IN THEIR RECENT INTRODUCTION OF VIDEO CHAT, Facebook developers are barking up the wrong technology. They seem to be operating on the assumption that I want to chat with people. What they don’t realize is that Facebook, contrary to its name, is actually about avoiding people.

The whole point of Facebook is that we don’t have to talk to anyone. An awkward guy and his awkward friend created this interface so they could stare at people without having to speak to them. Of my 592 Facebook friends, only three have my phone number. I don’t know what I’d say if that girl from high school whose last name I don’t remember wanted to video chat. We used to have a lot of fun drawing cartoons in Miss Leister’s class, and we shared a mutual distaste for high school chemistry, but I doubt we have anything in common now. Using brief status updates and the ‘like’ button, I can collect and share basic facts with hazy apparitions from my past while avoiding time-consuming formalities such as, “How are you?” and “How many kids have you popped out?” and “Is your brother still robbing mini-marts?”

And what about those people whose status updates I’ve hidden because they drive me crazy? I’m guessing their chats would consist entirely of sharing news links, discussing Farmville, and reciting cut-out lines like, “If you appreciate your husband, copy and paste this as your status.” I imagine these people are as one-dimensional as their one-liners: “I have so much mucous in my nose today,” or, “I totally hate traffic jams!” A video chat with one of them might be short, but it will definitely be awkward.

Chatting on command is annoying enough. But video chatting? Hang on, I have to put on a bra so I don’t get in trouble for indecent Facebook content, change my stained shirt, brush my hair, and dab some cover-up on those dark circles under my eyes. Geez. I might as well leave the house if I have to do the full grooming it requires for people to see me.

The developers brag that while you video chat, you can multi-task and use other Facebook features simultaneously. Personally, I don’t want people to know what else I’m doing while I peruse Facebook. I eat potato chips, get out of my seat every thirty seconds, yell at the cat, and roll my eyes at things I’m reading. I also slouch, a habit I’ve worked hard at keeping out of the public eye. Even more unattractive is the sumo ponytail I pull on to the top of my head when I’m at my desk.

I suppose Facebook video chat is geared toward a younger generation, those whose eyes aren’t puffy in the morning and who like to call their best friends to discuss what outfit to wear to the mall. If Facebook really wanted to be useful to my generation, video chat would have an integrated auto-makeover so the image projected to friends smoothed wrinkles and shed pounds.

Or better yet, instead of video chat, Facebook could develop a multi-tasking feature that cleans my house, mows the lawn, and picks up the dog poop. That would buy me more time to sit on my butt in front of the computer, eating junk food and stealthily reading the banal status updates of the awkward people I haven’t seen in twenty years.

-Amelia Sauter


happily ever after

The 93-year-old cat likes picture books, too, especially those that help her confront her inevitable death.


I don’t mean that I’m illiterate. (To be politically correct, I should say alphabet cohesion impaired.) Rather, I’m incapable of picking up a book or a magazine and reading it cover-to-cover. Which is not good, since I’m a writer.

My excuse is that I’m a writer of short things. And short things, I read. Call it a limited attention span, or perhaps it’s a deep-seated fear of commitment. I’m not alone; most people crave immediate gratification and quick results, as evidenced by the popularity of texting, Twitter, and Facebook, IMHO. I get my daily news from Facebook, which is highly informative: road closings, birthdays, who died this week, and the elaborate details of how poor Katie Holmes’ career is being sabotaged by the press.

I haven’t bought a newspaper in years. Why would I? Browsing the Internet brings me this-just-in news eight minutes after the story breaks. I bet I knew the Oscar nominees before you did.

Sometimes I even read emails, if they’re not too wordy. I got a sales email recently that began with, “I apologize for sending such a lengthy email, but I’ve got a great offer for you.” Then she blah-blah-blahed for a full page. By the time I was halfway through it, I needed a snack.

So then I got distracted looking up a recipe for cupcakes on Epicurious.com, which led me, as usual, to the cocktail section, and this is where I clicked on some ad for skin cream. This site made me worry about an unsightly rash I’ve got, so I Googled it, discovering that it is either bedbugs, shingles, skin cancer, or an allergic reaction to Katie Holmes.

By the time I finally returned to that email, the offer was expired by a week.

My mom gave us a subscription to National Geographic for Christmas. Leah reads the articles, but I take after my dad, who tends to treat National Geographic like a picture book. The only thing missing in that publication is comics. Nothing like a good one-liner to leave you feeling complete.

When I do decide to read an actual book, I sneak into the adolescent section of the bookstore with dark glasses and my hat pulled low. If I’m caught by someone I know, I pretend I’m buying books for a fictitious niece. (And they pretend they’re buying books for a fictitious nephew.) I’m talking Twilight and Harry Potter. I’m not proud, but it’s an addiction. I admit that I’m powerless over vampires, werewolves and wizards – and my book choices have become unmanageable. Only a power greater than myself can restore my sanity. Dumbledore?

In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air (yes, I do listen to the radio), author Gary Shteyngart said, “Everyone’s a writer. Nobody wants to read, but everybody wants to write.”

No, I haven’t read Gary’s latest book (Super Sad True Love Story) since I avoid books written for grownups. (The book trailer on YouTube is captivating, however.) Gary also referenced a literary magazine contest where all the writers’ submissions had to be accompanied by a receipt for a recent book purchase. I’d be too mortified to enter since my latest acquisition was Breaking Dawn, the fourth novel in the Twilight series. This would not be a good way to get taken seriously as a writer, unless the contest theme is adolescent fantasy vampire chick lit.

At least I do try to read, even if it is stuff for kids. Short sentences, no big vocabulary words to look up, and easy-to-follow plots. And most of the time, I can read kid books to the end since there’s plenty of excitement, romance and immediate gratification to keep me hooked until they all live happily ever after.

-Amelia Sauter