Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Facebook Saves Lives: In Defense of A Social Media Habit

I have this dear friend.  I was her bridesmaid and she was mine.  Back at school she was an 'influencer'.  She was intelligent, worldly wise and clued-up about music and pop culture.  She introduced me to Paul Simon (see how cool?) and together we laid eyes on a CD player for the first time.  At eleven she stated she would be a lawyer, and sure enough she became a total hot shot.  Then she added being a super-mum of three under-threes to her CV.  With all her achieving and reproducing, she let being plugged-in slide down her list of priorities.  She simply didn't 'Facebook'.

I almost choked on my chocolate egg (is there no end to the Easter chocolate?) a few days ago when I saw her name pop up as a recommended Facebook friend.  I quickly fired off an invite and rejoiced that I'd finally be able to keep in touch with her better.  I got her (email) response today:

"I do NOT understand why people like Facebook. I just hooked up again to see someone’s photos and I just cannot believe the information people put on it.  It is the end of privacy as we know it. AND surely no-one with a job has time for it.  If you didn’t have full-time help, I’m sure you wouldn’t bother!!"

OUCH! I felt like I'd been punched by the angry, chocolate-egg-laying Easter hen looking for its stolen babies.  Sad and Hurt.  It wasn't the insinuation that Facebook was my distraction from filing my nails while a maid took care of my children and a husband polished his nose on the corporate grindstone that got me.  I take her opinion personally because it is a total dismissal of one of the things I prize most.  Being an expat mother raising young children in a country where I have no family members, in a city where I haven't known anyone longer than 18 months can be a lonely undertaking.  It is difficult to keep friendships alive when you have been away for many years, but impossible to operate in life without them.  I need my old friends so I need Facebook, and I need her to be one of my Facebook friends.
Of course I am making wonderful new friends, but I crave being with people who really know me and care about me, opportunities for which are few and far between.  Every year more people have babies and fewer people visit. (The same friend only half jokingly promised she would come to visit when her children were at boarding school, in about 12 years time!) I hate that I don't know my friends' husbands better, that I have to think twice to remember their kids names, that I don't know what they thought of that TV program last night, what music they are listening to or what they are cooking for dinner.  Facebook helps fill in these spaces, with an insight into the trivial day-to-day treasures of life that get overlooked when you meet friends or cousins for one afternoon a year, and the events of the past 12 months are reduced to significant events like job changes, new houses, new children.

To set the record straight I do work.  Maybe not as much as I could, but I'm not totally idle.  I also know plenty of successfully employed people that are very active on Facebook.   As for the full-time help thing, I'll just say that time is like money - you use every penny that you have.  If I have paid 'help', it is so I can get more done, and do it better, not to free up time for Facebook.  Anyway, I think that Facebook saves me time in the long run.  It allows me to know what's going on with the people I love all over the world, quickly and easily.  All the hassle of attaching image files to cookie-cutter family emails is removed.  I also belong to an amazing Facebook group of about 100 expat women who live in Rio.  I can post anything related to living Brazil, especially concerning raising children, and get an answer within seconds from a handful of women that have gone through the same experience.  In the absence of family and old friends, that type of virtual support network is precious indeed. 

And just because Facebook friendships are so easy and convenient doesn't make them any less meaningful.  Of course it's not as great as actally seeing people, but surely it's better than nothing.  If anything I think Facebook has extended the love....renewing old friendships, nurturing new ones.  But maybe for this friendship I might just have to go old school and pick up the telephone.  Thank God for Skype...that's a whole other addiction.



15 comments:

  1. Very nice post! Very true! Facebook isn't bad if you use it right, though it sounds like that isn't the only problem here. Some people just don't bother with empathy for those of us who have chosen to live abroad. Unfortunately, too many times we're faced with an attitude of "Well, you chose to live abroad, so suck it up!" and we get criticized for the way we do things. Too bad. At least we have the internet, and each other!

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  2. I bow to that... maybe your friend will start to understand but she just needs time and a few Facebook hook-ups like yours.

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  3. pepita carioca11 May 2011 at 21:45

    I guess the time to appreciate the usefulness of this social connection with people and information hasnt arrived yet for her..

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  4. I love it - you can take it or leave it just as you want. Just because I've discovered that some of my friends spend a worrying amount of time being virtual farmers or mobsters dosen't make them orrible beyond words.

    Since moving to Brazil its allowed me to have a glance into some parts of my world that I would have otherwise totally cut off.

    Anyway - I'm off to broadcast my horoscope to all and sundry. Busy busy busy....

    See ya.

    whatwedidinrio.blogspot.com

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  5. Wonderful post, you make me feel much better! I have become an ultimate facebook junkie since becoming an expat and I wouldn't have it any other way but I do have to deal with friends making fun of me since I comment on things all day and seem to have "too much time on my hands..." But frankly, I miss my friends, I miss our old lives together and thanks to facebook I can still be a part of weddings, babies and other fun events. In fact, I am planning my 10year high school reunion from Brazil because FB makes it so easy. And for the rest of them? Yes, thank goodness for skype =)

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  6. I have also become minorly obsessed with Facebook since becoming an expat...and skype. It's hard to understand how hard being an expat is when you live within driving distance of your family and friends. Hopefully your friend reads your post and recants what she says!
    Btw the wa, your blog is great. I'm an expat in Beijing from the US. paidinchina.blogspot.com

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  7. @KatharineThanks. I'll check out yours too.

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  8. As important as FB (and Twitter!) are for us expats, I think your friend may be a bit naive in not recognizing how vastly important it's becoming for work, too. More and more businesses are setting up FB pages. I don't just play games and trade gossip with Mom on FB - I also use it to talk to my real estate agent.

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  9. Can you please add me (or ask Rachel to) add me to this facebook expat women group you mentioned?

    thanks,
    Tricia

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