My daughter was born 6 years ago, in the Pre-Timeline Facebook era. This scary period in early modern history allowed friends to post anything they wanted on your page without giving you the opportunity to approve it first. I keenly recall laying in the recovery room after my emergency cesarean section, separated from two other women by curtains, with a painkiller drip. The world spun around me in a morphine haze and in between the nurse urging me to push the button for more drugs and the phone’s incessant buzzing because the announcement chain had been activated, I groggily asked my husband, “So how are we going to share this news on Facebook?”
As two artists with a talent for spinning for words, we brainstormed some witty ways to present our new human to the social media world, but we didn’t have to think too long because someone beat us to the punch. A distant cousin was having lunch with my mother-in-law when she got her It’s a girl! call. Because of the cousin’s circumstantial lunch attendance, she became privy to the news sooner than she would have in the standard announcement hierarchy.
For your closest loved ones, you get a personal phone call. Once removed, you get a personal email; twice removed, you get a text, and thrice, you see it on Facebook with the rest of the world. Sometimes Facebook allows an intruder to disrupt the natural notification order. The distant cousin didn’t get the “Don’t broadcast our news for us on Facebook” memo and broke every [unspoken] etiquette rule of social media. She wrote “Congratulations on your new baby girl, cuz. Love the name Mackenzie!” on my wall, tagging my husband and ensuring all 1,000 of our friends get notified at once. By the time we got to the message to delete it, it had dozens of comments of congratulations and we felt bad about deleting it, thinking how people wasted their message of congratulations to us on HER post. So Bravo to Facebook for the imperative technological advancement of comment approval.
Two days ago I sat in a doctor’s waiting room, doing the Facebook scroll on my phone and I read “I’m sorry about your dad” on my friend’s page. My inner sleuthing skills deducted this vague message to be tragically important and it triggered me to text my friend’s husband to follow up. The next day we got the group email announcing her father’s death. In the pyramid of notification, we were at the email level. Ironically I also learned about the same friend’s baby being born on Facebook, which led me to conclude how Facebook has somehow metaphorically inserted itself into the circle of life.
It’s become the social norm to learn about births and deaths on Facebook, even of those seemingly close to us. Forget six degrees, we’re all merely one click away from one another. Last year I saw a post on a cousin’s page, written by his sister-in-law, which said, “We will miss you.” I got the all over hot feeling and picked up the phone to start the inquiry phone tree. I called my father and told him to call his other nephew and try to get information. Within minutes we learned he died of a diabetic coma in his sleep at home in Miami, but no one updates this information this on Facebook. A year later the same sister-in-law who broke the death news wrote: “We will always miss you” again, her version of a cemetery visit, another marker on his virtual tombstone.
Facebook serves as an effective tool for announcing life events to distant relatives and old friends; the people on the tertiary level of the notification pyramid. I’m delighted to indulge in a voyeuristic peek into someone’s life from high school with a little Facebook stalking. I enjoy the high school reunion experience without having to look skinny, get a new dress or even leave my couch. I love browsing the wedding pictures of people I used to work with and watching their children grow up virtually through posted photos. This is when the social networking community is thriving; functioning optimally. Now, let’s all agree to play nice in the sandbox and keep our announcements for ourselves.