By Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg
The 24-hour news cycle doesn’t refer just to CNN and Fox News. It means that thanks to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, we are constantly informed about the breaking news in the lives of our many online acquaintances.
Social media is how we know that a college friend’s daughter is expecting her first child. What we don’t know is what we’re supposed to do about it. We haven’t seen our college friend, now Facebook friend, in 20 years. Now that we know her good news, is “liking” her post with a heart a good enough response?
In the old days, we’d get such news from a phone call, a birth announcement or an invitation to the bridal shower that came in the mail. That would tell us that we were in the inner circle. And because we were raised right, we’d send a greeting card with a personal note, buy a gift or make a return phone call to offer our congratulations.
When a work friend whom we see regularly told us that her daughter had a baby, we sent the new mother a hand-knit baby sweater. We were impressed to receive an old-school paper thank you note two weeks later. The sleep-deprived young woman had taken time to handwrite a note, look up our address, buy a stamp and walk to the mailbox.
This moved her to the top of our list of people who have manners and class. We always send snail-mail thank you notes, and we taught our children to do the same. So you understand that we’re perplexed by this new world of social announcements on social media — and the pictures that go with them.
Young couples hire photographers to document every moment of their marriage proposal, and when she says yes to the ring, they post their professional pictures on Instagram.
Back in the day, we just ran to the phone to share the news with our family and waved our ring finger around. We didn’t have a camera with us, so by today’s standards we have no proof that it actually happened.
Maybe that’s why so many people now announce their child’s impending birth with a naked pregnant belly photo on Instagram. News flash: What works for Beyonce doesn’t work for most people. We remember wearing loose maternity dresses that looked like tents. If we took a picture of our huge eight-month belly, it would stay buried in a pack of photos.
When we were growing up, our families guarded their privacy. Parents kept quiet about divorces, illnesses and why Uncle Mike didn’t drive a Cadillac anymore. They told the grown-ups who needed to know; everyone else was out of the loop.
These days, so many people live their lives online, sharing every detail with anyone who is their “friend.” When we read our newsfeed, we learn that so-and-so is having a hernia operation, our next-door neighbor is looking for a good gynecologist, and Michelle is hoping to connect with a “new opportunity in nursing.”
With daily updates and apps that prompt us to share “What’s on your mind?” it’s harder to be private, even when it comes to death. Before Facebook, we wouldn’t know about an acquaintance’s mother’s death, unless we read the obituaries. Now, we’ll definitely know because we see it on Facebook.
In the old days, if you were close, the sad news warranted a phone call, even if it was in the middle of the night. It meant you were considered an important part of their lives. You would go to the funeral or, at the least, deliver food or send flowers.
The expectations were clear. But now, when we read the news on Facebook, we’re in limbo. What, if anything, is expected of us? An appearance? A handwritten note? A donation? What would Dear Abby tell us to do?
And what would she say about birthdays? When we sign onto Facebook and see that 80 people wished our friend a happy birthday yesterday but we neglected to, should we post a belated wish and stand out as the clueless friend who is a day late or just let it go?
If we were good friends and paying attention, we could have sent an e-card that plays a tune with a dancing teddy bear. We could have sent chocolate-covered strawberries from an online candy store. We could have even bought a paper birthday card and mailed it.
But we didn’t do any of that. Thanks, Facebook. Now we’re just feeling guilty.
Local residents Ellen Scolnic and Joyce Eisenberg, The Word Mavens, are the authors of the “Dictionary of Jewish Words” and “The Whole Spiel: Funny essays about digital nudniks, seder selfies and chicken soup memories.” Connect with them at www.thewordmavens.com.