I’ll admit it. It took me a while to get around to joining Facebook. By the time I got on there, I was inundated with friend requests from long lost “friends”. True enough, some really were long lost friends, but I have to be honest, some were just long lost people who happened to sit a few seats away from me in 7th grade math. Back then, they had braces, acne and limited insight of what living with male pattern baldness would be like.
I did manage to connect with a few actual friends, and it was truly nice to hear how they were doing and generally catch up. An hour later, that part was pretty much over.
I soldiered on, hoping to uncover more true long lost friends, to capture that reconnection I had so enjoyed initially. While waiting for old chums to materialize, I started getting invitations to play Mafia Wars. I live in the land of the Sopranos and Atlantic City; do I really need to go online to play Mafia Wars? That seems like trying to get kids in Afghanistan to play Medal of Honor. I was also inundated with congratulations for people who had found lost baby llamas on their virtual farms in a magical place called “Farmville”. By this point in my life, I know an online time-vampire when I see one, so I stayed away from the games, and didn’t join anyone in trying to find virtual livestock. I can’t quite wrap my head around why anyone would want to spend hours and hours tending to a farm with no real crops or critters. I’m happy enough that there are people out there who spend their lives doing that stuff on actual farms!
There are plenty of things people can do and read online. Many of the topics will only appeal to a small demographic. The nice thing about computers is that if you do want to look at an article on the how people wear donkey masks for certain ceremonial sex acts in parts of New Guinea, you can do so in relative privacy (Insert your rants about how “they know what you’re doing…every keystroke!….don’t be fooled, mannn!“). Facebook, on the other hand, overtly lets every one of your friends know exactly what you’re doing.
One person tending to his virtual herds appeared to be my brother Mike. He was one of the long lost friends to whom I’d referred earlier. Some families stay close knit, but others unravel like a poorly made sweater in the company of kittens. Anyway, every time I went on Facebook, he had posted some inane request to help him find his lost Rhode Island Red hen or he was bragging uncharacteristically about his record-breaking virtual alfalfa harvest. I admit that Mike and I had drifted apart. We’ve been busy living our complicated adult lives; raising kids, changing jobs, getting divorced (him, not me), etc. Still, I didn’t think my oldest brother would give a crap about imaginary agriculture. Weeks turned into months, and Mike kept on posting his Farmville stuff. I would’ve thought that he would have a big enough spread by then to stop virtual farming and just exist on virtual government subsidies NOT to grow any more virtual corn, yet he was still there, harvesting and fertilizing with the occasional request for midwifery help delivering a make-believe calf.
Despite our shared childhoods, Facebook hadn’t really helped to bring us together. I shunned Mike, in fear that if I reached out, he would have put a make-believe pitchfork in my hands and put me to work. Before long I’d have virtual calluses on my hands and let’s not even consider my allergies. I’d be so tired from all the chores that I’d collapse onto my virtual bunk at the end of the day and we’d never get the chance to reconnect. He’d drive me hard, tilling the land and milking the cows. I’d end up resenting him for it. Bitter and confused, I’d pack my few possessions in my trusty bug-out bag and steal away in the middle of the night, heading for the digital big city and the promise of a glamorous life, leaving the smell of virtual manure and the risk of crop failure behind.
I wondered how he could have become this person. Was it the divorce? The remarriage? He’d left the discomfort and insanity of the East Coast decades back, and was now living in the Midwest. Perhaps our geographic differences over the years had changed him into someone I wouldn’t recognize were it not for our shared last name. As I continued to enrich myself intellectually and spiritually, my thoughts increasingly returned to him. It got to the point where I couldn’t even focus on my articles on donkey masks without my mind drifting back to Mike. We were nearly strangers now, but dammit it all, he was still my brother and if he needed an intervention, then I would try to help him!
This being a Facebook problem, I realized that the standard “friends and family in semi-circle telling him we loved him” strategy would not work. I considered enlisting the help of my other two brothers. Steve is a very successful lawyer who does not waste his time on things like Facebook. He is involved with his church and advises the board of the school his children attend. I couldn’t begin to imagine how I’d even start to describe Mike’s addiction to him. The very thought of that conversation made me cringe in embarrassment for both Mike and myself. My other brother Chris was on Facebook. Just like in real life, Chris’ Facebook existence was several degrees cooler than mine would ever be. As the youngest and hippest, he appeared to be using Facebook like my own children do. A happening, up-to-date guy who has things like “relationship status” to worry about and cryptic, insider links to sites which someone like me would be lost in. I doubted Chris had even heard of Farmville. In all likelihood, he and his Facebook posse were running virtual Formula One racing teams and not wasting their hip-people time trying to find a suitable stud for their prized virtual sow. It was clear that neither of my other siblings would be much help with Mike’s intervention. My parents, retirees living the good life, were busy frittering away my inheritance on another cruise at the time and were incommunicado. I knew what I had to do. With my teeth gritted and a knot in my stomach, I logged onto Facebook yet again.
I saw that Mike was on. He was probably filling the silo with feed corn or something. I messaged him the following:
“Hey big guy!”
I waited and stared at my screen. The seconds dragged on into minutes with no chime notifying me of a response. While I waited for Mike’s reply, two old classmates from junior high and an ex-neighbor took the opportunity to invite me to play Mafia Wars. A work colleague sent me a survey asking if I was a “folder or a buncher”. I tried to ignored them all, but the thought of someone I worked alongside every day knowing how I prepared my pre-wipe Charmin disturbed me deeply – I struggled desperately to put it out of my mind, though in truth, I had begun to wonder how she prepped her toilet paper . Still, no response from Mike. Good God! This may have been worse than I thought!
I logged off as my mind raced. I pictured Mike hunkered down in a dark room, the bluish light from his computer reflected his face in a vision of flickering horror. A scraggly beard hanging down to the top of his tattered overalls. Cob-web covered farm tools lined the walls, the tasteful, neutral pile carpet beneath his feet covered in hay. His eyes like dark holes in his skull as he looked all over his virtual acres for the latest lost piglet. Maybe I was too late. Maybe he had had some grisly farm mishap and was tangled up in the blades of the combine in a field of make-believe wheat as the virtual blood seeped into his boots. Maybe he had just totally abandoned his real life for the bucolic agrarian existence.
I took a new direction on addressing things. Perhaps the answer lay within Facebook itself. I logged back on and started looking for a Facebook Intervention app.* Despite the obvious need, I couldn’t find it anywhere on the site or online. My search was complicated by the intrusive mental image of my coworker, still sitting on the bowl, fastidiously folding her T.P. like some obsessed origami practitioner. How was I going to face this woman on Monday? Why did I ever accept her friend request? Put it out of your mind, man! This is about saving Mike!!
I was about to lose all hope when the little message icon blinked on my screen accompanied by a dainty chime. It was Mike! He was alive! I sprung to the keyboard and opened the message box.
“Hey bro!” it said.
I wiped away the tears of joy as I read and re-read those beautiful words, overjoyed to know my brother was still here among us in the real world.
“Can I ask you a question?” I wrote, not wanting to lose the chance to take the issue on headfirst.
“Sure” he responded.
“OK” I wrote, “I was just wondering, do you think that maybe you might be over-doing this whole Farmville thing a little? I mean, every time I log onto this site you’re posting all kinds of stuff about it”
“Oh” he replied, “That’s not me, my wife is into that farm stuff. She’s just logged onto my Facebook account.”
The relief flooded over me. While my brother’s wife is technically part of the family, I have to admit that I just don’t have the same visceral response about mental illness and obsessive behavior among in-laws (Insert wise crack here – I like to think I’m a little classier than that). I knew in my heart that Mike was alright, that there was a logical explanation. I was so happy to know that my brother was still among the sane, among the real, that my mind didn’t process his next words at first:
“I’m more of a Mafia Wars guy”
*I write a blog, and not particularly well. I’m certainly no app developer. While I lack the technical savvy to write a Facebook Intervention App, it is my idea. I can only hope that if some technically proficient reader takes this idea forward and makes buckets of cold hard cash, that they remember who told them about it. I’m not asking for much, just a little land, maybe a few cows and some chickens.