One of my best friends from high school died in 2016, and I found out about it on Facebook. In fact, if not for Facebook, I doubt I would have learned this sad news.
Of course, Facebook, like most social media, is a window into only a few rooms of the home we call life.
Some folks open all the windows, including the ones very few of us want to see into. But I’ve found that most only open two windows. One, the window into their political frustrations and opinions. Or, two, the window that only shows a nicely decorated, freshly dusted world where chestnuts roast on an open fire and everyone’s kids are scholars and future pro athletes.
It’s Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.
I’m guilty of the latter, although I really don’t feel guilty about it. I try to avoid political rants. I don’t re-post things to prove my friendship or because a post tries to guilt me into it.
So what’s that leave me? I looked back at my timeline to see. Mostly, I post to tell folks I’ve written a blog or to share something that’s happened in my life with Audrey and/or our kids or grandkids. Sometimes I attempt to be clever. If I share someone else’s post, it’s usually because they wrote something really insightful or funny or because I believe in them and want to do what I can to help share something that’s important to them. I “like” things I like and occasionally (probably too often) comment on someone’s post. That’s my Facebook life.
I’m guessing I see about 2 percent of what comes across my Facebook timeline, and these days about 90 percent of what I see reflects political frustrations. So chances are I’m missing lots of great glimpses into the lives of people I know or once knew. I want to see them, even if, like me, they only share the Lake Wobegon version. I don’t care. I like to see how friends are living their lives, not hear what they think about how others are living their lives.
Social media has become a powerful platform for social and political expression, and there’s no going back. The best we can hope for is that more and more people will use it responsibly and respectfully. In the meantime, it’s mostly noise that I tune out. When I was a sportswriter, people sometimes asked how I could write an article in a basketball arena with 20,000 screaming people. The answer: I was only listening to what I needed to hear.
Maybe Facebook can come up with an algorithm that suits my wishes — that helps me listen only to what I need to hear. I’m sure they’re working on it. Isn’t everyone trying to make me happy? Well, probably not. But it would be nice. I’d like a setting that lets me keep all my friends, even the ones I don’t like, and see posts based on this criteria: Any news from my family members, good news from friends, prayer requests, and clean-non-political-humor.
I’m sure it will happen. They’re beta testing it now. In Lake Wobegon.