Dear Family Members on Facebook,1
I don’t think you quite understand this yet, but certain formerly separated and once demarcated segments of social space have now, fairly suddenly, collapsed. The transcendental social space into which these separate spaces have collapsed is called Facebook. This collapse has had several interesting, beneficial, and much-discussed implications. It has also had several less-discussed implications—or, at least, implications to which nobody has yet drawn your attention—implications which are, incidentally, making my own life rather difficult. Because there are likely millions of you, beyond the family members of the present author, who do not yet understand these implications, the present author has appointed himself spokesperson for every other young-adult, often urban, “alt”-minded person whose life similarly is being ruined by this recent collapse of social space. I write you, we write you, because we love you.
‘To begin, an extended simile-cum-metaphor. Family members, please try to empathize: Shifting from a college-students-only Facebook to the relatively unfettered virtual commons it has become today is like bringing your grandmother and little brother to a really great dance party with a lot of really good-looking peers; you do not get the best of both worlds, you get neither world. You just stand there not dancing and not drinking because granny has a bad hip and you spent all your money on Shirley Temples for little Johnny, but you also don’t have fun with your grandmother or little Johnny because the music is too loud, all you really care about is getting laid, and you, granny, and Johnny have nothing to talk about, anyway. But it’s even more awkward for you because little Johnny who is new to dance parties doesn’t understand that 12-year-old boys should not rub their private areas on girls at a dance party his own grandmother and brother are attending, or any dance party for that matter; and granny does not realize that she is a little too old for taking glamour photos of herself in the reflection of a bathroom mirror. Then you kind of just ask yourself how the hell things got to be like that but you don’t leave (or carefully rig your privacy settings) because what kind of self-respecting person would leave or shut out an old lady and a 12-year-old at a bar by themselves?
Dear 14-year-old little sister, you cannot just say “fuck that,” and “what the fuck” all over the place as if you are giggling with your girlfriends in the privacy of your middle-school bathroom stalls. Given how many of our fucking relatives we are both friends with on Facebook, we are effectively sitting at the fucking Thanksgiving table. Also, you can be forgiven for constantly posting terrible song lyrics in your youthful vigor, but when these lyrics are very thinly-veiled allusions to the sexual deed itself, this is just unacceptable. I understand your yearnings, but please, sublimate; in the long run, this will get you to your goal more effectively, anyway. Finally, about all of the self-portraits in which you do that puckered-lips thing. When and how did young women first get the idea that this is somehow universally flattering and photogenicizing. I can’t reiterate how much I (we) love you, but this is just intolerable. Facebook is making you self-obsessed and it worries me and these kinds of images are excruciating to observe in my news feed.
Dear 18-year-old little brother, I know you mean well but my young-adult friends think your language is what they would call “racist.” For instance, a lot of people find the “n-word” hateful and unacceptable in public discourse because, historically, it has been entwined with the ruthless domination and oppression of black people by white people like you and me. Neither leaving off the “r” nor the possibly true fact that indeed you have black friends ever makes it socially acceptable to use such language. I do not know about possible private social groupings among young white kids in which this kind of language is perceived to be normal or acceptable, but on Facebook you are a Netizen of the World.
Dear 22-year-old little sister, as you get older you might be thinking more about your personal brand as represented on websites such as Facebook. Your personal brand consists in the image or value that the rest of the world associates with your web presence, what you uniquely offer them. Your personal brand might be too edgy or idiosyncratic for me to even understand it—maybe I’m just disconnected from your personal audience—but I do not think it will translate well into more cosmopolitan milieus. For instance, take a status update from last week:
New oatmeal from mcdonalds = bangin
This might be true, but oatmeal, McDonald’s, and the word “bangin,” will often be perceived as unsavory content for microblogging when taken separately; in one positive chain of equivalences containing nothing other than an indication of the oatmeal’s novelty, this will rarely if ever travel well, beyond your personal network, through the World-Wide Web.
Dear Aunts and Uncles, I have been living away from “home” for seven years now. Please try to think about how this might affect my use of language with respect to my nuclear family, and also think about how I might wish to portray myself to my peers and potential sexual partners. For instance, you recently wrote the following on my wall:
Merry Christmas! We left a present under the tree for you, did you get it? Ask Grandma and Grandpa to give it to you!
Thanks again for the gift, but with respect to my social-networking life, this was more of a Trojan horse. I suppose many people call their Grandmother and Grandfather by the colloquial form you use here, but this post, minor as it seems, is like shrapnel in the stomach of my own personal brand (which is, if you care to know, “intellectually austere and mature but willing to be calculatedly silly because I don’t ‘give a fuck,’ also somewhat withdrawn but unpredictably forthright when I want to be.”) I see my parents and their parents very rarely. This signals to the world how mature and independent I am, but when you refer to my grandparents as “Grandma” and “Grandpa” it is like a denial-of-service attack on the virtual dissemination of this mature independence.
Love always, Young-adult alt-types on Facebook
PS: I really am going to get the dates of all your birthdays onto a calendar somewhere. Really, I’m going to do this soon. Thanks for understanding.
Originally published by Thought Catalog (thoughtcatalog.com) on September 2, 2011. I’ve since made some slight edits because I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how I originally tried to address the issue of racism. In the original piece, I wrote out the full version of the “n-word” in scare quotes because I thought at the time that so long as I was invoking it to help other white people understand why they shouldn’t mess with it, that it was appropriate to write it out in full. In my current view, I have no idea if that was “right” or “wrong,” but as I’ve become more attuned to racism, I would rather not put that word into print. So I edited that accordingly (December 20, 2013). ↩
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Murphy, Justin. 2011. "Open letter to family members on Facebook," https://jmrphy.net/blog/2011/09/03/family-on-facebook/ (November 19, 2018).