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Entries in Facebook (1)


A Friend Indeed


I was having trouble becoming a Facebook friend with Hosni Mubarak. And then just as I sorted that out an email arrived from Facebook inviting me to become friends with myself.


These developments have left me shaken.


Yes, the act of reaching out to Hosni Mubarak in Facebook friendship would be a sympathy thing, motivated by the assumption he needs, just now, all the friends he can muster. After all, the 84-year-old former Egyptian president is one week into a life sentence in a Cairo prison for complicity in the deaths of 850 people. Though he survived six assassination attempts in his lifetime, he is apparently depressed, bed-ridden and in need of oxygen, so it appears any new friendships, not to mention the life sentence itself, may be short-lived.

Emergency friend

You maybe noticed I'm new to Facebook and have been "friending up" recently. So it was a shock to learn that I'm not allowed to befriend everyone. You don't have the option of befriending Hosni Mubarak on Facebook, for example, you can only “Like” him. You'd think, given the gravity of his situation, it would be more comforting to him if we could be a friend, especially now in his hour of need, incarcerated, stripped of some $35-billion in assets and not breathing well: gurney-man walking. If this isn't a classic case of someone needing a friend I don't know what is. Facebook should make an allowance here, to provide emergency friending in such eventualities. Because to be called “Friend” seems so superior to being merely "Liked" since, let's face it, people are always more inclined to say nice things about you when you're gone.


Besides, it's really nothing to "Like" someone, especially on Facebook. In Hosni Mubarak's case, more than 5,000 people already "Like" his Facebook page. Which, when you think about it, given that he presided for almost 30 years over a country of 85 million people, isn't absolutely stunning evidence of his overwhelming popularity.


Is it just me, or do you too find that Facebook stretches the boundaries of the traditional meaning of friendship? What is a friend, really? And what vulnerabilities do we disclose when we befriend another? Facebook, in a way, reveals a level of impermanence that underpins all our human interactions. They are fun for awhile. But then they are gone. Incidentally, when Facebook learns that a member has died, it puts that person’s account in a memorialized state, like Lucian Freud.


The Way Home (12 x 9 w/c)So, being new to Facebook and full of wonder, I'm curious: what happens if, after I "Like" Hosni Mubarak, things go South between us? Maybe because he stood by while peaceful agitators for a more 'democratic' Egypt were killed in Tahrir Square, I can't forgive him. And if I can't forgive him, surely then I'd have to reconsider how much I really "Like" him.


Here's where the Facebook fantasy world clashes with the real world. Consider how much, or little, is being asked of us when we "Like" someone on Facebook. Facebook even gives me the option to "Unlike" Hosni Mubarak if I change my mind about him - there is no consequence of my hitting the "Unlike" button, other than the link between myself and Hosni Mubarak is digitally severed. Given that there was no real link between us to start with, nothing is lost. The consequences of loss are so vastly different on Facebook than in real life. Hosni Mubarak is not affected by the loss of my "Like" for him, nor am I. This is where Facebook reveals a deep flaw. If there is nothing to be gained by our liking of someone, then why bother? And if nothing is lost by the removal of our "Like" for them, then our like means nothing. What if, theoretically, this transitory relationship between me and Hosni Mubarak truly devolved and I came to hate him? I've looked but cannot find a "Hate" button on Facebook. It seems we can have all the Facebook friends who are prepared to put up with us, but we can have no official Facebook foes. 

More discerning

We can report though, that like a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4, our little Facebook account has gone from zero to 60 friends in no time. True, the "friending-up" process feels a bit like glad-handing around the room at cocktail hour. But my Facebook friends are you.


And here is what happened: very recently as an experiment I sent a Facebook friend request to everyone in my email contacts. This included everyone I'd ever had vicarious email contact with, some 850 friend requests went out. Facebook immediately disciplined me for asking people who barely know me to be my friend, suggesting I need to be more discerning about who I hang out with. So if you are among those who received a friend request from me and are wondering who the hell I am, all I can say is – don't worry about it, I am Your Friend even if I cannot be Hosni Mubarak's friend.


But then another strange thing happened. In the midst of sorting out whether I could, should, or would "Like" Hosni Mubarak I received an email from Facebook reminding me that I should become a Friend with myself. I guess my own email address was tangled up among the 850 in my contacts list.


This really got me going. What does it mean to be one's own friend? Does it mean simply that, despite all one's failings you can still cut yourself some slack? That I should, after a realistic self-appraisal, conclude I am worth getting to know better? Dare I risk dislocating my shoulder with self-congratulatory pats on the back? Once I have progressed to being a friend to myself, should I - dare I contemplate it - get to know myself more intimately? No doubt there are some among us who have no friends but ourselves, and for all of us, but especially for them, I found there is a 5-step Program to help us all be our own best friends.


Finally, it turns out that with all this Facebooking frenzy, angst, learning and self-doubt, that I have been blessed with the discovery of some new friends I didn't know I had. Thanks are due to all of you who have so far taken up the invitation to be my friend. As I survey the fertile territory of my Friendships I feel all the rich concreteness of your human company, even without Hosni. I hope you feel the same way too.


UPDATE June 19 - Hosni Mubarak reportedly unwell: Hosni Mubarak's 'health crisis'


UPDATE  March 2017 - Mubarak released: Egyptian prosecutor orders release NYT


(Top Image: First Light 20 x 24 acrylic)