When Facebook takes control


My personal Facebook page barely exists. I do virtually nothing on it. However, that doesn’t stop Facebook from sending messages about me. Such was the case over the weekend when Facebook decided to send out a notification that I had a birthday, encouraging my friends to send me birthday greetings. And so, they did.

It was very nice. At first, a few “Happy Birthday, Gary!” messages came filtering through, which I knew because they showed up in my email. I began thanking the six or eight friends whose messages trickled in early…. “Thanks, Larry!” “Thanks Bob!” “Thanks Cheryl!” and so on (exclamation points are required on Facebook messages lest you seem unenthusiastic).

Now I do know enough to know that when it’s someone’s birthday and they start receiving birthday wishes on Facebook, most people just say something at the end of the day like, “Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes!”

But I have never asked someone to friend me on Facebook, and whatever friends I have on there are there because they have asked me to friend them, which I always do. So considering my limited level of engagement, I didn’t think I had too many friends on Facebook and, by comparison to most Facebook users, I don’t. Therefore, I didn’t think that acknowledging every birthday wish individually would be too much of a problem; plus, I’m old-fashioned enough to think that if someone takes the time to say Happy Birthday, I should acknowledge that person.

But then my sister posted some pictures of me in regard to my birthday on her Facebook page, and “tagged” me. When someone tags you on Facebook, that means your life has come under someone else’s control. My sister has a lot of Facebook friends, and naturally many of them are mutual friends or acquaintances (in the traditional sense of friends and acquaintances, not the Facebook definition of friends). Suddenly, I began receiving birthday wishes from a whole new section of the universe.

Since I had begun thanking people individually, I couldn’t stop now. I was already in too deep. How would it look if I had thanked the first 15 or 20 people who wished me Happy Birthday, one by one, but no one who came after? It would look pretty darn inconsiderate, that’s how.

So I must have replied with up to 50 or so personal thank you’s, and then caught myself thanking some people twice before I realized this was Facebook’s evil plan to have its revenge on me by driving me insane. So I finally gave up. Facebook had defeated me, as I feared it would when it started its wicked scheme early on my birthday morning.

Back to the pictures posted by my dear, dear sister. She posted a couple of recent pics, then she decided to post a picture from a high school sports banquet in 1974, which showed me wearing a pair of plaid bellbottoms, looking quite smug and sporting an excellent set of sideburns which, as my friend and classmate Jamie Burton pointed out in a comment, I was quite proud of.

According to my daughter, when one of my granddaughters saw it she asked if Papaw was wearing pajamas, since she has a pair of pajamas that look very similar. No, Maddy, I was wearing a pair of very cool pants, which is verified by the fact that the same picture shows my basketball coach, Phil Blankenship, wearing a very similar pair of pants, and he was and is a very cool guy. So there.

(The late Glenn Moberly, who was the reserve basketball coach at Lynchburg-Clay at the time, is the only one in the picture who was wearing something that wasn’t designed to cause blindness or insanity.)

Sister Ann also posted a couple of pics of me at age 3, one showing me laughing with my dog, Ranger, and I guess back then I did look kind of adorable in an innocent Opie sort of way before I discovered girls and cars and sports and girls.

Nevertheless, there should be a law against other people posting pictures of you on Facebook without the express written consent of Major League Baseball, or something like that, and there should be a mild punishment along the lines of arrest, imprisonment and even torture, depending on the level of embarrassment connected to the picture.

It should also be illegal to tag people on Facebook who really don’t understand how Facebook works, because it will drive them insane.

I was having dinner Friday night with one of my sons and my 5-year-old grandson, who really does look just like Opie, red hair and all, and I was messing with him as he was busy coloring the Frisch’s placemat, and I said, “Do you know it’s my birthday tomorrow?” and he said, “Yeah, Daddy told me.” And I said, “Are you getting me a present?” He hesitated, and finally said, “Nah, Daddy said there’s not a party.” And I said, “You can still get me a present.” And he shrugged and said, “Adults don’t get presents.”

When you’re an adult with more than six decades behind you, the nicest presents of all are simple birthday wishes from friends, family and acquaintances, including those you have not spoken with in many, many years, and you find yourself strangely moved that they have taken the time to send along a birthday greeting, even if it took just a couple of seconds out of their day. It really was very nice to get them, unexpectedly.

But as the day ended and I thought everything was returning to normal, Facebook took one last shot, taunting me with a message that said, “We hope you had a great birthday, Gary! Here’s a video we made for you with some birthday posts from your friends.” It might as well have said, “We hope you had a great birthday, Gary! We hope you understand now that you cannot escape us! We have taken control of your life and we can do it again anytime we want! Sleep well!”

My wife tells me that I can set my Facebook page not to notify people of my birthday, and, being old school, that is what I plan to do, mainly as part of my repudiation of Facebook’s grand scheme to control our lives. Granted, that may not stop my sister from notifying people and posting pictures, and it remains a mystery why I thought she was so sweet when Mom and Dad brought her home from the hospital.

If you want to friend me or message me on Facebook, that’s great. I’ll probably notice it within a few weeks. But please don’t tag me. It’s too much responsibility.

Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of The Times-Gazette and can be reached at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected].


By Gary Abernathy

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