else, but maybe that helps a little to illustrate why I had become so frustrated and disappointed in what I was seeing every time I logged into Facebook. It was like 600 people were talking AT me but not TO me, and I was doing the same with all of them.
So I took about an hour every morning, and I sent messages to between 15 and 20 people. If they were people I didn’t actually know well, I scoured their profiles looking for something interesting to talk about. In a few cases, there wasn’t much information, and all I could really do was ask them what they have been doing in the x years since I last talked to them.
I guess the question is: well, did it work? Did I manage to make Facebook into a more personal experience? The project did give me the opportunity to connect in a deeper way with a small number of people, and I think that as a result, my Facebook experience has been enriched. On the other side of the spectrum, I also think that at this point I can safely and guiltlessly unfriend a few people with whom I have nothing in common and nothing to say. For the vast majority of my Facebook friends who fell somewhere in the middle, I at least had the virtual equivalent of a handshake and the kind of conversation you might have with a distant cousin at a wedding as you both sidle up to the bar.You might think that those kinds of interactions don’t particularly further my spiritual quest, but actually, they do. A little. And there’s always the potential for there to be more, but you never know what will happen until you make that effort.
The effort has extended beyond Facebook as well. Since I have been on the road since December 1, visiting people in different cities, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with an extraordinary number of old friends in person. Even before I started the trip, I found myself getting beyond my usual comfort zone and actually introducing myself to people I had seen around for years and never spoken to. The exercise has increased my boldness and made me just a little more confident when I am out and about in the world.
That being said, at this point, I have been spending many more hours per week on Facebook than is really healthy for anybody, so I am going to make an effort to subdue that a little. I’ll still be around, but it might start taking me a day or two before I respond to any messages for the next few weeks.