Tongues off my Facebook

English: This is a tongue

I’ve been filling an unusual role the last few days: holder of the Facebook password for a friend who needed a bit of a detox/distance from the social media platform… but neither want to complete total Facebook seppuku nor felt she had the self-discipline required to just stay off—if she knew she could go on.

I give her access back today, and we’ll debrief afterwards to see what she learned from the experience… if anything. Thus far, all she’s learned is that I’m a “fucking hard-ass bitch,” who won’t give her access early, no matter how much she joneses for it. Ha. I’m mildly shocked she didn’t know that about me before. But. The experiment wasn’t supposed to be about the strength of our relationship—I’m pretty much it will survive the name-calling of the last few days—but about her bumpy relationship with Facebook.

Ironically, as my friend has been struggling to figure out how to make that relationship functional, I’ve been crafting a post about how much I love Facebook. Because I really do. And it massively ticks me off when people dis it—and the social connections people make, have, and preserve on it. It particularly ticks me off when people are contemptuous about how stay-at-home moms and parents of young children use Facebook—and how much time they spend on Facebook.

Time that the detractors believe would be more productively spent—oh, any other way. Cleaning, cooking. Hyper-focused on the children. Knitting. Reading. Canning. Blogging? Maybe not so much blogging…

Now, I won’t deny that some folks run into trouble with the role social media in general, and Facebook in particular, plays in their lives. Others have documented that up the wazoo; my friend’s recent decision to detox is a specific example from my own bubble.

But I find it quite disturbing that much of the dialogue and criticism around mothers and women on Facebook—in the blog world—in social media and cyber-space generally—has this undercurrent:

Be alone. Be isolated. Don’t talk to others.

It’s there. Ponder it the next time some expert, Luddite or just run-of-the-mill jack ass takes you—or someone else—to task for Facebooking, texting, tweeting or blogging.

This, really is the subtext, almost always:

Be alone. Be isolated. Don’t connect with others.

Oh, they might fake it by saying “Instead of Facebooking, foster real life relationships.” They don’t mean it.

See, they—you know who ‘they’ are, right? ‘They’; it’s always ‘them’ who do this sort of stuff—have always done this to women, to mothers.

Before Facebook et al.—they took exception to the amount of time women spent on the telephone. Flip through any cartoon collection from the 1940s-1980s, and you’ll see images of women gabbing on the telephone—wasting time—neglecting their duties.

Not connecting, communicating, building community.

No. Always negatively depicted. (Think Sybil on Fawlty Towers. “Oh, I know…”)

Before the telephone… women wrote too many letters. ‘tis true. The novels of the 18th and 19th century—many of them epistolary novels, which is such a beautiful irony—are filled with slags at lady letter writers. Even my beloved Jane Austen, letter writer extraordinaire, engages in this slag-fest (I hope, unconsciously), mocking Lady Bertram’s letters in Mansfield Park even as she describes what a critical lifeline to the people she loves these letters are for Portsmouth-stuck Fanny Price.

Before letters—gossiping in the town square, the market. Getting together to wash clothes in the river—and talking, sharing. Talking while gathering nuts, roots, berries together.

‘They’ have always come down on women talking. Sharing. Communicating.

Think about it.

Be alone. Be isolated. Don’t connect with others.

A medium without its problems it isn’t, for sure. And because it’s so new—as is so much that we have deal with these days in the communication world—many people will struggle with it, abuse it, suffer as a result. And we have to figure out how to control it and make it work for us, instead of having it control us and make us miserable.

And we ought to be critical of it, absolutely, if we think its effect on our lives and the lives of those we love is negative.

But for me, as the primary care giver for my children and someone who works from home, Facebook is, very often, a critical antidote to this:

Be alone. Be isolated. Don’t connect with others.

It keeps me connected to people I love who are in different cities, different countries, different continents.

It continues to nurture important friendships when people get busy, get into incompatible phases that make getting together difficult.

It lets me answer an SOS when a friend needs—a meal delivered, a child chauffeured, a pair of size 7 rain boots. Or, just a brief sanity break or a cyber-hug.

It lets me send out an SOS when I’m out of eggs, milk or salt, and stuck at home with a sick toddler. Invariably, there’s neighbour who’s en route to the grocery store who can help.

It means I get to see and share my nephews and nieces’ milestones as soon as they happen.

It allows me to get a hit of sociability when circumstances force me to, physically, be trapped at home alone.

It helps me build community.

It helps me break isolation—be connected. It’s a tool. It’s powerful.

It helps me ask for help when I need it. Be it a real, physical “do this for me” need–or a more intangible “I’m going crazy here and I need to vent!” kind of crisis.

And it ticks me off when ‘they’ dis it—because I think they dis it because they want me—us, women, mothers, parents—to be alone. Isolated. Disconnected.

They always do that, you know. They always have.

Don’t let them.

I’m tempted to end with a list of 10 ways to make Facebook (and social media generally) be a positive and not soul-sucking experience. But I’m sure scores of these already exist out there. So let’s just end on this note:

Washing clothes on the riverbank together. Chatting in the market. Telephone conversations. Facebook exchanges.

All examples of women—mothers—striving to make connections, build and maintain community. Break out of solitary confinement.

Which these days, too often, is a perfectly comfortable, beautiful suburban home.

“Wow, what’s with the heavy? I come here to laugh!” OK, babe. Then go read House Rule #713, or why we don’t hold a lot of dinner parties or He’s not evil, he’s a toddler. Or last Friday’s post about penises.

I supported my friend during her detox by staying off Facebook, Twitter and Gmail and Google+ through the long weekend, so I have no idea what cool and fascinating things the blogosphere put forth this weekend. But I’d like to introduce you to my blogging friend Deb at the Urban Moo Cow (awesome blog name, awesome mama, awesome writer) whose last post, The Asshole Brigade Coming Soon, is sort of about building community. The challenges of building and maintaining community. Anyway, that’s the spin I’m putting on it to make it fit with my Facebook rant.

P.S. Was it hard staying off social media for a mere 72 hours? Yes and no. No pain, no shakes, no jonesing… but it made a few things harder. Had to walk around the neighbourhood looking for someone for the three-year-old to play with on Sunday, with not much success, instead of posting a Facebook SOS/play invite… Couldn’t invite random people to share a meal with us Monday night… couldn’t share this awesome link from on Good Writing versus Talented Writing even though I really wanted to… didn’t find out that my neighbour had a washing machine meltdown and needed to use someone else’s washing machine in time to help her… and I’m sure there’s a new puking cat video out there that I need to see to make my life complete.

36 thoughts on “Tongues off my Facebook

  1. This was great and love it!! Seriously you said such a mouthful for all the naysayers out there and you are right just another way to put women down. Thank you for writing this!!

  2. This:
    It keeps me connected to people I love who are in different cities, different countries, different continents.

    It continues to nurture important friendships when people get busy, get into incompatible phases that make getting together difficult.

    Yes. Perfect.

  3. As usual, I really like this post, and not just because you somehow tied my ramble into a greater sociological argument. But you are so right — FB is about connecting. I’m so glad I have maintained some connections with “loose” friends who would have gone by the wayside otherwise. Because we don’t all live in the same town anymore, scrubbing clothing in the river. (And thank god for small miracles.)

    I genuinely enjoy seeing photos of my friends’ children and hearing how they ran their first marathon or climbed Denali. Or whatever! The naysayers can just stay off social media and make connections with their Xbox 360. Which is what men do with their free time, right? 😉

  4. I love being able to connect with friends who I might not call on a regular basis but still care enough about to see whats going on in their lives. Maybe I just need to downsize my “friend” list to only those people…

  5. So great! My life would have been better if fb/twitter existed when my kids were toddlers. The few friends who put up with my hours of conversation during nap time would have had more time for toilet washing.

    The other “friends” I saw socially were the They.

  6. I love this! You’re so right. I value being able to quickly see what my friends are up to – the ones that I don’t have time to speak with or email regularly. Sharing!

  7. I went off facebook a few years ago because it wasn’t working for me. However you made a very strong point about how it can be a good thing and an extension of what has happened for a very long time. This read kinda Huff Po Parents to me…maybe they should hear about this!

  8. I tend to ignore the hell out of naysayers and detractors. They seldom have my best interests at heart. I’m not pithy enough for Twitter, but I love Facebook for all the reasons you stated.

    Engage and connect. For all I know I’d be a lunatic by now if it wasn’t for friends on Facebook and an occasional cat video now and then. That’s real life enough for me.

    • I know I’d be a lunatic. I’m not only my kids primary caregiver, but I work at home–alone. Facebook often is my coffee break, my water cooler, my lunch out with my co-workers.

  9. Yes. This is brilliant. I couldn’t agree more. I understand FB can be a slippery slope for some, a time-drain, a platform for spouting stuff nobody wants to hear…but the connection factor trumps all of it. I couldn’t have said it better if I tried. Great post.

  10. Oh I know! (sorry I couldn’t help it) do you know I often watch Fawlty Towers when I write? Cause its hilarious and even when I’m pissed at the husband it can turn things around.
    P.S. Thank you for giving me permission to be on social media 24/7, awesome! Hey, I’m unschooling! The kid’s riding his bike and I’m tweeting, it’s all good!

  11. Such a great perspective! I definitely have the love hate thing with facebook and didn’t realize how much I’d bought into the negative side of it. Bringing it to light let’s me see it more clearly as a useful, guilt free tool. Now if I can just keep it that way instead of falling into the compulsively checking when I’m trying to avoid other important things… Maybe that is a clue for me that facebook isn’t cutting it and I need to actually get some face time. Hmmm.

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