Thoughts on socializing and exclusivity in the days of social media

Guestpost by on Jan. 9th

Thanks to CaliAnn for uploading this to the Flickr Pool.

Nate and I had an engagement party on Sunday. It went really well and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun. Now pictures and posts are starting to trickle onto Facebook and Google+ — and I'm watching with a combination of trepidation and interest.

The use of social media in modern-day event planning and celebrating is a relatively unexplored territory, short of making events and inviting people to them, marking them private or public, and waiting for the RSVPs to come in. Most of my friends keep their more formal, more intimate, or more serious gatherings off Facebook entirely; it seems to be the province of housewarmings, open birthday parties, drunken meet-ups, and house parties. Wedding invitations, funerals, bar and bat mitzvot, anniversary parties — all of these seem to be too formal for an event on Facebook, at least in my social group.

However, the post-party roundup seems to go un-addressed in a lot of modern etiquette discussions. Putting an album of pictures up on Facebook where friends who weren't invited to the party can see them? Deciding whether to post a status thanking your biggest helpers and supporters so they can get some community love? Handling how to address the people who were invited but didn't RSVP, or the people who weren't invited who feel like they should have been? None of these things are handled in advice columns.

I didn't think about how our guests would treat our party online. Pictures have been posted, people have been tagged, comments have been left, and there seems to be a small, but healthy, amount of chatter about the weekend's events (specifically around all the pretty henna which arose from it!). I certainly don't mind any of the sharing that's going on, but it's funny, in hindsight, to have thought that I could keep this party on the down-low to keep from ruffling any feathers.

We have to own that we're more complicated than friend requests and status updates and allow ourselves not to be ashamed of being exclusive, as long as our exclusivity isn't mean-spirited.

It's also funny to examine my own feelings as I watch the posts go live. I keep waiting to feel some kind of guilt or embarrassment about folks who weren't invited to the party seeing the pictures and such, but so far it hasn't happened. I look at the pictures from the party and realize that with a couple of exceptions, we've known every person in those pictures for more than two years — many of them have been friends with one or both of us longer than we've been together as a couple. Every single one of them will be invited to our wedding. We didn't invite all the people we're going to invite to our wedding, but doubtless we could double or triple the prospective wedding guest list and still have people left out who could be hurt by their exclusion.

We're blessed with a huge and diverse community of interesting, generous, kind people. The flip side of that blessing is that it can be hard to impose limitations on who comes to what event. Drawing the lines between acquaintances, friends, close friends, and family feels so judgmental, but is a requirement, not just logistically, but emotionally.

This is one of those things that social media (especially Facebook) handles so poorly — the idea that friends are friends are friends, with no variation, no hierarchy. It encourages a sense of discriminating or of being discriminated against, rather than an acceptance of what should be a completely normal fact — that we segregate our social groups into layers of intimacy every time we call someone up to chat, we accept an invitation to lunch or a party, we look at the instant message floating on our screen and decide to ignore it. Social media just makes that segregation more public.

In the age of online communication and digital relationships, we have to fight against social media's drive to simplify our relationships into something computers can understand. We have to own that we're more complicated than friend requests and status updates and allow ourselves not to be ashamed of being exclusive, as long as our exclusivity isn't mean-spirited. We have to remember that making a judgment call is not the same thing as being judgmental.

So, how am I dealing with the posts by other people on Facebook et al? I'm not, really. I'm not explaining, statusing, worrying, excusing, or wringing my hands. I'm certainly not apologizing. If anyone wants to bring it up with me, they're welcome to, and I'm happy to explain our choices. But I'm not going to lie to anyone about why we made those choices, least of all myself.

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I'm a twenty-something technical writer, Wiccan, maker of kickass mojitos, and chronic fencer in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I'm a big fan of my pets, my fiance, saying "my fiance" because until recently it was "my boyfriend" and the novelty is just delightful, cooking, sewing, DIY, my CSA subscription, and snark.