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Facebook faceoff?

It’s 11 a.m. — do you know where your morning has gone?

Mine, I realize with pangs of shock and embarrassment, has been frizzled away on Planet Facebook. This virtual neighborhood where you and your  50 or 500 or 1,000 or so “friends” let it all hang out: political declarations, pithy aphorisms, gut-wrenching messages about imploding marriages, cute things your little kids have said, and, increasingly, photos.

These days, Facebook is clogged with photos that “friends” expect you to view, comment on, “like,” and even “share.” This is especially true if the albums are of animals, particularly animals in cute pajamas or wearing jaunty berets. Don’t believe me? There is a plush toy (that’s the politically correct term for “stuffed animal”) named Boo the Pomeranian who is listed as a “public figure” on Facebook. His page has more than 350,000 “likes,” which may explain why Boo snagged an appearance on “Good Morning, America.” Mere humans like me who use Facebook as a marketing tool stand almost no chance of building our brand when competing with the “likes” of Boo the Pomeranian. (Note to God: If you bring me back for another incarnation as a writer, can you please let me return as a cute plush toy?)

Everyone knows that Facebook is a dangerous force field, hungrily vacuuming up otherwise productive time, yet the force is powerful, and explains why I am late on two assignments, have three days’ laundry piled up, the fridge is empty, and several bills are perilously close to accruing late fees.

This morning, for example, I felt compelled to view six new photo albums, including one of a cousin’s newly adopted puppy named Gus. This cousin was sure to ask me if I had seen Gus in his photogenic glory, so I posted the requisite “Aw, how cute!” comment to be safe. And how could I not comment on photos of my friend’s new son, posted just hours after his birth? What kind of ogre is too busy to type in “Congratulations!?” After that, I was this close to logging out when my favorite cookbook author posted the best recipe for raisin challah ever, along with photos showing easy braiding techniques.

I swore to myself that after “liking” the challah, I would really, no-kidding-this-time-really get to work. But the unfolding drama, surprises and needs of my “friends” kept me riveted to the screen. There was Charlie, riding an elephant in Thailand! Then I saw that a colleague was getting a divorce, and was collecting “likes” about her posts about her rotten soon-to-be ex-husband. I learned that a neighbor had scared off a would-be burglar, and another friend was mounting a campaign to shame the overpriced hotel in Hawaii where she was staying due to its slovenly housekeeping. In the perverse form of social support that is essential to Facebook, I “liked” the photos she uploaded of a grimy bathtub, cobwebby closet and stained carpet. After all, what are Facebook friends for?

An invitation to share my organ donor status — nobody’s business, not even on Facebook — jolted me into the reality that I really had real-life obligations. So why don’t I just stop the kvetching and dump Facebook? Because love it or hate it (and often, loving it and hating it at the same time), the ruthless reality is that writers and others trying to build their businesses need this maddening social utility, whose rules and features are changed every 15 minutes by the 20-somethings wearing jeans and hoodies who rule its kingdom.

Besides, I am guilty — if guilt is the right word — of wanting people to “like” and comment on my columns as soon as they are published. What? Only eight “likes” for this story in the first half-hour? Have I lost my mojo? I consider sending an email blast to trusted friends, encouraging them to stop their own productive work and “like,” share, comment on, or “tag” me in the post as a show of support. But I hold back, knowing it’s slightly obnoxious to do so. Displaying admirable self-restraint, I do not summon the troops until the next day, still dissatisfied with the number of “shares” and “likes” my work has received.

In this virtual community, one hand that’s glued to the keyboard washes the other, so I feel obligated to share the outrage over the grimy conditions of my friend’s overpriced hotel, help another friend win her iPad, commiserate with the lovelorn and gush over everyone’s new photos are, even if they are of a puppy named Gus.

Later in the afternoon, caving in to the temptation of seeing who may have “liked” my latest article, I log back on to Facebook. The first thing on my timeline is a picture that poses the question, “Are you on a journey to purpose this afternoon…?” I consider the question, “like” the post but do not comment, and log off for the day.

—Judy Gruen

Judy Gruen is the author of four books, including the newly released diet memoir Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping. This essay originally appeared in slightly different format on Aish.com.

Reflections of Erma