Okay, I’m going out on a limb here.
I’m a middle-aged mom and I love Facebook. And no, I’m not playing games like Farmville, Kingdoms of Camelot or Mafia Wars. I love it for networking. So when Saturday Night Live recently aired a fake ad for the “Damn It! My Mom’s on Facebook Filter,” I thought it was a hoot. Until my 23-year-old son Jonathan cornered me.
“You’re all over Facebook,” he said. “You’ve been clicking ‘Like’ on too many things lately.”
“It’s not O.K. to ‘Like’ things?” I asked. The “Like” button is a “thumbs up” feature that lets you say that, well, you like what someone posted.
“It’s O.K. sometimes, but not for so many things. You don’t have to Like it every time I breathe.”
I was confused. “You can see everything I Like?”
“Yeah, of course I can, it’s all over Facebook.”
“You mean if I say I like the picture of Monty Python you posted, it comes through on your News Feed?” I asked.
“And that bothers you?” I was still confused. “What difference does it make to you if I click “Like” on things that I like?”
“When it’s my stuff you’re clicking, all my friends can see it.”
“They can see everything I Like?”
I know I click Like a lot, but how would his friends know? I’m not Facebook friends with them.
“Yeah, if you Like stuff on my Wall, they do see it.”
“So it’s just your posts that I’m not supposed to Like?”
Oh. I thought I was the cool mom because I tweet. I’m ‘LinkedIn.’ Here I’d been cruising the information superhighway feeling like a Formula One driver, and now my kid was telling me I’m in the breakdown lane. I did a mental count. I’ve Liked exactly six items he’s posted.
“You can Like some stuff, but not everything,” he said. “Like, it’s O.K. if you want to Like that I tell people to wear purple to show support as a straight ally of National Coming Out Day.”
“So it’s a judgment call. Well, I Liked your Dancing Parrot video.”
“It’s slippery,” he allowed. “Like when I posted that I got a job, that was O.K. to Like.”
“What about Liking the pictures of your girlfriend Gianna’s kittens?”
“Dubious. That’s gray area. The boundaries are fluid. Don’t cross any boundaries.”
I didn’t realize I had. I thought I was being supportive. I like keeping in touch this way; it’s a window into his world, especially because boys don’t tend to open up easily to their moms. It’s hard to know what those boundaries are today; we’re living in a culture of over-sharing. Should we be interacting online? How much? I enjoy using social media tools; it makes me feel hip, at a point in life where I’m worrying about feeling old, left behind and irrelevant. I hope I haven’t embarrassed him. But Jonathan frequently posts my articles on his Facebook wall. Recently he surprised me by creating a Writer Fan Page about me on Facebook.
“So when you posted that photo of the guy holding the sign saying “Sasquatch is Real,” it wasn’t O.K. to Like that?” I asked.
“Well, yeah,” he conceded. “That was a good photo. But you need to stop Liking everything.”
“You know, you friended me, not the other way around,” I felt compelled to point out. But I was laughing. “Jonnie, I love you,” I said.
“Yeah, me too,” he said.
“O.K., let me be sure I’ve got this,” I said. “If someone posts, ‘Save the Whales,’ is it okay to Like that?”
“Mom,”he said, surprisingly patient, “I love that you love whales. Just don’t love my whales.”
I nodded. “Got it,” I said, even though I didn’t entirely. I resolved to leave his whales alone.
“This would make a good essay,” my husband said.
Jonathan rolled his eyes. “Mom can write her own essays just fine, Dad,” he said.
I Liked that.
— Originally published in the Chicago Tribune.