Personal Essays

How to Make Friends and Poke People

Facebook is old news for the sub-30 set, but plenty of their elders are tuning in, logging on, and tossing cows.

There are armchair travelers and armchair quarterbacks and I am an armchair social networker. I take passivity to a new level. Meaning I know about Facebook only from articles in Wired and the Economist. These articles tell me that Facebook is exploding, but exclusive. That it’s elegant and easy. As a crank and technophobe, I have been intrigued but never tempted. Until last week.

Last week my cousin sent me an email: “Check out my Facebook profile.” Because I haven’t returned her calls in close to two years, I decided to get out of the proverbial armchair and move to the desk chair to check out cousin Cary’s Facebook page. Or profile. Or whatever. I was sucked, quite literally, into the network.

I don’t mean I was seduced by the latest online, widget-filled, interconnected, self-inflicted identity pageant. I mean the fucking thing lifted what little social data I have and ran with it.

To check out Cary’s profile, Facebook said I had to register. Completely uncharacteristically, I persevered—handing over my Gmail address and an unassociated password. But Facebook was relentless. Just any address and password wouldn’t get me to Cary’s profile. Facebook wanted mine.

Abort! Abort! I screamed as soon as I saw a request for my marital status, my favorite TV show. I hustled away from the computer like it was a ticking bomb, which of course it was. The next morning I have a dozen email messages from Facebook, each one indicating that in the night it had approached someone in my address book to let them know I figured we oughta be friends.

I look over her shoulder at her page, or profile. Actually, apparently, it’s a wall. Why did Sobhi throw a cow at you, I ask.I sit dumbfounded, wondering how it happened. They didn’t say anything about having cold feet in the Wired article I read. And the Economist had nothing about how despicably weak your Gmail address book turns out to be when bullied by Facebook.

“Confirmed” was how Facebook put it. I imagine the editor of a newspaper I pitched once, maybe twice, a year ago being asked, “Can you confirm that Elizabeth is a friend?” Dear God. Or did each of them receive an enthusiastic email from me—“Check out my Facebook profile”—only to find the massive question mark indicating me fleeing the premises.

“Yup,” confirms a savvy young colleague the next day. “I figured you were a novice.” I look over her shoulder at her page, or profile. Actually, apparently, it’s a wall. Why did Sobhi throw a cow at you, I ask.

Another colleague encourages me not to deactivate my skeletal profile. Like me, she’s not a kid, she’s a freelancer who has been out of college more than twice as long as she was ever in it, and she says it could be useful career-wise. I’m wavering. Like me, she has an eight-year-old son. He mans her “wall” for her. I take a look—it’s covered with customized snow globes and dancing elves.

Meanwhile, I feel compelled to respond to those gracious folks who have confirmed me. Accepted me. Which, I might add, is in no way the same as welcoming me. There is no personal addendum to the confirmation, except from the sensible fellow who sent me a message: “I’m very sorry for forgetting, but how do we know each other?” he asks. I reply I really don’t know myself but I am duly mortified. But then I stop. Can I tell him I’m mortified to belong to his club? That seems… unfriendly.

So I proceed warily, thanking the editor for his heartening acceptance. Maybe he’ll reconsider my pitch, since we’re friends now?

I’ve even uploaded a picture to my wall. It’s a daguerreotype of an inmate of Bedlam Hospital. I haven’t committed to any networks, but I admit I’m intrigued by the “I Just Tried To Ford the River But My Fuckin’ Oxen Died” group. But then I see that they are apparently into the internet and technology.

It’s been over a week since my Facebook debut and I’m coming to terms with being a member of a social network. I’ve sworn I will disconnect if ever someone throws a cow at me, though that will probably turn out to be somewhat enlightening also. Yes, there is still much to be done on my Facebook journey. Including checking out my cousin Cary’s profile.


TMN Contributing Writer Elizabeth Kiem is the author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy. More by Elizabeth Kiem