I got to thinking the other day about Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, and it struck me that in a sense, Facebook is like that movie. Near the end, the drops that Ray Milland has put in his eyes have made him able to see through a nearly infinite number of layers of stuff all at once, and he goes mad from disorientation.
Back before the internet, in the normal course of a life, we would move from one part of town to another, one community to another, one country to another, and in each place we’d pick up a new set of friends and acquaintances, all except for a few of whom we’d never hear from again once we moved on, but not to worry, we’d pick up a fresh, new crew, most of which we’d shed with our next move, and so on.
We thought nothing of this; it was what naturally happened, and really, sometimes you want to leave things behind and start over. These sets of friends were all in their own individual boxes: you had your grade school friends, your university friends if you went to one, your army buddies if you served, and your friends and colleagues from various successive jobs, and of course you kept the ones who were the most meaningful to you and discarded the rest. Who wouldn’t?
But with social media, and Facebook especially, you find yourself reconnecting with people you might not have seen in 10, 20, 30, 40 years, including some from the discard pile. But your life is incrementally shaped by big and little decisions, people you come into contact with, and events you probably have no control over, till you’re not who you were X number of years ago. The same goes for all of your current and former friends, and if there’s been no contact in the meantime, what you remember is each other at age 10 or 20 or 30 or 40. I know I’ve reinvented myself so many times, growing and shrinking in various ways, that I’ve been several different people with several layers added to my personality, layers that would make 57-year-old me unrecognizable to me at 10.
Now, I’m not even entirely sure I want all the different stages of my life bumping into one another. For most users, Facebook is a big room where we’ve assembled a bunch of family members, old friends, work friends, play friends, and others of various levels of acquaintanceship. Everyone knows a little something about you, your history, your personality, that time in Vegas, but not the whole picture. Put them all together and that kind of goes out the window—so much for mystery. I’d rather be the only one who knows everything about myself.
So when I post something on Facebook and see responses from people I knew when I was seven or in high school, or from community theatre or places I’ve worked, and all these people who’ve never met one another start talking to one another, it’s like I’m looking at a bunch of different and, I had thought, discrete parts of my life all at the same time, like poor Ray Milland with his X-ray eyes, and it’s often disconcerting, but not enough to make me go mad, no, just enough to make me go hmmm…