Just Like Heaven

Except instead of real hugs for your loved ones you digitally send little graphics of them. Also, you can poke or slap them. You have to ask even your family members if they’ll be your friends, and while you can be married to whatever gender you want, you can only be married to one person.  Ok, then mostly like heaven. 

I joined Facebook about two years ago mostly because I’m ridiculously lazy and it was easier to do that to keep people posted about our time in Peru than to start a blog that only my mother would read. 

I was amazed that Facebook functioned in a way that everyone that was your friend could know whatever you put out there. Normally taboo subjects: religion, politics, sports, the pirate vs. ninja debate. They just ask you straight up. What are you doing right now? Are you drinking green tea? Swearing at your neighbor? Watching Big Love?  Clubbing baby seals? I already walk a weird line with my friends. I have many faithful LDS friends and family and many not so faithful friends and family (some might call them anti, but I prefer to think of them as irritable towards the Mormons). I’m extremely liberal but am Mormon and also from Oklahoma. You joke with your irritable friends and suddenly your Mormon friends hate you. You say something faithful and the irritable ones feel betrayed. You leave out the nuance of your politics and lo and behold everyone you were born and raised with wants to stone you. All this honesty leads to people liking you LESS than they used to. 

I realized I was regularly filled with Facebook anxiety. It was more than just having people dismayed at what I was currently doing or thinking, it was an anxiety I identify as my Mormon Heaven Movie Anxiety (MHMA–not to be confused with MHA which will be held near the Garden of Eden this year). It is that everyone in heaven will know everything that I have ever thought or done. In fact, they’ll get popcorn and watch it on the big screen. I believed that death brought possibly a light, and then a hug from Jesus and your loved ones that had already passed on and then, then it was ‘Your Life, the movie’ time. This anxiety so paralyzed me as a kid that I embellished this common idea and came to believe that soon my life would be syndicated and it would be on all the time, like Law and Order. “When it’s over, it will start again. It will not be any different, it will be exactly the same.” Every lie. Every little stolen candy or bit of change. The pr0n I found in my babysitter’s brother’s room. The terror I was to my mom. Ditching Sunday School to buy donuts (that one’s a double whammy). Every point of view, every controversial thought, all my ballots cast in presidential elections. All my nuance, things held back, muttered under breath, fibs told to make people feel more comfortable. Everything would be known and viewed on demand. Probably in HD. For free, even!

You would think that believing, nay, knowing that it would all be seen eventually, you would try and be more transparent. So as to lessen the blow in the afterlife. But not me. I was full of secrets, white lies and pleasantries. Despite the comfort of my MO, I have always felt guilty that I can’t be exactly who I am in front of everyone. Put myself out there and deal with the consequences. Because, you know, that is the ideal. And then I joined Facebook and I thought, you know what? Here is my chance to have Heaven on Earth. I should come out. You want to know my politics? I’ll tell you. You want to know my exact thoughts on my religion? I’ll spell them out for you. How I really feel about Carl Kasell and where I fall in the (diet) Coke vs. (diet) Pepsi debate? Here is the whole truth. It is, after all, the chance to experience some small piece of heaven. 

Of course you know what happened. My all-ballz-out go at heaven lasted a few days. Most people probably never read things I put up, but I was too uncomfortable, too exposed and frankly not nice enough. Now, all you’ll know about me is how I feel about dogs wearing clothes and what internet radio station I listen to regularly. I admit to only being a fan of Carl Kasell. 

It’s okay though, right now, it’s most important to me to be pleasant. Facebook will go the way of Friendster and some new social networking site will appear.  Then my MHMA will come back and again I’ll have to come to the conclusion that heaven is the only place where honesty is the best policy. Even then, I’m not so sure.

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  1. I definitely relate to Facebook anxiety. I keep changing my page and editing my wall and info, because I can’t decide how much I really want others to know. The fact that I can manage my image, but that my image leaves a written record, keeps making me nervous.

  2. Cynthia L. says:

    Very nice Cure reference.

  3. it tells me the video is not available in my country.

    here’s one for all countries http://xkcd.com/56/

  4. As you get older, the anxiety fades. You really don’t care who thinks what about you. It’s actually the only good thing about aging that I can think of.

  5. When I look at people’s profiles (which is rarely, because I don’t really care what music they listen to), I pretty much assume it’s just a very small sample of who they are, or at least what they want to project of who they are. I’m not sure people are going to write down every piece of music they listen to, every book they’ve ever read, every favorite movie. I guess I’m not even sure the usefulness of the profile page at all. Except for politics–you can tell a lot (I think) about a person by what they reveal, or refuse to, in that arena.
    So maybe in heaven when they show our lives on HD TV, no one will watch , because no one will really care.

  6. I, for one, intend to keep my eyes covered during the entire movie(s) of everyone’s life. I don’t want to know as much as Facebook reveals, let alone EVERYTHING.

  7. “As you get older, the anxiety fades. You really don’t care who thinks what about you. It’s actually the only good thing about aging that I can think of.”

    So says someone whose babysitter never hid shellfish in their bedroom.

  8. #4–that’s what people say. but I will always care about when people find out how old I was the last time I peed my pants.

    #5–my mother cares and then she will weep the rest of her years in heaven.

    #6–I think it will get downloaded into your heavenly consciousness. You can’t say no. I’m sorry.

    #7 I don’t know how you lived through that.

  9. Latter-day Guy says:

    Clever, Scott B. I wonder what a Bishop might say to counsel someone with a prawn addiction.

  10. C. Biden says:

    FB is like high school: who we really are isn’t apparent.

  11. Amri, thanks for this. You know, IMO, your ability to take an idea and then embellish it to hilarious effect is on par with David Sedaris. I mean, that whole part about everyone in heaven getting their popcorn to watch your life, after the obligatory hug from Jesus, etc., was wonderful. I wish you would post more often.

  12. MikeInWeHo says:

    Amen, Amri!! Great post.

    I have been thinking about this very topic lately because I am basically hooked on Facebook. Like you, my group of friends is very diverse. They all don’t know everything about my life and views on religion, politics, etc.

    While it’s easy to keep what I post fairly generic, I can’t control what others say. A couple of friends made some rather lewd comments on my Facebook “wall” that I was horrified would be read by my LDS friends or colleagues at work. They were quickly deleted, but was it soon enough?

    Facebook raises all kinds of interesting boundary questions. My management assistant at work sent me a friend request. Do I accept?

    Who will you accept as a Facebook friend? I’m becoming increasingly selective.

  13. Amri rocks.
    Age 25 for me. ( your 8 to the 4).
    You’ve captured my reservation over the decontextualization of identity and discourse that FB and personal blogs can perpetuate.

  14. I’m glad to know I’m still on your list, Mike. :)

    And on Amri’s, too. Although I totally missed the crazy-frank Amri stage. (Or maybe I wasn’t reading her updates then . . . not that I ever ignore people’s updates). Now I just have her either kicking sand in the air or falling off of a rock, I can’t quite tell which.

    I had the “I’m going to tell everyone how I really feel about politics, religion, and life” talk with a good friend a few months ago, and we agreed that that would be really cool. But the truth is, I’m far too chickensh*t to actually do anything like that. It would be cool, though. In theory.

    For now, my approach is pretty much like Amri’s and Mike’s and everyone else’s. Filters and categories and lots of boundaries. Do I accept current students? (Had a long debate about that last week, decided no). Ward members? (Yep, they’re in). The bishop? Family members? Bloggers? And how much do I limit myself because of the audience? I got defriended by a few FB friends — Mormonish old high school classmates — after saying damn in a FB status a few weeks ago.

    Hell, I’m still mulling over the “No on 8” group invitation a friend sent me months ago.

  15. Cynthia L. says:

    Thanks for this, Amri. I wonder if there are a lot of people out there who don’t have quite this many issues with Facebook. Sure almost everyone will have questions about the propriety of people from the office, being friends. But it seems people like you and I are more fraught with danger than some.

    I don’t know if it’s just a pity party on my part, but I often feel like in nearly every aspect of my life I’m on a weird boundary, or I’m everybody I know’s token X friend. I’m my gay friends’ token Mormon friend, I’m my SAHM friends’ token academic/professional women friend, I’m my Mormon friend’s token Democrat friend, I’m the token woman in my office, etc. I like feeling like I have unique opportunities for peacemaking and usually I really enjoy the variety of my interactions (spice of life, etc).

    But Facebook makes it feel so tiresome all the time. I am in 3 extremely say-nothing groups (one for my department, one for my high school graduating class, one for my old ward), my profile is EMPTY. sigh.

  16. Nyah, nyah, Cynthia’s boring. :)

  17. Awesome post. A few weeks ago, my great-aunt, who is an older woman and a Catholic nun, sent me a friend request on facebook. It really brought this issue into focus for me. It’s exhausting to say anything when I know my audience includes my leftist atheist sarcastic twenty-something friends from grad school AND my elderly Midwestern relatives who have devoted their lives to God. Not to mention my coworkers, high school boyfriend, and in-laws-to-be. Vetting every status update according to how it sounds to all of them usually isn’t worth it. So I don’t say much of anything.

    If I had kids, though I could post cute kid pictures. Everyone loves that.

  18. SteveP is thinking this is a great post!

  19. I fully agree! I joined Face Book knowing little about it. (Some body told me it was the thing to do.) When it “came up”, I asked: “Who are these people?” “Why am I to care about their lives?, Or they mine?” Within an hour, I got a call from my daughter: “What are the —- you doing?!..you know I must ‘block you’?!” I said “fine”,(whatever that means).
    Trying going on Google Earth, and putting in someone’s home address. That really gave me a enriching feeling!

  20. Cynthia L. says:

    So everyone needs to use the “share” button at the bottom of this post to put it up on your Facebook wall so that everyone will understand why you never update your status. :-)

  21. #15 Cynthia–for me this has to do with my insane need to be agreeable. To help people feel good, happy, comfortable. It’s not entirely the fault of Mormons but it was definitely fostered in my YW classes. This is why I was/am so anxious about heaven! How can I be agreeable when everyone knows everything?!? I have been disagreeable sometimes, but it’s usually when I’m acting out.

    #11-you’re very nice. thanks!
    #12-start making the friend lists on FB and put the unquestionables that you feel like you have to accept as friends but you don’t want to know anything. Or I suggest being meaner so that fewer people will want to be your friend.
    #13-Sam your second comment makes you perfect for FB!
    #14-I’ve deleted people off my friends’ list. Not for saying damn, though that’s a pretty good reason. Also, I’m trying to do a bell kick in some sand dunes. And then, I threw my back out.

  22. #17 Anna–it’s true people stop caring about your politics when they’re looking at photos of post bathtub kids with mohawks. I need to remember to have kids.
    #18 I love SteveP in the 3rd person!
    #19–Google Earth can be very creepy. Also, I hope your daughter still likes you.

  23. You threw your back out doing that bell kick? That doesn’t sound like fun. Also, I’m sure that that’s a much better bell kick than I could ever do.

    Smb 13,

    You have to weigh that against the economies of scale that FB creates, no? For truly universal announcements, it works great.

    It starts to break down when you really want to make community-specific announcements which might be confusing or embarrassing in other communities (unless you’ve got all of your groups of friends walled off by FB group settings).

  24. Mephibosheth says:

    You’re gonna be watching my movie in heaven and you’ll see this little 8 year old kid running around and then all of a sudden I’m 18 and getting ready for my mission. And you’ll be saying, “What happened?” I know how to repent, that’s what happened.

    I’ve never understand the desire to “bare all” politically/religiously/etc on Facebook. Is it something about the detachment of conversing over the internet give one a sense of disinhibition over subjects that you wouldn’t normally broach in mixed company? Amri mentions that Facebook seems to be built this way, but it’s one thing to describe your political views as liberal or conservative under your info. It’s quite another to set your status as some scandalously partisan jab, broadcast to the world. Once my Bishop took the first 15 minutes of sacrament meeting to address some nuclear war that erupted among members on Facebook over politics. I go to a single ward, if that explains anything.

  25. I love facebook, and I have no facebook anxiety. That’s probably because I spend most of my time on facebook playing word games with my family. I tend to be pretty forthright and not care too much about what others think of me, but I think I also avoid worrying about this stuff by keeping most things I join/comment about pretty group-neutral. Most of the groups I’ve joined have to do with food allergies or autism, which no one really objects to. The only thing I’m a “fan” of is the museum I worked at during college. Almost all of my status updates are a running word count of my current writing project.

    Also, I’m glad I made Kaimi’s cut.

  26. I accept everyone I know and reject pretty much every non-friend invitation. I might have spent more time on FB, but I need to try to blog a little more.

  27. Here on earth, we value privacy so highly… the thought of there being no privacy in heaven is uncomfortable. I am SO GLAD that I’m not the only sufferer of MHMA. When I was about four years old, I did something embarrassing, but my immediate thought was “oh crap, now everyone will have to remember this moment FOREVER. The angels in heaven will laugh at me for all eternity.” I no longer remember what my melodramatic four year old self did that was so awful, but I’ve had the same thought a few times a year since then. Terrifying.

  28. Wes Brown says:

    Wow- I was just thinking about this yesterday. The cool thing about the time before online social networks is that you could be hypocritical pretty easily, which was nice, and made for diverse friend groups. Now it’s hard to post something without thinking of how different friends, employers, and family will see it. I think I’ve finally come around to sending the crazy stuff through messages and putting the tame stuff in the status box. That way I can still maintain a little healthy hypocrisy.

  29. Wes–do you know what your dad told me when you friended me on facebook? ‘he probably thinks you’re his cousin and he’ll be embarrassed later and then pretend that he knew all along’. Or something like that. It was funny. And you’re right about hypocrisy. It’s healthy, it just needs to be well-placed.

    Ariel, when we get to heaven let’s join a therapy group for MHMA. I bet we can talk MikeinWeHo into leading it for us. I’m def gonna need therapy in heaven.

    Vada, don’t get me wrong. I like FB. I’ve gotten in touch with people I thought I’d never see again (well, til heaven) and have funny conversations all the time. I like that. It just brought up this strange anxiety I used to have as a kid. And of course I’m very discreet about what I write as my status.

    And Mephibosheth–it doesn’t get deleted, it’s just that your face gets blurred and there’s a blinking subtitle at the bottom that says ‘repented! no judging! repented no judging!’

  30. Awesome post, Amri. I too was traumatized as a kid by the idea of a movie in the next life. Though I held on to the hope that they would show the movies in chronological order, and by the time they hit the last days, and the lives of those of us who were fortunate enough to be born this late in history due to our premortal valiance as generals in the war in heaven, people would be too bored to be paying much attention anymore.

    And I also struggle to negotiate Facebook. My friends largely fall into three categories: liberal-leaning Mormons (many of whom I met on the bloggernacle), fellow grad students (who if anything, are even more liberal than the first group) . . . and, people I know from growing up in Utah, who are likely to be horrified by the views of the first two groups. I remember logging on one day last fall, and seeing that one friend had become a fan of Sarah Palin, while another had joined some group like “Women Against Sarah Palin,” and thinking–how did I end up with such different groups of friends? The Prop 8 thing has been crazy too, with some of my grad student friends joining groups like “take away the tax-exempt status of the LDS church” while the Utah crowd rushed to defend traditional marriage. I have to admit to being a total chicken on that issue, and saying nothing at all.

    (And then there is some crazy bloggernacle person out there starting groups like “Lisa Butterworth for the new apostle.”:) Now how is that for a way to baffle your friends? )

    I really like Cynthia’s point about this possibly being more challenging for those who find themselves on the boundaries of multiple communities. Since I don’t like conflict and worry probably excessively about alienating people, I tend to try to keep things neutral. (Though I’m maybe about to announce to my little Facebook world that I’m off to a Mormon feminist conference at Claremont.) I’ve thought of going the route of adjusting the settings to control who sees what, but I don’t know that I have the energy (or really the desire) to do that. So I’m still kind of muddling through when it comes to the question of how much I want to reveal about myself.

  31. (Also, reading #26 reminded me that Facebook has probably cut into my blogging time somewhat. And at least at the moment, I note that I tend to keep up with many bloggernacle friends by communicating with them on FB, rather than interacting with them on their blogs. I don’t entirely know what I think about that.)

  32. “… the decontextualization of identity and discourse that FB and personal blogs can perpetuate.”

    SMB rocks. Amri too. Cheers!

  33. The Right Trousers says:

    The MHM is a seriously twisted concept. Where in the world does it come from?

    I’m trying to recall anywhere in the scriptures that it says those made righteous will have a perfect recollection of all their pratfalls, stupidities, and outright rebellions, let alone that there will be movies made about them. And if there *are* movies, whose perspective are they from? I imagine they’d be from your own, in glorious 3D smell-o-taste-o-feel-o-think-o-feel-o-vision, otherwise they’d risk communicating lies. Hugs all around after “watching” one of those bad boys. Remember when you wore that short skirt to school that you’d hid from your mom, spent all day covering up and embarrassed to be seen in it, and then spent the next four years mortified that you’d done it untill you ‘fessed up? Yeah, I really felt that.

    Honestly, your anxious animal brain parts are just making crap up if you’re worried about the MHM.

    FWIW, I thought the post was hilarious. :)

  34. I feel like a minority in this topic. Like many of you, my facebook friends are people come from all backgrounds. But unlike everyone, it seems, I’ve never struggled with whether or not I should friend someone because they may learn something about me they didn’t know before. I have all sorts of random things about myself posted on facebook, and I really don’t care who knows about it!

    Sure, there are things about myself that I wish others did not know, but those things just don’t show up. But I don’t get worried about the things I post, nor do I fret about the things that my friends post about me, even when I have a friend who regularly leaves messages on my wall that say “Alex eats babies!”

    Interestingly enough, I’ve never had anyone leave some comment expressing shock about anything I’ve posted on their (or on my blog, or on other blogs). The closest that I’ve gotten so far is when my sister called me a few weeks ago and said, “Hey, do you post comments on Times & Seasons? I know a guy who is one of their bloggers! Kaimi… something… I don’t remember how to say his name…”

    Of course, I am also one of those people who has no qualms whatsoever with posting my first AND last name on blog comments. ;)

  35. And for all the grammar nazis out there, sorry, I meant “… anything I’ve posted on there…” (not “their”)

  36. Every now and then I go through a FB anxiety phase, and will tighten all of the information, unfriend a few people I really don’t know, and change what lists can see what information. Usually, however, after I’m done tinkering I come to the conclusion that it was all in my head, because I think I’ve grossly overestimated the proportion of my FB “friends” who actually pay a nickel’s worth of attention to what I put on there. If I am in any way representative of the typical FB user, then this is the case, because I only notice what about 3% of my total friend pool is doing.

  37. Rameumptom says:

    I have not ventured into Facebook yet, simply because I find that it tends too much towards the trivial. When people feel they must put their entire lives out for all to see, then there ends up being nothing special about people.

    As for confession, go see your bishop, not Jerry Springer.

    Finally, I always go with the statement by Elwood P Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart) in the movie Harvey: “In this world, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant. Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”

  38. Rameumptom, good thing you have eschewed the trivial by restricting yourself to the Bloggernacle.

  39. Wes Brown says:

    Amri, you’re not my cousin!? Crap! Now I wonder about Natalie…

  40. Sorry Wes. I hope you aren’t too disillusioned.

    Lynette (30-31) you remind of the many many times I would see someone being a fan or this or that or joining this or that group and *I* would think, who the heck are my friends? And then laugh bc if they knew me in real life, they’d probably hate my guts. Despite my pleasantness.

    TRT (33) you’ve never heard of the movie thing? I heard it all the time. Until I was 18 or so I thought it was doctrine.

  41. Hmm. I have a friend who I almost don’t speak to anymore because of all the crazy propaganda she posts on her blog… I suppose it goes both ways.

    (Is that why my phone doesn’t ring so much anymore?)

  42. The worst thing to me is people who take a dozen quizzes and post the results, cluttering up evryone’s wall. If they actually meant anything it would be different.

  43. Noray,

    A friend of mine recently responded when I similarly griped about the excess quizzes on FB:

    This is a tragic thing. How else are you going to know which of your friends would be a vampire or werewolf, and which 80’s film they most closely resemble? This is all that’s left of America, Scott.

    As much as I admire futile internet indignation and the resulting attempts to control a made-up space, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to go “meh” on this one. (shrug)

    Now to find out which of my friends has a crush on me…

  44. #43 LOL I had no idea they were “all that’s left of America”. I apologize from the bottom of my “dignified, severe and cold” heart (see What is Your Japanese Name Quiz.) :-)

  45. Amri, your post makes me wonder whether there is a role for a FB replacement or enhancement that incorporates “personae” that would allow you to designate certain utterances as intended for particular audiences. It would be a fascinating sociological experiment to see how such a system of persona filtration would work, whether people would be offended or would be content to not visit other social worlds inhabited by friends.

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