A little egg on your face(book)

Poets have searched for centuries for the words to describe the bond that exists between parents and children, especially as children embark upon adulthood. Perhaps no writer has captured it as well as the 19-year-old St. Lawrence University student and scribe, Jen Leach:
“this creeps me out….
end of story.”
This short poem — not quite a haiku, but close in tone and simplicity — appears on the wall of her mother’s profile on Facebook.com.
For those of you who are middle-aged and have lives, Facebook is a social networking Web site that originally was filled largely (if not entirely) with college students: Hence the name. It was a way for college students to meet in the digital age. Imagine MySpace with less spam and fewer perverts.
In my continuing and absolutely pathetic attempts to deny the fact that I am middle-aged, I have a profile at Facebook. So does my wife.
Suddenly, whole neighborhoods of parents of teenagers and young adults have profiles on Facebook including Jen’s mother, Diane, which is why Jen left that brief but profound missive on Diane’s Facebook wall. Yes, that’s right: Once again grown-ups have intruded upon something that young adults thought was cool and, by our very presence, made less cool.
You might recall this is what we would have done to the Beatles if Yoko Ono hadn’t gotten there first. And, of course, this is precisely what we did do to “South Park,” “Saturday Night Live,” and personalized bobble-head dolls.
Oh, wait. Personalized bobble-head dolls were never cool.
Someday we will do this to shopping mall stores aimed at teens like Hot Topic, and there will be a lot of bald, paunchy guys in goth T-shirts with skulls. (My bad: Apparently, we’ve done that, too.)
In any case, Facebook has been transformed from an online world where teens could connect without fear of their parents hanging around, to a sort of all-purpose family reunion and multigenerational tent. I asked Jen about her post on her mother’s profile page — communicating with her entirely through Facebook — and she responded, “It takes ‘keeping tabs on your child’ to a WHOLEEEE new level.”
Yet Jen also sees the humor in her mother’s arrival on Facebook. To wit, there is a details section of Facebook on which you can write how you met a particular person, and here is the information Jen suggested she could have offered about “Diane:”
“You lived in the same house. . .for 18 years. . .You met randomly in a hospital. . .idk. . .it was pretty awkward. . .doctors were involved. . .”
(Special note for adults who speak English, versus online slang: “idk” is online shorthand for “I don’t know.”)
Diane says she did not create a profile to check up on Jen. She signed up for Facebook because she and her family live in Williston, Vermont, a good 3 1/2 hours east of St. Lawrence, and getting to see her daughter’s picture at Facebook and being able to jot her a quick note makes her feel closer to Jen. “It feels like she really isn’t as far away as she is in reality,” Diane says. “And that makes it so much better than e-mail — kind of like those phone pictures that you get once in a while.”
Moreover, Diane has connected with other family and friends through Facebook, including a pal from college.
In my wife’s and my case, alas, we can’t use the child-is-far-from-home excuse, since our daughter is still at home. So, why are we on Facebook? Is it simply that it’s the greatest online time-waster since YouTube? (Last week I spent 15 minutes updating the “Where I’ve Lived” map on my Facebook page. Good Lord, I know where I’ve lived. Do I really need a Web page to remind me?)
No, I don’t think it’s the way we can procrastinate at Facebook that draws us there.
Rather, I think we have Facebook pages because the Web site does for the middle-aged soul what Botox does to the middle-aged forehead — but without the botulinum.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on September 30.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.

One thought on “A little egg on your face(book)

  1. UncoolAtAnyAge says:

    Chris writes: “Once again grown-ups have intruded upon something that young adults thought was cool and, by our very presence, made less cool.” Well, it strikes me that I was never cool at any age. For some reason, this column makes me think of that poem in which the writer is going to dare to wear purple with red when she is an old woman. Finally, when old, she will wear purple with red! Good grief. Just wear it now. What’s the big deal? Seems to me that from cradle to grave, there’s always this great potential to cause embarrassment to self and others for rather minor reasons. Really, I think it’s best to go about one’s day with a certain amount of flourish, if possible. It’s also best to pretend that one is not perfectly aware that other people are mumbling behind their hands at you. Or, in this case, kids openly writing funny (and cute) poems about their parent’s tendency to uncoolness!

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