The photo above was uploaded to Facebook by my friend Lucas. Here I use friend very loosely.* I haven’t seen Lucas since high school, when he was a year behind me. While we were friendly acquaintances, we never really hung out, and we certainly haven’t kept in touch since then. We became friends on Facebook sometime last year, presumably due to the “people you may know” feature. Lucas is a person I might know, had we not both left our hometown essentially for good at the end of high school. As it is, he is someone I know not at all, except I knew immediately when his wife went into labor and that he lives in LA and where he goes to lunch pretty much every day.
Lucas is an active user of social media. He was an early adopter of Foursquare, so that for a couple of weeks my Facebook feed included daily notifications that he had arrived at work. He also checked in routinely wherever he went to lunch, and these news items generally included a brief review. Sometimes, there would be photographs of his entrées. He was remarkably assiduous in his documentation; even if he was just having a burrito, that burrito would appear on the internet. In this way, my understanding of Lucas—which was for the most part frozen in high school—became alloyed with A) an enormous amount of information I could not possibly care about, and B) the evident certainty that he likes social media.
Basically, I took my mental image of 16 year-old Lucas and added a cell phone. Here he abides, in my mind, and that is the person I picture producing the myriad updates that drift down my Facebook feed each day. Then, last week, he posted the photo above. I assume the woman pictured is his wife, and I know from the caption that they are at a place called Aroma Restaurant. In my opinion, it is the caption—”NEW FAVORITE RESTAURANT SO GOOD”—that really makes it.
Mrs. Lucas does not look to be having an all-caps good time at their new favorite restaurant. She looks like she has been cajoled once again into having her picture taken. In deliberately—some might say obstinately—looking away from the camera, she assumes an attitude of contemplation, as if she were considering the scope of her whole life and what brought her to this moment. That’s overselling it; at most she is probably considering why her husband uses his smartphone so much. It is a compelling look, because those two attitudes together capture how I relate to this photograph, too.
It is stupid and hypocritical for me to have an opinion about Lucas’s Facebook activity. I was the one who accepted his friend request, after all, and as soon as I discovered that our friendship would consist mostly of decontextualized pictures of LA Greek fusion cafes, I was the one with the power to mute him. More importantly, Lucas has a whole life to which his Facebook output is an auxiliary, like the closed captions on the local news. That’s his wife whom he loves looking bored in that picture. Last year, when Facebook showed me a cell phone photo of an extremely gross baby, that was his newborn daughter. I know that rationally, but on a visceral level Lucas is a person who lives inside my computer and offers me pictures of random stuff.
Were Lucas a person I ran into three times a day who invariably took those opportunities to tell me everywhere he had gone and everything he had eaten in the last eight hours, I would have an opinion about him. I would regard his behavior as an amusing quirk and probably sympathize with the exasperation of his wife, who loved him despite his flaws in an amplified version of how I felt about him. As it is, though, I get only the quirk without the person to anchor it.
My concept of Lucas is entirely based on what is probably a minor aspect of his personality. His wife’s expression in this photo—which appears to be a reaction to this minor aspect—is therefore hilarious to me. Mrs. Lucas feels exactly the same way about Social Media Lucas as I do. That is a dangerous kind of hilarity, though, because Mrs. Lucas does not feel anywhere near the same about Actual Lucas as I. Actual Lucas is a real dude whose attitude toward the woman pictured is CONTINUED FAVORITE PERSON SO GOOD, and I do not know either of them. They are ideas to me, and ideas are a species of object. And that is troubling.