Last Sunday Fidel Gamboa, the lead singer of Malpaís, died at the painfully young age of 50. I wish I had known him enough to call him a friend, we had met several times and I admired his music, his sensibilities, and now I must carry the regret that I never brought him back a set of Irish flutes from my travels, as he often requested. As painful as his death was, the manner in which I learned about it still fills me both with anger and sadness, and it is that which has prompted this blog post.
I had just come back from a post-Irene walk around Washington D.C. when I signed on to Facebook. The first post that greeted me came from a person in my timeline (how inadequate is Facebook’ss hijacking of the word “friend”) who made a comment about Fidel’s death in celebration of how it also meant the demise of Malpaís, a group whose music he did not approve of. The shock of learning about the sad news was mixed with uncontrollable anger at the mindbogglingly insensitive post. I hit the “Unfriend” button so fast that I did not have time to regret leaving a parting message telling this person what I thought about him. The only thought I had was that it was ironic to un-friend someone who had never been one.
I am aware that my anger may be disproportionate to the message, but in my defence it was multiplied by the fact that I knew Fidel, and the Facebook wall post in question was not expected to know this fact. I am to blame for keeping a person in my timeline far longer than deserved, as this sort of behaviour is not uncharacteristic of this particular individual. I always knew him to be a bit of a jerk, so it was a matter of time until he would do something to piss me off enough to do the honours and expedite social media separation.
But this brings me to my continuing struggle with all things Facebook, and it is the subject of this rant. One thing that always has bothered me about Facebook is that it acts as life support for social relationships that should have ended long time ago. There are perhaps very good reasons why we lose touch with people, going to a high-school reunion is often a painful reminder that you really have no longer anything in common with those who you were close to so many years ago. Life changes us, we move on, this is a good thing. But Facebook keeps us in touch with former friends and colleagues who we should probably have forgotten. True, you can ignore their friend requests, or unfriend them if they annoy you, but the fact is that maybe, just maybe, in any normal social setting you should not be in touch with these people at all. I am still sort of amused by a non-negligible section of my Facebook timeline. Who are these people? What drives them? Why am I still in touch with them? I probably intrigue them in similar fashion, but this begs the question of why stay connected at all.
Yet, strangely, this event has made me realise something positive about Facebook. I was pleasantly surprised by how many of my facebook friends and acquaintances wrote favourably about Fidel and Malpaís, so I discovered that in fact we had an important thing in common. I read some moving comments, saw Youtube videos posted, and read what seemed like genuine displays of sadness at the news. It is trite to state that social media is simply a tool that can be used or misused, Facebook reflects humanity in its glorious and ugly form. But one lesson I have learned from this affair is not to be stingy with the Unfriend botton.
If someone is an idiot in real life, FB will not make them any nicer.