I was thinking about my college graduation recently, for a couple of reasons: first, because of my upcoming ten-year reunion; and second, because, thanks to Facebook, a window has opened up into the lives of people I believed I’d likely never see again after I packed the trunk of my car with my plastic milk crates and textbooks and diploma and headed on to the Next Big Thing.
But over the past few weeks, thanks to Facebook, names from the past have resurfaced with cheery “Hi Margo!” notes along with their requests to add me as a “friend.” I’m happy to accept their requests—these were, after all, people I was once friends, or at least friendly, with. And it’s undeniably interesting to see where people have ended up, what they’re doing, how they’ve changed. (That this is just the sort of information that presumably draws people to reunions—and that attending a reunion is likely something I will never do—is a contradiction I’m content to live with.) But a strange sense of collapsing time and space accompanies every click of the “Accept” button.
Isn’t there a case to be made for closing certain chapters, entering different worlds—in other words, moving on with one’s life? What Facebook does is bring the past right up into the present, melting both together into a kind of netherworld where you never lose touch with anyone and never say goodbye. There is no differentiation between the people in my “friends” collection: the people I haven’t spoken to since high school are mixed in with Andrew (also a “friend”) and the friends I email and see regularly. Being suddenly faced with regular updates about these people I used to know is strange, like reentering a party ten (or fifteen) years after leaving it and realizing that everyone is still there, just older and a little more care-worn than they were before. Was I sorry to leave that party? Not really, but I suppose joining Facebook is an admission of curiosity, or at least a passive agreement to be drawn back in.
Presumably, the people who are friending me have searched for my name on Facebook or have been alerted to my presence there by Facebook’s “People you may know” suggestions or have spotted me in other people’s friends collection. Am I what they envisioned when (if) they thought “I wonder what Margo’s doing now?...” It works both ways—I, too have been someone other people used to know. And it’s strange to think about these people formerly from my past trying to identify pieces of the me from the past with the me from the present.
The fact that these questions have been plaguing me suggests that I am not approaching Facebook in the proper frame of mind; and I’m sure I’m reading too much into it, looking for meaning and nuance where only “status updates” and “news feeds” exist. But that’s fine. Reading into things like Facebook and becoming mired in what they mean on a deeper and perhaps irrelevant level is probably unsurprising—or not—for both the people who used to know me and the people who know me, really know me, now.