My father died two months ago and I am still coming to terms with his passing. There were many personal issues for me which were separate from those of my siblings, and I realise I have to deal with these in my own way and in my own time. The pain of these thoughts and processes are present with me each moment. Although I am trying to get back to work, immersing myself in new projects and also practising mindfulness, the sad thoughts still manage to infiltrate and I am forced to acknowledge the rawness of that pain.
But what has equally been painful and saddening has been to find out how many ‘false friends’ I had on social media. Now don’t get me wrong. I have consciously had under 85 friends on Facebook, rooting out people who didn’t seem to respond to my posts, whose posts I didn’t relate to, and who knew me for less than five years. I thought I could manage to take in the stories and posts of these 85 people and posted thoughtful and relevant comments on their posts. I have friends from all over the world and it is easy to keep in touch via Facebook this way. I thought I had the perfect system not to get drawn into the dangers of Facebook with my more or less perfect set of friends. I also chose not to show my birthday, and instead people who remembered would automatically wish me. This happened and I was reassured. I was also careful not to post many photos of my father who was deteriorating in health and of other family members who might be sensitive to the exposure.
However, when my father died, for the first time I posted a photo of me and him together as a cover photo along with a very short tribute poem for him, and his birth and death dates. I didn’t want to announce, ‘My father is dead’- I felt this was a much better and personal way. That cover photo got 34 ‘responses’ with 24 ‘likes’, three ‘sad’ and 10 ‘loves’ and 18 comments. I did not post that photo to get ‘likes’ or ‘loves’- it was my way to inform my ‘friends’ some of whom who had met my father. What I wanted was some show of genuine love and support for me, even some words of condolences to acknowledge the passing of my father, who was also a very brave man who had helped many. But I realised that people had only looked at the photo, did not bother to read the poem and clicked on ‘like’ buttons- out of the 34, only 12 had read the poem and realised its significance. They wrote their condolences and I thanked them- this should have alerted the non-responsive ones but none came forth. They’d done their like and that was the end of the interaction for them. I felt sad that for someone who had helped so many, how few remembered his passing. I’m ‘friends’ with one person and her mother on Facebook. When they both wished me happy birthday last month, I wrote a private message to them to say that my father had died (giving them the benefit of doubt in case they hadn’t noticed). The mother wrote back to say how sorry she was and said that her daughter was too busy to write to me. Too busy to write eight words, “I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing” ?! And I had thought these were my genuine friends.
In Japan and many other Buddhist countries, people do not celebrate anything for a year after the passing of a close relative. As Buddhist, I have decided to have a ‘Facebook fast’ for a year. I have deleted my twitter accounts. I have posted couple of times on Instagram, photos of the sky which my father used to love as way of remembering him. I use Linkedin as it is for work and have posted a few things only recently. Now having had the realisation about how false this sense of friendship on Facebook and social media is, I realise why I am not getting any ‘likes’ and not even my so called friends asking me why I haven’t posted for so long. So I am not just mourning the death of my father but also of friendships and kicking myself for not realising how shallow social media is, no matter how careful you try to be. I have started talking to people in a more genuine way, listening respectfully and carefully to them. Who knows I might get some genuine friends now?