As a youth whose part of the Millennial generation, I went into Friend. Follow. Text. having a genuine personal interest and excitement due to growing up with the computer and internet. I wondered what unique perspective these creative essays could take on social media and relationships I have not heard already or experienced myself; I own up to going on Facebook and Twitter every day and checking my email at least ten times. An introduction starts off the book to put the idea out there the web has become more for society than just using browsers and instant messaging programs like it used to.
Editor Shawn Syms claims social media has brought inspiring new ways for writing fiction in the terms of content and form, allowing more innovative possibilities. The intro recognizes the important point of social media as a mask for all types of behavior that normally are kept in private situations. My head shook yes as I agreed with these claims, and anticipation built to start reading, but awhile after diving in I was not becoming hooked on the words.
The first piece revolves around two Facebook friends; one cannot stand the other based on their overly detailed posts and daily deep quotes. We all know how that goes don’t we? After the narrator describes some that really get under his skin and the thrill he would get from unfriending him, he finally does it, and then the story ends. “Is that really it?” I asked myself. Unfortunately I asked myself that question after many of the essays where the story seemed to drop off, or as if the ending was plopped in.
Stories do not need to be wrapped up with a perfect bow at the end, but some left the impression of being randomly thrown in because the story had nowhere else to go. This is not to say each piece did not contain some intriguing information, but what left me dissatisfied at times was missing developments to make me as a reader care and connect. I wanted to be convinced in each story that social media was the reason behind the differences of the relationships, the complications, and to show in some way how communication is not what it used to be.
I understand the challenge of writing impactful short essays and ten pages is not always necessary to get the desired point across, but then the development of what is there should be even more impactful due to brevity. A few of the essays successfully evoked sincere reactions out of me, but concluded with endings unexpectedly leaving me scratching my head in confusion rather than awe and deep thought.
“A Series of Tubes” by Dorianne Emmerton was one piece actually causing my mouth to drop, as the main character Marika, an internet troll, finds herself connected with a seductive and mysterious character through a message board. Containing multiple twists in the plot, Marika’s character is assaulted, but the story is closed by a few irrelevant sentences distracting from the unbelievable scene that just unraveled. I became caught on the ending and not the point of the story.
“Three Tuesdays from Now” by Shawn Syms was an essay really pulling off an experimental form. It was untraditional as the story worked backwards, dropping the bomb on the reader in the beginning, although it is not realized until the ending is reached. The story is funny, yet haunting as it proves how frivolous and carefree behavior can lead to a life threatening fate.
The essays that took a more experimental route with form seemed to have the most success in their storytelling. Perhaps this is because social media and the internet have completely changed traditions and brought about many new ways of having relationships, it only makes sense to tackle these topics from a non-typical narrative angle. Today, many times while out in public we see people spending time with each other in person, yet they will have their electronic devices attached their hands, eyes glued to the screen, not communicating with their companion(s). It raises the question if we even enjoy physical contact with people anymore, or if we would just rather communicate digitally.
“So Much Fun” by Megan Stielstra was a gem in this collection, excellently capturing how people use their social media profiles to project the lives they want others to think they have. Instagram has become a widely used social media platform, and Stielstra describes the images that are posted, not posted, and taken but then deleted within a circle of girlfriends. Whether it is consciously or subconsciously done, everyone chooses specific images they want to share, and this story gives a behind-the-scenes look at the photos that are taken but not shared, and it gets the reader thinking that maybe our social media profiles are in some way a lie. If not a lie than certainly a cover-up of the not-so-fun aspects of life, or a façade of the life we want people to think we have.
Although social media helps us portray the positivity in our lives, it has become a new way we handle the negative aspects: a new form of confrontation, a platform for us to straightforwardly have heart-to-hearts that we are too nervous to share in person, and a way to brush them off just as easily. Angelique Stevens showcases this in “Spiral” with text messages between character Angie and her siblings discussing her sister Gina’s downfall into drugs and alcohol.
Gina tries to reach Angie multiple times through the phone, but gets passively dismissed in text messages. Angie deals with her own weakness of jumping around to random men, and the pace of the story reads quickly while the characters dig themselves deeper into trouble. The pace was in-sync with the content making the message more impactful how cell phones have allowed us to turn should-be serious conversations into impersonal ones and take away attention from issues most in need.
Despite my dissatisfaction with the way parts of Friend. Follow. Text. unraveled and jarring endings, I respected and enjoyed the inventive forms to share experiences a majority of people relate to today and the mixture of fiction and nonfiction. Some of the essays hit a nostalgic spot for me, reminding me of the dial-up days and games like Snood; others introduced me into a realm of the net I never go, such as pregnancy message boards. For those of us that use social media all the time and those who would rather stay away, there is at least one piece to strike anyone’s chord.