The Social Network and Me

In late 2008, when I was preparing for the publication of my second book, Secret Son, I received from my publisher what seemed like a longer-than-usual author questionnaire. (For those of you who don’t know: the author questionnaire is a form that invites you to list magazine editors, book reviewers, booksellers, and pretty much anyone you think will have the slightest interest in your book.) Dutifully, I began to fill it out. Then I noticed a section on social media, which hadn’t been part of the questionnaire when I published my first book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits.

I had never had any interest in Facebook, but in the face of questionnaires I am nothing if not thorough. I joined the damn site. Within days, I realized that everyone I knew—family, friends, writers, acquaintances, neighbors—were on it. It really felt as if I were the last person in North America to give in to it. I was delighted to find so many familiar names, and happily accepted any and all friend requests. Before long, however, my friend list ballooned to several thousand. And I loved it. I loved seeing my family’s baby announcements or travel pictures; I loved reconnecting with people I had gone to college with; I loved finding out what my friends were reading and recommending; I loved reading articles my colleagues posted.

But the way Facebook works, everyone on your list has the same claim on your attention. So if I made a joke that had a ten-year-history in my family, someone whom I had never met, and who could arguably be the friend of an old acquaintance of a neighbor of a cousin, made a comment about not getting it. It became necessary to explain the joke, which took away some of its humor. Or if I posted a link to an article, along with a line that I thought was clearly sarcastic, someone took it literally. I had to temper the sarcasm, which took away its bite. If I was busy and did not get a chance to respond to an incendiary comment, someone was bound to take it as an endorsement. When someone sent me fifteen invitations to one event in the space of a week, I was forced to politely decline fifteen times. And when someone sent me a marriage proposal, I said, “Enough.”

I decided to remove anyone from my page whom I didn’t personally know. Sounds pretty sensible, right? Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that if you massively remove people from your list, these people don’t necessarily like it. And that you acquire a reputation as an anti-social person. (Which, okay, fair enough, maybe I am. That’s why I took such a perverse interest in David Fincher’s film. It was amusing to see a socially inept person create a site like that.) The truth is, I like people. But, call me crazy, I just want to know them, too. So now I have two personalities on Facebook: Private-me and Public-me. Public-me will tell you about her upcoming book, or about this cool article she just read, or even about this post, while Private-me sits in the corner, watching quietly, the way she always does.

Photo: Columbia Tristar Marketing