Creative Nonfiction

Dipping My Toes into Social Media
by K.M. Waldvogel

The house was quiet. The grandchildren were napping, and my husband and son were downstairs watching a football game. Kate, my daughter-in-law, sat next to me, encouraging me with every word.

“Give yourself time,” she said. “You’ll get the hang of Facebook.”

“I’m just not sure it’s for me,” I said. “It seems kind of silly.”

“I post a LOT of pictures of the kids,” she said. “A lot more than I email to you.”

Aah, she had hooked me and she knew it. Just the thought of the grandchildren melted my heart. Why would I not drop everything and enter a world of seeing their smiling faces every day? Easy decision.

This was my introduction to social media. I had avoided it for years, but keeping up with friends, family, pictures, etc., well that was more than I could resist. Maybe it was time to bite the bullet.

I stared at the screen. You are a reasonably intelligent person. You can do this. Keep your goal in mind…seeing what’s new with the grandchildren. I sighed and gave in, creating an account. A welcome post greeted me. That wasn’t so bad. But, now what?

“Next,” my daughter-in-law continued, “we’ll start connecting you with ‘friends’ by searching here.” She maneuvered the cursor to the search bar. “We’ll start with me,” she said as she entered her name. “This is called sending a ‘friend request.’ I need to confirm the request in order for you to start seeing my posts. If I don’t confirm, you won’t see them.”

 “You mean someone can reject me?” I asked, mortified. Visions of the first day of kindergarten swam through my head as I remembered trying to make friends. Standing in the corner, a shy smile on my face, hoping someone would answer when I said “Hi.” That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when my greeting was not returned. I thought I had outgrown that.

She laughed and said, “Don’t take it personally. It might be they don’t recognize your name. Or sometimes people prefer to have a small circle of Facebook friends so they aren’t inundated with too many posts. They’ll still like you as a person.”

I doubted that. Rejection seemed very personal to me.

Kate handed the laptop to me and I began my task. I wracked my brain deciding who I could trust to accept me. I started slowly, tepidly. I began with family members. That seemed like a safe bet. They wouldn’t reject me, would they? Then I expanded to my closest friends. Soon, I had sent a dozen requests. Relief washed over me when I received several confirmations within minutes.

“You’ve got the hang of it,” Kate said. “You can do more later. Let’s move on.”

She showed me features such as commenting, “liking” posts, creating groups, and hiding posts. Information swirled in my head. How was I going to remember everything? Why did I want to learn this?

“I’m not sure, Kate,” I said. “It seems complicated.”

“Once you use it, it’ll make sense,” she reassured me. “Give it a few days.”

Reluctantly I agreed to try it over the weekend while the family visited, so I could ask questions of her if need be. I decided to take the approach similar to entering a swimming pool…first a toe, then my foot, ankle-deep, next water to my knee, etc. After reading a post from an old friend, I “liked” it. OK, that’s not so bad. No strange reactions. I could handle that.

Reading a post from another friend, I decided to add a comment. I struggled to come up with a witty comment. Hmm, what can I say? Something clever but short. Finally, after agonizing over the words, I typed my message, reread it to be sure there were no spelling errors (a personal pet peeve), and posted the comment. Pleased at this accomplishment, I decided those milestones of liking and commenting were enough progress for the day. I shut down my laptop. No need to overdo!

I busied myself with housework, but my mind returned to Facebook. Could I conquer it? Did I really care? I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I used Facebook, I would gloss over events in my life. Would my friends do the same? Post a picture with a sentence or two but not really explain thoughts or feelings? Wouldn’t that undermine true relationships? Not sure I’d like that.

But I had promised I would try it for a few days, so I was determined to keep my word. A few hours later, I opened my laptop and logged on again. Tapping in my password, the Facebook page opened. Maybe there would be more pictures to view. Pictures of my grandchildren. Pictures of my friends’ grandchildren. Those would be fun to see. I smiled in anticipation.

The now somewhat familiar layout of Facebook greeted me. Posts in the middle, a list of friends to the right, and a choice of various pages on the left. On the top bar, though, I noticed a red number on the bell-shaped image. Hmm…what had Kate said those little red numbers meant? Had I done something wrong? My hand trembled as I placed my cursor over the bell, expecting to be told that I had entered a forbidden area of the program and my account was suspended. Instead, I breathed a sigh of relief. These indicated my “notifications.” In this case, my friend “liked” my comment. Oh, good! Success! I was happy to learn that.

For the next thirty minutes, I looked at the news feed and viewed posts from friends and family. A few caught my eye and made me laugh. Maybe this social media wasn’t so bad. I “liked” several posts, feeling more confident interacting with social media with each click.

That confidence didn’t extend to the comments, though. Not wanting to risk a faux pas, I refrained from adding my thoughts to any additional posts. Who knew if I could replicate my witty writing from earlier?  No reason to take a chance. Lurking in the background worked for me. Deciding to pursue other activities around the house, I closed my laptop, content with the progress I had made.

The next few days brought additional learning opportunities for me. Another red number in the top bar. This one on something called “messenger.” I furrowed my brow, viewing the red mark as an intruder. What message could Facebook have for me? I clicked it only to learn that it was not actually from Facebook, but from a friend asking if we could meet for lunch. Huh, kind of like email or text. I hadn’t realized this was an option. After Kate assured me that only my friend and I could see the message (not the entire world), I responded. So, this communication still afforded me some degree of privacy. I liked that.

The weekend ended, Kate and family returned home, and I was left to deal with Facebook on my own. I admit, I spent a few minutes viewing, but I still didn’t understand the fascination. Maybe if I forced myself to engage more, I would understand. I began “liking” recipes or food sites that friends shared. But soon, post after post about food filled my news feed. I enjoy trying a new recipe now and then, but this was ridiculous. The same was true of current events. Suddenly, I was receiving news from various outlets that I didn’t want. Where were pictures of my grandchildren? What about my friends and their latest adventure? How could I get rid of these overwhelming posts? Obviously, I needed the help of a professional. I called Kate.

After explaining my frustration, she walked me through the process of “hiding,” “snoozing,” or “unfollowing” posts. This helped. No more annoying interruptions in my life.

I was once again enjoying the smiling faces of grandchildren and catching up on the latest vacation news from friends.

Soon I found myself checking in on Facebook to see what was new…seeking more pictures of loved ones, more stories of great incidents, more connections with friends. Sometimes I logged in several times a day, laughing at clever posts and clicking the “like” button. On occasion, I commented but usually only a sentence or two. I no longer feared that my remarks were not clever or perfect. I just wanted them to be sincere. The red numbers on the top bar didn’t cause me to hyperventilate. I took them in stride, clicking on them without hesitation.

Then I received “friend requests” from names I didn’t recognize. Who were these people? Why did they want to be friends? I recalled Kate’s comments about people sometimes not confirming and their reasons. Now I understood. I didn’t need to confirm every single request. I hoped they didn’t feel rejected. It wasn’t personal.

At this point, I’m still in the novice stage with Facebook. Using the analogy of entering a swimming pool, I’m about ankle-deep in water. Starting to feel OK about social media but not ready to dive in headfirst. There’s more to learn, but I’ll take my time and slowly enter the deep end.

My son, Kate, and family visited the other day. She and I were talking about the children and school and the topic turned to social media. I assured her that I had continued to use Facebook, so her lessons did not go to waste. A wry grin spread across her face.

“So, are you ready to tackle Instagram and Twitter?” she asked, eyes twinkling.

The look of terror on my face was my only response.

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