Monday, March 26, 2018

In lieu of Facebook: Family

I haven’t disabled my Facebook account yet, but I’m already living apart from it. So far, so good. I’m trying to make good use of the extra free time, choosing a small number of priorities for each day. This blog is a part of that.

I identified family members on Facebook long ago, but then I hid my friends list because it creeped me out when a former classmate started “friending” all my prettiest female acquaintances and none of the others. So; here I am on a new platform, and I want to say something about the cast of characters I may mention in my blog posts.

I have a large and expansive sense of family. I grew up close to my cousins, and we did stuff together regularly enough that we built strong and lasting bonds. And then my sense of family expanded to include Luci’s brothers and cousins. Luci was my first wife. When she passed on in 2002, her cousin Nants flew out to spend a week with me and helped me take the first steps in giving away Luci’s clothing and the personal items that might have been hardest for me to sort through. Nants assured me that she thought of me as a brother, and she’s been quite consistent about that. We’ve leaned on each other from time to time in hard times since then, and I’m delighted finally to have a sister.

The rest of her family is just as close. I love her Trump-loving gun-toting brother just like my own. He and I talk politics from time to time, knowing that we’ll never agree. But Tom’s alright. He’s always got reasons for his opinions, and he shares his reasoning without being offensive. I need to understand how other people think, and Tom makes it easy. Their sisters are the ones who usually organize family gatherings, and they’ve continued to treat me as a full member of the family even though the blood relative is no longer among us. I love them deeply and enjoy feeling loved by them.

One other member of that group stands out, a fellow from the next generation. Johnny went to Princeton, which is a lot closer to Boston than to San Francisco, so Johnny spent a lot of time with Luci and me during holidays and breaks. When Luci passed on, Johnny was there for me. Just as I realized that I might have made a terrible mistake not providing myself with a son or daughter, Johnny took on the role. He’s an amazing guy, a total credit to his parents as well as to himself, and I love him dearly. He‘s brought other wonderful people to the family, starting with his amazing wife Meredith. Maybe some time I’ll tell you about how she brought reconciliation between my dad and me, but that would be for another essay. For now, just take my assurance that John, Meredith and their kids are all extremely important to me.

A few months ago, I told my story to one of the visually-disabled kids whom I’d been guiding around. Her own family situation left a lot to be desired, and I felt like it was time I should pay forward the kind of inclusion I’d received from the people I described above, so I told her that if she wanted to consider me a brother or some kind of a parental figure, I’d be up for it. Not long after, she started calling me Papa, and I like it. Her name is Tanya, but sometimes now I call her “dochka.” That’s a diminutive form of “daughter” in Russian. Once again, my family is expanding.

You’ll hear more about these people if you keep reading my blog. All of them bring me great delight.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Goodbye Facebook

I’ve never trusted Facebook. In the eleven years I’ve been a member, I have too often seen them disregard users’ privacy and violate trust. Persistent concerns prevented me ever from turning on the application platform or installing the mobile app. Granted, I’ve been an active user of the service and enjoyed it in many ways. But today I’m not so sure that the benefits outweigh the costs for me. The Cambridge Analytica scandal pushed me over a tipping point.

Studies show that Facebook generally decreases users’ happiness, and I’ve tried not to hang my sense of welfare on comparisons to other people’s lives. On the other hand, I may be a part of the problem, presenting an overly pretty picture of myself online. Like most other people, I filter. I post the good stuff, but don’t talk much about my failures. Anyway, I’m confident that my happiness derives from sources other than Facebook and don’t imagine it will hurt me emotionally to part ways with the company.

What I like about Facebook is the sense of connectedness it offers. I’ve learned lots about race relations, culture wars, my friends’ political beliefs, beautiful vacation spots and numerous other things on this platform. I’ve offended, been offended, soothed hurt feelings and attempted to buck up the depressed. It’s been a big part of my life. But is it life?

On April Fool’s Day, I’ll begin an experiment. I’m going to deactivate my Facebook account and try to live a little more like I did in the old days. I’ll initiate more conversations on email and telephone and hope that others will do the same. I won’t be in touch with quite so many people but hope that the loss will be compensated by deeper relationships among those who are left. Please feel free to reach out to me at your convenience: I’m easy to find through my website. You can leave comments on blog posts or find my email address and phone numbers on the “About me” page.

I’ll try to share a little more on my blog, so the seriously curious can know what’s up. I don’t have a lot of followers, however, so if you’re reading this then you’re already special to me. Please feel free to get in touch. I read Russian and English, and I will respond in whatever language you write. (But answers in English tend to be much more nuanced.) Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying to keep up, but I’ll get my information from truly-personal or reliably-professional sources.

I hope to see you in the real world!