"As an author, you have to join MySpace and Facebook," my agent told me. "It's like free advertising and you'd be stupid not to."
Well, since I have no desire to be stupid, I created profiles on both sites.
The MySpace profile was strictly business: a chirpy, slightly dorky page of book reviews and a slew of librarians as Friends.
But I quickly learned that Facebook is a different beast altogether. To my surprise, I found that many of my contemporaries see it as a legitimate, non-dorky mode of socializing. Many of them take it seriously as hell, using it as an ongoing boarding-school or college reunion.
I mean, they're really into it.
Many of these extremely busy professional adults -- who profess to be too busy to read a book or spend Q.T. with S.O.s or respond to wedding RSVPs -- find the time to swell their profile pages with updates on their whereabouts, moods, and desires. Oodles of languorous, heavenly time to take quizzes about which B-list celeb they most resemble. Gaggles of time to scroll through their Friends' Friends and randomly contact people with whom they've had no contact in decades.
As a New Yorker, I'm sort of wired to be repelled by the notion of this uber-connectivity. After all, cynical New Yorkers are supposed to be fortressed islands within an island. So the notion of being rendered suddenly accessible is sort of a queasy one.
Indeed, all sorts of weird messages from weird people from my very peripheral past kept cropping up in my Facebook inbox, including one particularly slithering one:
"So, how are you, and who are you these days?"
Not exactly a question that we want to answer to anyone, frankly, much less a creep from one's college days.
I'll admit that Facebook does have its usefulness and its endearing qualities. I've lived in a lot of far-flung places, and the site has funneled some seminal, beloved people back into my life. I've justified my Facebook presence by reasoning that it's just an adjunct address book -- which can only be a good thing for someone who manages to erase her computer's hard-drive with astonishing regularity.
Plus, it would be hard to give up my Facebook profile now that I've discovered the application that does Tarot readings online.
But as the nearly-every-day blasts-from-the-past keep coming in, I'm beginning to get an truly uneasy feeling from the whole operation.
Like I'm starring in an ongoing episode of "This is Your Life."
As people from completely different chapters of my life crowd onto my Friends page, it's starting to feel like, well ... a huge wedding guest list. And everyone knows that a wedding can be one of the most socially awkward experiences on the planet. Your boss in the same room as your high-school rave buddies as your dreary Aunt Mildred and so on.
But the truly sticky issue is when you encounter virtual versions of people from your past with whom there was no graceful parting. Friends whom you shed, sometimes cruelly; friends who shed you with equal cruelty. The boyfriend or girlfriend who broke your heart; the ex-colleague you secretly hated.
All of these people gurgle up, en masse, into your present in an entirely unnatural way. You can run from your past, but you can't hide from it anymore.
Sometimes it's even unpleasant to have an amicable figure from your past resurface, only to discover that you have nothing left in common. Or that he or she has become disappointingly boring ... or disappointed in general. Talk about demoralizing.
The question becomes: sometimes isn't it better just to let sleeping dogs lie?
After all, there's a certain beauty in simply not knowing.
Not knowing that your old roommate is now in a dull middle management position at a bank, but remembering her as a wild young rebel. Not knowing who your ex married or that he married at all, but just remembering your trip together to Venice. Not keeping track for the sake of keeping track, or out of low-grade curiosity.
My generation isn't exactly one that prizes or even expects privacy. Similarly, this sort of literary mystery seems also to be an undervalued entity. Our pasts are becoming conveniently spread-sheeted, in lieu of photo albums or journals or memories. And we're increasingly -- willingly, happily -- forfeiting the luxury of anonymity.
After all, Facebook is being used as a template for information gathering by intelligence agencies (except their version of spyware is call 'A-Space', innocuously enough).
So we're vulnerable to ex-paramours and nosy authorities and un-envisioned predators alike. And do we care?
No, we don't. Because we like playing "Scrabulous" on our lunch hours too much.
Consider this: it might actually be nice for us to leave room for some spontaneous encounters. It might be nice to run into an old friend on the street and not automatically know that yesterday he was in London, has 2.5 children, and was craving marshmallows last night.
As a like-minded friend commented to me yesterday, "Life edits itself for a reason."