I have a friend who is not on Facebook, and never has been. One friend. Let’s call him Marley, like the puppy (don’t spoil the ending, I’m still reading). He didn’t leave Facebook. He’s never been a member. He knows about it. All of his friends are on Facebook. Marley’s wife is on Facebook, and she’s my friend there (and in real life). Marley’s brother is on Facebook, where he also promotes a band and local tour dates. But Marley flatly refuses to join.
Recently, Marley threatened to join Facebook. I owed him some money for concert tickets he bought over the summer. For no good reason, my own sheer laziness, I was very late paying him back. He threatened to join Facebook just to shame me into paying him back. I told him that for $150, it would be worth it to me to get him on board. But I paid him anyway, because I knew there was no enticement that would get him on the site.
I’m not sure I can make a judgment about why he is or is not a member. I think we’re past that point. I don’t just mean that I am past making assumptions about my friend. I’m saying that now that Facebook claims 200 million members in the U.S. alone, or just under 2/3 of the population, it is no longer interesting to judge people who haven’t gotten involved yet. The ship has sailed. They obviously know about Facebook, and they can probably imagine its benefits. They know what they are missing.
What are they missing? Really? I could list all the more tedious benefits of Facebook that they won’t experience. The games. Connecting with people you haven’t talked to since elementary school. Your mother stalking you online. But there are some significant benefits to Facebook.
Birthdays. Graduations. Weddings and babies. Deaths. These are important milestones in life, and many people are reporting them first, or only reporting them at all, on Facebook. I don’t just mean your peripheral friends. I mean some of your closest compatriots.
In the last email Marley sent, he told me that a guy we both know is expecting a new baby. Of course, I’ve already seen ultrasound pictures. I saw them more than a month ago. Don’t scoff. I know ultrasounds are a cliche. But these are people I like and care about. I was happy to see the blurry image of their seedling.
"Here’s the funny thing: in my closest circle of friends, he’s the one I see most often"
So, clearly my friend is missing out. But here’s the funny thing: in my closest circle of friends, he’s the one I see most often. I have a small group I try to see a few times a year. A couple still live near our hometown, where my parents live, and I see them when I visit my old home. Some are near Philly, some in New York City. Marley is in San Francisco, in the opposite direction. But in terms of the number of visits per year to each of my friends, Marley wins, hands-down.
Part of that is because my day job at a technology company sends me to San Francisco frequently. But I also go to New York, and I rarely see my friends there. I can’t say there is a conscious effort to see Marley because he is not on Facebook, but there is definitely a conscious effort to stay in touch, and perhaps that need, unfulfilled because he abstains from social networking, drives me to visit more often.
Also, Marley is a lot of fun. He’s my friend who makes me get up and do things. He goes camping and hiking, takes road trips, likes good food and drink, and generally has a good attitude about life. He goes to lots of concerts, probably a few dozen a year, or more. He’s not a luddite. He owns the nicest TV of anyone I know, and he programmed his own Crestron remotes to control his vast and expanding audio visual system. He’s got a smartphone, though admittedly it’s a hand-me-down I threw his way.
I wish I had a definitive conclusion here. Something like: fun people ignore Facebook. Or: not being on Facebook drives people to visit more often. But I don’t. I just have a portrait of a non-Facebook user. Facebook doesn’t make sense with his personality, even though I honestly believe Facebook will some day be as indispensable as the phone book used to be, or 411 after that. It is the way we will find each other, and a way to be found.
When someone I know is not on Facebook, it makes me wonder. They must not want to find people. Not as a passive action, a willful ignorance. But as an act of defiance. They refuse to connect with their past. They refuse to reach out for casual, nearly meaningless relationships with people who would have otherwise slipped away.
These are probably the same people who skip their high school reunions, but without malice. There are some people who skip their reunions because they still harbor old hatreds, ancient resentments that they cannot grow past. But then there are others who simply don’t see the point. There is no interest for them in marking time by gathering together and wondering who got fat. Who had children and got a divorce. Who died.
The high school reunion is certainly an anachronism of a time before Facebook. I doubt I would attend any official high school reunion in my future, unless the location and timing were unavoidably convenient. I keep in touch with almost everyone I enjoyed in high school. I no longer need a reunion.
Maybe Marley isn’t behind the times. Maybe he’s ahead. I’m trapped in a world of nostalgia, while he’s evolved beyond those connections. I have a Facebook friend who is steadily trying to hook up with every single woman remaining from our old high school class. He’s been entirely unsuccessful so far, but he has made a spectacular effort. Marley, on the other hand, is living very much in the present, without regret, and enjoying almost every minute of it.
He posted no marriage photos on Facebook. When his wife gets pregnant, I’m sure I won’t see ultrasound images. But I will visit as soon as I can after his baby is born. And I’ll make every effort to remain his friend, even after all the reunions have passed me by.