I’ve pinned down what it is that bothers me most about Facebook, and it’s this: the lack of context.
As a novelist, I work to build a reader’s interest one layer at a time, using a combination of actions (story) and context (backstory). Indeed, context frames every event and every character that finds its way onto an author’s page.
It can be slow going, building that framework, but I think of the process as being along the same lines as building friendships. Most often, a friendship naturally evolves over time as knowledge is gained about one another through shared new adventures, or through the retelling of past ones. Is it all that different, coming to know a fictional character as one might a friend?
I think of a novel series as being the equivalent of a television series, a way of storytelling that offers plenty of time for the plot to reach its conclusion. A standalone novel, on the other hand, is compact, like a film made for theater audiences.
Perhaps it is why so many of the books made into film don’t work as well on screen as they did in print: they were written in such a way as to be the literary equivalent of a lush tangle of experiences, emotions and events. The reader isn’t meant to clear away all the underbrush that cloaks the plot, or to overlook all the minor characters whose presence adds small notes of flavor that, ultimately, create a more satisfying journey, page to page.
The reader is meant to understand the elemental beauty of a tangled life, in its whole form.
And what are those tangles made of? Context. Which leads us back to Facebook.
I did not have a Facebook account – or any social media account, for that matter – until I published my first short story. On the day I happily posted my first “news” on my very own Facebook page, I didn’t understand the inner workings of the Facebook culture. It is now three and a half years later, and I still don’t “get it.”
My thinking, back at the beginning, was this: I will open a Facebook account and use it to connect with fellow readers and writers on the topics of writing, reading, and publishing. Simple enough, but I quickly found out that I didn’t have the right communication style for Facebook.
Only weeks into it, mild insecurity crept into my thoughts every time I logged into my account. If this is a work account, should I get personal? If so, how personal? Where is the line? In the end, I decided to keep the focus entirely on professional projects, excepting the occasional reference to a trip or event.
I do believe that decision to keep the focus on books, especially when combined with my novice Facebook skills, made me about the least interesting person on there. I didn’t take it personally; by that point, I had already found Twitter and was infatuated with the pace and the range of ideas flowing through “the stream.”
I have enjoyed reading Facebook posts by my family, friends, and colleagues, and looking at their pictures, links, and videos. A novelist is, after all, a bit of a voyeur. We are constantly searching for new ideas and new experiences, not to mention new ways to communicate old ideas and old experiences. And who could ever tire of looking at pictures of cute babies?!
The problem wasn’t with what anyone else was communicating on Facebook, the problem was with me.
An increasing number of people in my life had begun to expect me to look on Facebook for “updates” about their lives, instead of using direct communication when there happened to Big News to share about events, achievements, or love.
I’m not just an anonymous finger at the other end of a “like” button, and I found these limiting connections with people in my Facebook community – some I’m very close to, others I know not at all – to be increasingly disengaged from who I am as a person.
When you enter my house, for example, the first thing you see is photographs from my life. (They’re everywhere.) If you call me on the phone, you’ll need to budget the appropriate amount of time in advance. (I’m long-winded.) And, I’ve never had a problem either forming an opinion, or expressing one. (I’m reasonably direct.)
But until/unless I am a candidate for political office (highly unlikely), a TV or radio talk show host (could be fun), or, say, a reality TV star (NEVER happening), I don’t want to spend my days “logging in” to see how many “likes” my latest post on Facebook has received. (I definitely went through that phase.)
It is as if what started out as a community of friends has turned into a panel of pollsters.
If I post a personal photo, what does anyone really know about it other than where I am standing, and who I am with? Is it a special moment (a reunion? a romance?), or just a spontaneous picture taken with a passing stranger? (I’m outgoing; I have lots of those.) And if it is special, am I likely to get into the nitty-gritty details of “why” in a public forum?
No. Because the picture isn’t the moment, it simply represents the moment. Connecting with another human takes more than just seeing the picture; it takes understanding all 1,000 words that created it.
It takes context.
As you can see, I am not an ideal candidate for Facebook. It is a wonderful, useful tool for people with an entirely different set of communication skills from the type I possess, and it is with relief that I take myself out of a pond in which I do not belong, and never did.
This is always the part of writing a new blog post where things start to get interesting. With my fingers on the keys, my mind occupied and yet free, the underlying truth eventually reveals itself. And for this post, here it is:
Fellow readers and writers, live the moment with me, don’t just “like” a picture of it on Facebook.
I’ve read plenty of interviews with established, successful authors in which they lament their endless convention and book tour days, and have come to embrace social media as the method of keeping them in touch with their fans while freeing them from the demands of constant travel.
They are happy, giddy that the bulk of work travel is now a part of their past.
I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons these authors made so many fans – devoted fans – is because they DID travel to so many bookstores and libraries and industry events. Now that they are largely immovable from the top of every best seller list, these authors are able to sell a book on past precedent alone.
On name recognition established by a decade-long, zigzagging book tour across America. On a long-remember handshake across a table stacked with novels, waiting to be signed.
Unlike these authors, I don’t have a past. Well, not as a writer.
I am going to change that fact. I am going to spend my 2015 earning myself a past in the book world. And I am going to do it the old-fashioned way, in person.
I see both formal and impromptu meet-ups with fellow writers and readers, sharing ideas and pooling marketing resources, with invites distributed on the various social media networks we self-published and indie authors have worked so hard to establish.
I see scheduled events, and on-the-fly opportunities, and lively discussions about treasured literary characters.
Energy and buzz. New friendships and deeper connections. Handshakes and hugs.
Finally, I see.
Here’s to seeing you in 2015!