Like most people, John Thyme was on Facebook and checked it a couple of times a week. After he retired, he found himself spending more time on it, commenting on lots of posts, researching old friends from his teenage years and indulging in the occasional rant. About a year after retiring, he had 350 friends.
Around the same time, he developed a pain in his knee. He could hardly walk without hurting and in spite of the fact that he had been very active during most of his life, his doctor scheduled him for a knee replacement. During his recuperation, he was totally inactive, took pain pills, and slept a lot. He hardly went on Facebook. Less and less did he enjoy hearing about his friends’ accomplishments, trips abroad, new babies and the like. Frankly, it made him kind of envious, which was not a good feeling, and he stopped Liking or Commenting on their posts. He found himself watching a lot more movies and tv. He’d found a couple of stations that specialized in sitcoms and westerns from his youth. He couldn’t help noticing the fake sets and stereotypical characters, but their familiarity gave him pleasure.
After a couple of months, he felt better, and decided to check in on Facebook. There were the usual posts of babies, families, and photogenic meals. Nothing seemed to have changed very much. He posted something about his successful recovery from knee surgery and expected the usual sprinkling of about twenty Likes and Comments. But he got very few. Did his friends not get the post? He rummaged around his Facebook account and saw his number of friends was now 222. What had happened to the other 128? He no longer had the list of the 350, but from memory he sent friend requests to all of them he could remember. He only got about 25 confirmations. It totally freaked him out. Many of these people he’d known for decades and considered to be close friends. He’d read somewhere that to get more responses on Facebook, you needed to send out more stuff on Facebook, and then your posts would go to the top of the recipient’s feed. He started spending a couple of hours a day on the platform, linking to articles, commenting on everyone’s cat photos or birthdays, even their silly photos of shrimps on the barby or whatever. He started sending out pithy quotations that he spent another half hour a day discovering online. But his Like rate didn’t bounce back to what it had been. No matter how hard he tried, fewer and fewer people responded. One day when he went to log on, Facebook didn’t recognize his password. When he requested a new one, he kept getting error messages. He asked people about this problem on various Google message boards, but never got a response. The same thing happened when he tried to contact tech support. He just got the recording over and over again. He tried to get a Facebook account under a different name and email, but he could never get it to work. He asked his kids and grandkids for help, and they’d mess around with his computer for a while and then just shake their heads.
Eventually he stopped trying. If he used a cane or a walker, he could get around the house, and he spent his time in different rooms and on the front porch. His experience with Facebook left a terrible taste in his mouth. How could people have abandoned him like that? What had he done? It actually scared him to feel so cut off from his friends and unable to fix the situation. But as time went by, he stopped thinking about it. He focused more on his tv shows and watching the cars and bicycles whiz past his house.
When the cowboy shows and sitcoms started to lose their appeal, he switched to animal documentaries. That’s where the real action was. The cheetah waits and pounces on the defenseless springbok. The boa constrictor squeezes the life out of the goat and swallows it whole. The spider wraps up the fly.
It was starting to make sense. As a young man, he was the spider. Now he was the fly.
Facebook had made that very clear.