My Complicated Relationship with Facebook

Jeff VanderMeer • September 27th, 2009 @ 11:15 am • Photos, Writing Tips


(A screen capture from my profile photo album on Facebook; I love how the juxtapositions form a kinda cool collage.)

I’ve got a complicated relationship with Facebook. When Matt Staggs first set up an account for me, I kind of scoffed at Facebook. Me? Wanting to interact with people using status messages on a daily basis? Not this curmudgeon.

Then I started using Facebook and became an addict. On a basic level, yes, the appeal was that I could keep up with my friends despite being frantically busy. I could actually remember their birthdays using this great external brain called “Facebook”. I started using Facebook while doing projects that didn’t require all of my brain—like editing, writing reviews, etc., so I found it a nice way of feeling connected and also of having some fun while getting stuff done.

Eventually, I began role-play using Facebook, as a lot of these profile photos should demonstrate. Role-playing is a form of storytelling, and since I had so many book projects on my plate but not much time for writing fiction, I think I used the role-playing in the guise of, say, a capybara or a giant bear or a komodo dragon as a way of fulfilling a creative urge on a micro level. This was also important because, well, after writing my novel Finch I didn’t really want to write any major fiction. It usually takes me awhile to recharge.

At one point, in the guise of an alien baby icon, I wrote the beginnings of a short story in first person—on Facebook. I know many of my friends didn’t know what the heck I was going on about, and others thought I was joking, but I found the process fascinating. As long as I stayed in character and answered the responses to my little posts of story fragments, I was advancing the narrative—and because many people didn’t realize I was telling a story, the narrative took twists and turns I wouldn’t have thought of without the prompts from my friends. In another case, I took on the persona of Mord, a giant Shardik-like bear who will figure in several future stories, and doing so gave me some idea of the parameters of the character.

Now, about eight months since I became serious about Facebook, I use it as a mini-blog as well as a source of creativity, and, still, to keep up with friends. I have almost 2,000 friends now, many of whom I don’t know, and so it really is more like a micro-blog platform than anything else. I post thoughts and content there that don’t overlap with Ecstatic Days, or I try to provide it in a different context. (If you’re not my friend on Facebook, feel free to add me—it’s a mix of close friends, colleagues, readers, fans, industry professionals at this point.) I’ve also thought about finding some graceful way to include a Facebook feed in the sidebar, since this blog and my Facebook activity are often linked in some ways (blog posts here have sometimes started as posts/responses on Facebook).

When I go on tour this fall, it’ll be interesting to see how it affects how I use Facebook. It might mean I’ll break from it and won’t come back for awhile. In part because there have been instances at which Facebook has felt cramped—as if it allows thousand of voices into a mind already crowded with information. And I’m also aware that I may simply be conditioned to the response, much as a rat in an experiment becomes conditioned to receiving a food pellet if it performs a certain function. It’s also led me to mistake it for a diary, in that I’ve posted status updates containing information I’d never divulge here on the blog, and in a couple of cases I’ve regretted it. (Other stuff is just perhaps too silly–like an updated status message at two in the morning about a flying cockroach.) And, finally, I’m sure Ann’s felt like a Facebook widow at times.

But I do know it has served a creative function for me this year as well, and three or four creative relationships that have led to projects have come about because of being on Facebook. So I may just have to accept the aspects of it that sometimes stress me to get the benefits from it . One thing’s for sure—as in all things, moderation is the key. Currently, I’m glutting myself on Facebook, but eventually I’ll have to pull back a bit.

16 Responses to “My Complicated Relationship with Facebook”

  1. Clare D says:

    I have the same feelings about twitter. I love it and yet it takes up too much time…

  2. S.J. Chambers says:

    Yeah–what you said about the thousand voices is how I feel about twitter too. Whenever I log on, I get instantly stressed out over coffee updates, strangers’ rendezvous, and co-worker complaints. I like Facebook better because you see people or what represents them and it makes it less Joan of Arc, if that makes sense. I also like that Facebook gives you the option of appreciating someone’s post, but not actually having to say something if you have nothing to say.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Selena, Clare–yeah, that’s why I can’t twitter, and why I like Facebook a lot more.

  4. Nadine says:

    I like Twitter, but I limit it. It’s been incredibly useful on more than one occasion- I got to meet one of my favourite musicians because of it, and I followed the election crisis in Iran via twitter hashtags, for example. By the same token it’s been incredibly irritating. I don’t need to know how many cups of coffee someone’s had today.

    Like anything else on the web, Twitter’s usefulness or interestingness varies depending on who’s tweeting. A lot of people have a lot of interesting things to say. A lot more people (and I admit I’m very probably in this latter category) have nothing much to say, and say it very loudly.

    So I set my filters appropriately, and enjoy the bits I enjoy. :)

  5. Corey Redekop says:

    But just stay away from the aps. Here there be dragons. And Nigerian Princes needing your account info.

    My problem with Facebook is that I get requests from people to become their friend. Normally not a problem, but sometimes these are people I haven’t talked to for twelve years for good reason. You beat me up in high school? Sorry, but the grudge continues. So I click on ignore, and feel a vague sense of betrayal on my part, for purposefully ignoring someone. Weird, but that’s my hangup, I’ll deal with it.

  6. Catinka Knoth says:

    How does that work with the different icons and story writing on FB? I find that idea intriguing. Is it just using a new profile pic and then posting with that, so that just by having a new pic you’ve taken on a kind of new identity while you write? Or is it that the writing is fiction and your repliers don’t realize it is fiction yet?

  7. Realmcovet says:

    I like what you do here, there, & everywhere. Don’t be ashamed to let people know how you feel about flying cockroaches @ 2 in the morning!

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  9. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Catinka:

    It was as easy as changing my profile photo. So for the storytelling, I changed it to the green alien baby pictured in one of the images above. I began to post status messages as if I had put on the giant head of the baby and was trying to make my way to a party while being pursued by someone. Sounded whimsical. And people took it that way. By the time they realized I was telling a short story–the first couple status messages weren’t really from the story itself–they’d bought into it in a very interesting way. Some confused, some irritated, some asking questions as if buying into my madness. The questions in particular were useful, because they helped advance the narrative in how I answered them. If I’d said, “okay, I’m posting fragments of a story now” the comments instead would’ve been critiques of what I was posting, if that makes any sense.

  10. Grant Stone says:

    Though I’ve been enjoying your Facebook stories, I find I’m far more attracted to Twitter than Facebook these days. It might just be the people I’m following, but I get far more sense of a community of interesting people. Importantly, I find it really easy to ignore Twitter when I’m busy. The real time aspect of Twitter is cool. Just as the people in the US and UK are going to sleep, the Kiwis and Aussies start tweeting. And if something big happens somewhere in the world, I hear it first on Twitter.

  11. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Thanks Realmcovet. It’s more an issue of how much distance I want between people and my personal life, even for something as silly as cockroaches at 2am. Heh.

  12. TJ says:

    I enjoy Facebook, but I tend to use it differently than LiveJournal, Twitter, etc. My whole family is on there: my aunts, my sisters, my cousins, in-laws — even my mom! Because of this, my Facebook account tends to be more personal in nature than the other social networking applications I use — a place to post family pictures, that sort of thing.

    Facebook is an interesting phenomenon. It’s wild how people came out of the woodwork (childhood friends, my college roommate, high school buddies, etc.) when I set up that account. It’s great for reconnecting that way. My wife uses it all the time to talk to old friends.

    On a side note — I’m looking forward to reading Finch!

  13. Drax says:

    Firm believer in separate playrooms. Firm! But just wanna say those be very cool profile pictures, Jeff.

  14. Hellbound Heart says:

    well, i gotta say that it’s enough to browse through my fave blogs of an evening before i go to bed without tweeting and face-booking…….and besides, i’m rather like corey….hell would freeze over before i’d contact many of the people that i went to high school with or let them contact me….not interested at all….

    peace and love…..

  15. Terry Weyna says:

    I’ve just started with Facebook, but never thought of using it as you are. Interesting!

  16. Will Hindmarch says:

    Some distant day, some lazy day between a day jammed too tight with the odd-shaped blocks of convention antics and a day gently filled with a long and solid drive or flight, perhaps when Matt Staggs and you are both in Atlanta at the same time, we will play a role-playing game one time and you will forget how to fear them, for those short hours.

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