FEAR OF FACEBOOK


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I am not shy. I have always been outgoing to the point of stirring up extreme humiliation for my daughters when they entered their teen years. I'm the type of person strangers tell their troubles to. I've been on stage in plays, spoken before hundreds of people, and written a weekly column for the newspaper in Nantucket. No problem.

Why, then, am I so terrified of Facebook?

When we moved to Costa Rica in 2008, we had very little phone service and no internet. Every other day I would drive the rutted, dusty road to the internet cafe, plug my laptop into a line coming out through the window, and deal with business matters related to moving to a different country and building a house in the middle of nowhere while sweating profusely, with chickens and dogs milling about my feet. We moved into our unfinished house before we had electricity and lived in darkness for four months. In December of 2009 we got electricity, but several more years passed before we were able to enjoy the luxury of reliable internet in the comfort of our home. I lived in a technological vacuum for quite a spell, which, except for wishing it was simpler to communicate with my daughters, I really didn't mind. Meanwhile, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites were proliferating. My jungle daughter Emily managed to keep connected to civilization via these avenues, but having never been a big fan of technology, I guarded my isolation by avoiding contact with what I had left behind when I moved here.

Now, having lived here for seven years, I'm finally coming to the end of my hermit phase and making an attempt to reconnect with the rest of the world. I've written a book about my adventures, but these days an agent won't even look at you if you don't already have a huge following on social media. Simple enough. I'll start doing Facebook and assign myself a weekly writing exercise in the form of a blog.

There's one problem; I'm afraid of Facebook.

No matter how many times I tell myself it's no big deal and everyone, even my 88-year-old mother-in-law, does it, every time I try to nonchalantly navigate Facebook I panic. I don't even have that many friends on Facebook but it seems there's far more material there than I can handle. Easily distracted, I start reading or watching one thing and before I know it, I'm several clicks away from my original intention of keeping up with what my friends have posted. By the time I go back to my home page there are several new posts and I feel completely overwhelmed. If I don't go on for a few days I feel as though I have to scroll through everything in case someone has posted something important that I should respond to and Facebook starts to feel like a perpetual homework assignment.

There's something about my words being released into cyberspace that scares the bejesus out of me. I can't put my finger on why that is. I never had any problem seeing my byline on a weekly column in the Inquirer and Mirror on Nantucket. I've written articles and letters to the editor without a second thought. But when it comes time to hit the send button on anything electronic my finger hovers and wavers and often retreats. I even have a hard time hitting the like button on other people's posts. I can't help but feel it's rude not to comment as well and then I run out of comments and figure it's better just to pretend I didn't see it in the first place. Then I start to wonder if the person who posted can tell that I've seen their post and ignored it and it makes me feel horribly inept. My brain is only 61 years old but when it comes to technological advances I feel like my husband Bill's old Polish uncle who insisted on keeping his first refrigerator outside on the front porch, where it was cooler than in the kitchen.

I have no problem channeling my words to someone I've pasted into an address line but sending them out where anyone can find them makes me feel like I'm walking in Times Square with no clothes on. I suppose this aspect of it has to do with my current secluded lifestyle, but the other thing that makes me uncomfortable is finding people I was once quite close with whom I haven't seen in many years and instead of saying oh hi, how are you, and what has your life been like for the past 40 years, I just toss out a one-line comment on a post of theirs and act like it's no big deal that we've reconnected. My uneasiness with this makes me feel like a stuffy old Victorian grandmother clinging to outdated etiquette, which is rather absurd for an aging hippy rebel living in the middle of the jungle.

I'm slowly acclimating to social media and hoping that someday it will feel as natural to me as it now does to flip a switch when I need some light. (For some time after we got electricity, each time light appeared when I flipped a switch I would practically swoon with gratitude and delight.) At this point, I'm still trying to figure out what Facebook fans find most interesting. Are there really people out there who would be excited to hear about what I ate for breakfast?

As with almost everything, I suppose it all depends on the person.