Woodstock, NY, Writer Martha Frankel Learns to Take Facebook “Friends” at Face Value

Face(book) value: Online friends come through in a crisis — and beyond



Last night my husband Steve and I were sitting at Joshua’s Café in Woodstock, having a scrumptious dinner, when a man across the room started waving. We smiled back, and, without moving our lips, asked each other, “Who’s that?”

I shrugged at Steve. He shrugged back. The guy took that as encouragement and came bounding over. “How are you?” he asked Steve earnestly, grabbing his hand and pumping it up and down. Steve’s smile was frozen. “Fine,” he answered. 

The guy winked down at us. “That’s great. I was so worried.” He looked over to see what Steve was eating. “Good, good,” he nodded. “Nothing too fatty.” With that he bent down, kissed my cheek, gave Steve’s shoulder a hard squeeze, and went back to his table.

Steve gave me “the look.” A private guy, he’s getting used to it: strangers who stop us at the supermarket and look through our cart. Strangers who wave to us at concerts and offer us herbal remedies. Strangers who run up to give us the business cards of doctors and holistic healers.
I have always been social, but I used to need other people to be social with. And then, ta-da — Facebook! When I first joined, I friended my family, close friends, and 300 Pulitzer Prize winners, because I thought it would be such a hoot to be surrounded by such talent. The snarkier I was, the more people friended me. If I cursed, people from Europe would flock to my page. If I was my usual snotty self, I’d get dozens of friend requests. My list just grew and grew.

Now I’ve come close to Facebook’s limit of almost 5,000 friends, so sometimes I scroll through my list and delete everyone who speaks Swedish. Or people who adore cats. I have to be choosy.

And while I often say that I know these friends aren’t real, I found out last November that in lots of ways, they are.
Steve had been complaining of stomach pains, but when he couldn’t stand up I took him to the emergency room. The first Facebook status update said simply, Uh-oh. At hospital.

Not 20 seconds later my friend Tory called. “Lauren Skyped me. What’s going on?” Lauren is Tory’s daughter-in-law. She lives in South Africa. South Africa! I marveled.

A doctor was assessing Steve, although they had already made the decision to keep him at the hospital. Second status update: Oh boy, they’re gonna have to tie Steve to the bed to keep him here...

Friends started e-mailing, asking what I needed. At that point I needed a gun to shoot Steve so he would stay put. But the doctors had a better idea: They pumped him full of morphine.

I had nothing to do but update my status. Steve snoring so loud the nurses can’t stop laughing. Thank heavens he doesn’t have a roommate. Please don’t come visit, he’s sick, and not entertaining. I was starting to have fun.

Eventually they did wheel in a roommate. The guy was in agony — he had nearly cut his arm off with a chain saw. There were all kinds of people milling around the room, first yelling, then screaming. Doctors came and went. It was mayhem. I noted all the comings and goings on Facebook. By the next day, hundreds of people were asking after the roommate.

Finally, they diagnosed Steve with pancreatitis. I had never heard of it, so I wrote on Facebook: Pancreatitis: please tell me what you know!
And boy, did people tell me. They wrote to say that Steve should be on a sugar-water diet for a few weeks; that he needed to start eating solid food right away; that he should become gluten-free. None of which mattered, because he was asleep most of the time and they weren’t feeding him at all.

As he slept, I chatted with my “friends.” And those hours in the hospital felt a little less lonely. It was good to know that 4,856 people were checking in on me.

» Read more by Martha Frankel