My mother is what marketing people would call an ‘early adopter’. She practiced New Age philosophy back when it was, well, new — way before it went mainstream and got muddled in commercialism, when people thought that talking to plants (yes, she did this) was crazy and doing yoga headstands (she did this too) was crazier. She subscribed to fitness programs and regularly went to the gym at a time when there were hardly any gyms in Manila, when people thought that going to the gym only meant having to compete in a professional bodybuilding competition. She used a mobile phone before everyone else did, back when they were about as handy as a personal refrigerator.
I then knew it was only a matter of time before my mother eventually caught on to one of the most definitive inventions of this generation — Facebook.
Now with my mother on it, Facebook to me has become the modern day version of her picking me up from school — a public display of kinship, which feels nice deep inside but scores a little low on the “coolness” factor. And there’s the rub.
My Facebook wall is now populated with random posts from my mother. She “likes” every photo I post, adding comments that only a mother would say, “Paolo, you’re such a good photographer! What an artist you truly are!”
Any self-respecting son would’ve probably buried himself alive.
She doesn’t hesitate to write comments that one would otherwise keep private. “Paolo, make sure to drink your vitamins,” she constantly reminds me, usually written under photos that have nothing to do with vitamins. “Paolo, I hope you got the Jamaican meat patties I sent you. Make sure to use an oven toaster to heat them up,” she once instructed.
I’ve managed to be expatriated all the way to Kuala Lumpur, living on my own for several years now, and yet she publicly displays her doubt in my ability to properly heat up a meat patty.
She comments on just about every post there is, sometimes even initiating full-blown conversations below other people’s posts on totally unrelated topics.“
Paolo, where are you? I hope you’re not out scuba diving in Indonesia. I heard there was an earthquake there. Stay away from the beaches! There might be a tsunami!”
My mother utilizes every possible posting tool there is on Facebook to get her messages across.
I recently explained to her the public concept of Facebook and the option of using the private message function, half worried that she might one day upload scanned baby photos of me. But this seems to have encouraged her even more because she’s now taken up the habit of captioning stock photos from random Facebook fan pages, which include images of cats wearing hats, dogs driving cars, and people acting like animals. Just the other day, she posted a photo of a turkey eating its own leg for Thanksgiving. Ten people liked it. She then posted a photo of a bulldog doing a split. Twelve people liked it—and some of them were my own friends. She posted a photo of a building with no access to its balcony — an apparent architectural blunder —and jokingly captioned it with, “Building for sale with balcony. Panoramic view of the street.” To which my aunt gullibly replied, “How much are they selling it?”
Coming from a family that’s always been somewhat involved in each other’s lives, I’ve welcomed this parental invasion of my social networking landscape more openly than some of my peers, who are more inclined to using Facebook like some beer keg party where parents (including aunts and uncles) are strictly not allowed. It’s always been the other way around for my siblings and me, who are used to having our parents part of our social circles. We grew up used to hosting parties where our parents socialized with our friends, most of whom are often amazed at how cool and funny they are.
This is probably why blocking my own mother on Facebook has never been an option for me. I’m simply used to her sort of making her strong, extroverted, larger-than-life presence felt in different areas of my life, most of which entails a public spectacle of just how crazy she truly is. Facebook has now become an online extension of this. And in many ways, because of her antics—online and offline—my friends have come to understand why I am, perhaps, just as crazy.
So how does one use Facebook in the age of virtual parents?
I say you simply let them in your social networking life as you would in person, perhaps even more — especially in my case where virtual nagging substitutes for in-person nagging. I’ll take that any time over nothing. Never mind that everyone now knows about my back problems, “Paolo, don’t forget to stretch your back and do your yoga poses!” Or my eye problems, “Paolo, make sure to rest your eyes! You’re in front of the computer all the time!”
Yes, my mother, the early adopter, has settled quite comfortably in this virtual world. Guess who’ll be the first one to “share” this essay?