My wife and I are sitting at a gray Formica top table in the tiny diner that we always seem to find our way back to, the one with the black-and-white diamond parquet floor, a vague nod to the middle America of the mid-20th century. We already know what’s on the menu, but we listlessly take a cursory glance anyway. The only thing that’s changed over the years is the prices.
I order a salad with oil and vinegar (no croutons) and a baked potato — no butter, no sour cream.
“You want it plain?” the server asks quizzically, uncertain whether she didn’t hear right or whether I’ve lost my mind.
The salad consists of a small pile of lettuce in the center of a glass plate, flanked by two cherry tomatoes and two slices of cucumber. The gold and red shakers that are my salad dressing appear in their little silver holder. We bow our heads and say grace. We are quiet about it and most often no one notices. Occasionally, out of the corner of an eye, we catch someone at a neighboring table gawking or making a whispered remark to his or her dining companion. But we’ve been doing this for years and we’ve long ago ceased to care what anyone thinks.
We each have our iPhones out, swiping and scrolling at our tiny screens in between bites. Watching us seated next to each other but bent over our phones, seemingly transfixed by the characters and images, people often get the wrong impression. They don’t understand what they are seeing any more than they understand what they are hearing when we pray over our food. We are not holy rollers, but we do worship God, and not the god of technology either. We are not using our phones to avoid talking with one another, nor are we using them to text each other about the garish outfit of the woman sitting alone near the door or about the bratty kid misbehaving at the next table. Quite the contrary, our phones have become the source of subject matter that has made for some of our most interesting conversations. The medium of choice? Facebook.
My wife has an account on Facebook; I do not. I was once on Facebook for a spell, before backing away about four years ago. For a little while, I had been thrilled with the prospect of keeping in touch with former coworkers, former subordinates, college acquaintances whom I hadn’t spoken to or thought about in 30 years, and all those “people you might know” — mostly members of churches that my wife attended as a teenager. My initial enthusiasm waned as I became increasingly disappointed with everyone I knew on Facebook, most especially myself. I find it convenient to say that what finalized the divorce between me and Facebook were the profanity-ridden, hateful comments posted by my nieces and nephews. I like to say that I was tired of feeling as if I were back in junior high, a voyeur to an endless stream of bickering and vitriol. But I know better. That wasn’t it. It was me! I could no longer tolerate the way I had begun to treat Facebook as a talisman, the first thing I did when I opened my eyes in the morning and the last thing I did before going to bed at night. I was so embarrassed with the way that I had allowed myself to be sucked into entirely too many games on Facebook. And I became disenchanted with the superficial quality of my online relationship with people whom I barely knew, and in some cases, never knew.
These days, I take every opportunity to point out the downside of Facebook. My wife says that my antipathy toward Facebook is no different than my promotion of vegetarianism; in both cases, I act as if I am better than everyone else. She’s right, of course. I do tend to harbor a rather smug attitude. But I also believe that it is everyone’s right to pick his or her poison. Although I no longer waste my time on Facebook, I now waste it on other things (like what I’m doing right now, for instance).
In spite of the above, I am pleased to relate that my wife and I have found a use for Facebook that we can both agree on. And it is this in which we were engaged at the little table in the diner as we munched our dinners.
First, my wife opened her Facebook feed and passed me her phone so I could read about what’s going on with several members of our family. This led to discussions about nieces and nephews, our little grandniece and upcoming plans.
Then she flipped to a screen on which she showed me a photo of a little old lady at a sewing machine, explaining her devotion to the charitable organization Little Dresses for Africa. This is a woman who spends her time making one dress per day for penniless African children. She hopes to reach a total of 1,000 dresses by the date of her upcoming 100th birthday.
But not all the stories that my wife shares with me from Facebook are so encouraging. Next, she showed me the photo of a grisly auto wreck in our former hometown of Fresno. Apparently, a woman strung out on meth had stolen a car and ran a red light, crashing into three vehicles. 26-year old Matthew Harkenrider was killed on his way to work as a radiology technician at a local hospital. He had recently graduated and purchased a house; his wife had announced her pregnancy that very day. Then my wife showed me the Go Fund Me campaign taken up for the man’s widow, an effort that has already raised thousands of dollars.
Whether inspiring or tragic, family-related or world news, my wife has probably read about it on Facebook. And she shares it with me on her iPhone over a meal at a little diner, often leading to some of our deepest conversations.
And that tells me that there is indeed still something good about Facebook.