Delete Facebook – but what about my friends?
“Why don’t you share pictures of your trip on FaceSpace, or whatever it’s called,” my friend said.
“Facebook you mean?” I replied, “Yeah, I’m not sure about joining it – is it a bit dodge?”
It was 2006, and I had no idea how social media worked, but I did eventually join Facebook under my husband’s surname, in a bid to make sure that nobody from work could find me there. (Though why I thought my twice-yearly photos of lunches or beaches would get me fired, I’m not sure.)
For the first few years, I continued to view it as something for otherpeople – the marginally tech savvy, the smart-phone owners, and those who had interesting things to photograph. Then I discovered Facebook groups. Specifically, parenting groups. It was like walking down a corridor, opening a door, and discovering where the real party was taking place. Because the wonderful thing about parenting groups is they’re often not about parenting at all. They’re a place to chat about anything and everything, child-related or not. And as I sat at home with my newborn baby, watching the rain outside, Facebook was a window to a wider world I couldn’t reach.
Bit by bit, I got to know people in various groups – often seeing the same names and profile pictures crop up in different places. Conversations covered politics and baby puke, books and naps, travel tips and films, and why won’t my baby sleep through the night?
There was the odd bit of drama, but mostly it was chat and listening ears, at times when I needed it most.
But what about real friends? Yep, they were there too, and they still are. We continued to do the things you do with friends who all have babies at the same time – we met for coffee, we went to parks, and we ran increasingly giant playdates in one another’s houses - where we talked about how badly we needed a night out without kids. (Then we had nights out without kids and talked mostly about the kids.)
But you can’t call on real-life friends at 6am to cry about exhaustion (or at least not without risking the friendship). And you can’t call on real-life friends when you’re waiting to be seen in A & E at 1 am. And if they’re at work while you’re on maternity leave, you probably can’t call them for a mid-afternoon rant, while you’re hiding in the bathroom to get a tiny break from three always-on kids. But you can bring your phone with you, and Facebook is always there.
I remember the first time one of my parenting groups suggested meeting up in real life – it was like a blind date, but with 25 people, no alcohol, and a whole heap of babies. I remember making my way to the meeting point, sick with nerves and wondering if I’d recognise anyone. What if everyone was different to how they were online? What if nobody talked to me? What if meeting strangers from the internet was a terrible idea? But of course they weren’t strangers – we’d been chatting online for months at that point, and in a way that would be impossible to explain to pre-Facebook me, we were already friends.
I went on to join other Facebook groups – for parents, for bloggers, for writers. And as real-life events rolled around – blog awards, book launches, or coffee with someone who happens to live nearby, the idea of meeting up with internet friends in the real world no longer seemed strange at all.
Some of the people I’ve met online are now friends in the truest sense of the word – people I confide in over coffee, wine, or keyboard. And I can’t help thinking about that during the current controversy surrounding data breaches.
Much as I wonder and worry about the information we share and how it’s used, I’m grateful too for the friends I’ve met through social media, and the easy means of communication Facebook provides.
As a work-from-home writer, I have no office colleagues - but I can go online for a mid-morning coffee break. As an afternoon stay-at-home parent who needs an occasional break from homework, it’s to parenting groups I turn. And in the loneliest times of maternity leave, social media saved my sanity. Behind the closed doors at the end of the corridor, the real party’s still going on, and flawed though it may be, I’m not ready to #deleteFacebook.
Andrea Mara is an author, freelance writer, and blogger at OfficeMum.ie. Her second novel, One Click (Poolbeg Press) - a psychological thriller about cyberstalking and social media - is out now in bookshops and on Amazon.