Kasie Whitener: Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

The Writerly Life welcomes Kasie Whitener, whose post delves into the impact of social media on our most personal—and sometimes most painful—moments. Kasie blogs at Life on Clemson Road, but she also teaches and is at work on several fiction projects. Learn more about her at the end of this post.

Can People in Heaven Read Facebook?

My Facebook newsfeed:

I ❤ POTUS! Leigh Johnson Reed changed her profile picture (and my cousin’s beautiful mug). Day 141 for my friend on assignment in Liberia: a picture of her dinner. A picture of Sarah Palin with a snide comment about John McCain picking her over Mitt Romney for vice president. And a ton of “TGIF!!!”

Then, “RIP, Kellye.”

And, “You’ll be missed, Kellye.”

We’ve become a culture that does everything publicly.

Our politics are online: we comment on blogs, share fair-and-balanced articles. Our humor is online: we re-post pithy phrases laid over 1950’s cartoons (“Not all women are moody. It’s just that some of us have had enough of your bullsh**”). We share YouTube videos, clips of Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Our business is online: we fan our employer, Like achievements and re-tweet specials and events to our customers. We’re LinkedIn to everyone we’ve ever met while wearing business casual dress and pretending to care.

We shop online, too: eagerly consuming hand-painted wineglasses, children’s clothing and anything and everything that’s been monogrammed (though that may just be a Southern thing).

Our families are online it’s the only way we’ve ever seen our cousin’s cute new baby. Our faith is online: we Like Bible passages and resurrection images and baptism photos.

So it is a natural progression, right? that we would mourn online? That our tribes, our communities, our families, our “friends” would experience with us the tragedy that has befallen us. After all, we went through theirs.

“I’m so sorry!”

“You’re in my prayers!”

“We love you all so much!”

Someone’s dog was euthanized. Someone’s cat went missing. Someone’s car was broken into, home burglarized, sister divorced, kid diagnosed with a terrible disease, father fighting prostate cancer, great-grandmother passed. People suffer and we suffer with them.

“Praying for you!”

Social Media Network
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At the same time this Facebook sharing is both disturbing and confirming. First, it disturbs me that these tragedies find their way into the same medium where we’ve posted Little League Baseball scores, kitten videos, and quotes from the Dalai Lama. How is “rest in peace” appropriate here when just yesterday I wrote, “Go Tigers!” in the same space?

Jewel Blitz wants to share my top score. Amazon wants to tell people I bought a new book. Target lets everyone know I Like it and Jiffy Lube wants to tell people Brando got his oil changed. All of this news goes into my Facebook status update.

So how is, “She will be missed!” appropriate in the same place my RunKeeper App just said, “Kasie finished a 3.75 mile run in 38:22.04”?

I tweet and Facebook repeats: leadership quotes, articles about editing, Clemson sports updates, book reviews and blog posts. I wouldn’t think to Tweet, “Kellye died.” So why would I put it on Facebook?

Are these wall posts meant to offer comfort? Her sister, Kerri, is reading messages from hundreds of people who knew Kellye, people Kerri may have never met. She’s reading how loved her twin was, how many lives she touched. Do those messages on Kellye’s page help Kerri heal? Shouldn’t they? Isn’t that why they are posted?

Or are they another example of our own over-inflated sense of self-importance? Those people who ignore the fact that yesterday this same status update said “I Hate Mondays” and use it today to share their sadness are stuck in their own moment. Facebook is nothing if not self-worship.

Still the sharing is somewhat comforting and I hope wherever Kellye’s faith took her she has access to Facebook. But really, I wish she knew while she was here what a tremendous impact she was having on all of us. I am inspired to tell the people I know how important they are and what good work they are doing.

The power of social media is in the sharing of this tumultuous experience called life. And part of that experience, tragically, is that one beautiful, wonderful, funny, determined girl is no longer with us. And we’re suffering. Together.

I don’t know that blogging about her is any better than Facebooking it, so there’s my disclaimer. What do you think? Are people abusing social media by broadcasting their pain? Or is it the necessary evolution of this new global world?

Kasie Whitener

Kasie Whitener is a freelance writer and professor of English at Strayer University and Midlands Technical College. She’s a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE), the #amwriting.org community, and the Wordsmith Studio. She tweets @KasieWhitener and Facebooks. She blogs at Life on Clemson Road and is currently writing a collection of short stories to submit to literary journals during their acceptance window in the fall. She has several novel projects all of which deal with the moment the late David Foster Wallace described as when a fish recognizes what water is.

So Many Streets, So Many Connections

Photograph of Virginia Woolf , 1911 – 1912. Oil on board, by Vanessa Bell. In the public domain.

I have lost friends, some by death… others by sheer inability to cross the street. 
 Virginia Woolf

I just finished reading an essay, “Girlfriends,” in Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. In her memoir Quindlen passes along Virginia Woolf’s wise words, above. Those words struck me hard. For, you see, I am at an age where I have lost friends to death, although you might say age has nothing to do with it, and that’s true. Friends, or God forbid, family, can be snatched from us at any age, at any time; witness the recent unspeakable event in Aurora, Colorado.

How Wide Is the Street?

Having gotten those morbid thoughts out of the way, I’d rather focus on the other part of Woolf’s quote. We lose friends, Woolf suggests, “by sheer inability to cross the street.” Those words stunned me. How many times have I let friendships languish out of inertia? How often have I been unable, or unwilling, to “cross the street”?

I thought immediately of a good friend–we used to be “besties,” as the young ones might say–whom I haven’t seen in months. We haven’t even talked on the phone or emailed. I’m mystified by this neglect of a long-time friendship. I’m afraid we’ve drifted away from each other because of political and religious differences, and there’s no way one of us can convince the other she’s wrong. Even though we have “agreed to disagree,” those differences have cast a pall on our friendship. And yet, why have I not crossed the street, called one more time, and suggested we get together? I have not, and it’s a shame.

Then there’s my dearest childhood friend who writes me long, lovely, handwritten letters occasionally, newsy notes about her and her husband and what’s going on in their lives.  When we do talk, maybe once a year (why not more often?), we always pick up where we left off, as though not one of the events of our later lives has intervened. We might as well be girls again, sleeping over and giggling–or crying–about boyfriends. That’s a rare friendship indeed. My response to those long letters she writes? She’s lucky if she gets an email in return. She deserves a better friend.

And there are the friends in my book group (we call it “the bookgroup,” as in the only one). Some of us “go way back”; others are relatively new friends with whom I share a great love of books. We don’t always agree; in fact, we have spirited discussions when we meet. But we respect each other. I think it’s safe to say we love each other. We would cross the street; indeed, we have. (One of those friends shared the Quindlen essay with me. Thanks, J—.)

Coffee cup

A Whole New World

And then there’s the new world of cyber-friends. Friends, you say? Are you skeptical? That’s all right. I was, too, in the beginning. Yes, I use Facebook to keep up with my dear ones. Otherwise, Facebook “relationships” seem superficial, at best. And yet, if you’re lucky, a comaraderie develops over time as acquaintances open to each other through common interests; as they sense when someone needs a good word; as they listen (figuratively, yes); as they offer themselves unselfishly, laugh together, and cry together.

This is particularly true of writers, I think. I’ve become associated with a group of writers  through Facebook and other social media. We may have started out with the goal of increasing our online presence and creating a “platform” so that as we publish and hopefully, someday, really need a platform, we’ll be ready with the website and the Facebook Writer’s Page and a Twitter account and a nice number of connections across the Web. But I believe, as we’ve gotten to know each other better, bonds have formed among us. We don’t all know each other equally well; we don’t all share the same goals; we might not recognize each other if we were all thrown into a crowded room together. But we are connected. What we care about—our writing, mostly, but also our successes, our failures, our significant life moments, both good and bad—we have come to expect to share with these other folks whom we may never see in the flesh.

Let’s Have a Cup of Coffee

Yet we are, in a real sense, capable of “crossing the street” for each other. It’s not the same as sitting across from that old friend I miss a lot, having a cup of coffee, and catching up, or writing that long overdue letter, or having a pithy book discussion that ends in good will and laughter. It’s not the same as showing up at the home of a friend when somebody is sick or there’s terrible news.

But give us time and technology! We may just get there.

How important are your friendships, “in the flesh” or otherwise? Let me know your thoughts!

Among other great advice, Nick Thacker offers the following in his guest post, “3 Great Tips for Authors on Networking” at C. S. Lakin’s Live Write Thrive:

You can’t do everything. “Shiny Object Syndrome” can be a tricky beast to overcome, but you need to stay focused on the things that will truly matter. Always look to add value wherever you are, but know, too, that you can’t update your Facebook profile, Goodreads account, Twitter feed, and blog, and simultaneously guest post at fifty other sites while writing your manuscript for the next book in the series. You’ll get burnt out very quickly (trust me, I’ve been there). Instead, focus on a “home base” that you can point your network to, and “branch out” into smaller connection points, like Twitter and Facebook accounts. If you’re struggling to make enough time for it all, temporarily cut back to your writing and your home base.

Food for thought, especially when the writing—the most important thing—gets pushed into the background.