In 2009 I was invited to join “Facebook.” I already knew all about it, because my best friend from high school had gone to Harvard, where I had visited her and had seen it in 1974, in her freshman room. Back then, “Facebook” was paper and had all the Radcliffe girls listed in it.

It was mostly a catalog of pictures. Many of those pictures were of Groucho Marx — those who did not submit photos were represented by the specter of the huge mustache, glasses and cigar. This mid-century Facebook was a proto-dating service. High tech as it was — Xeroxed (versus mimeographed) and mass produced, I know not how — it was a cultural curiosity in the full bloom of Feminism.

There were no men, there was no info. Just a name and visage: primal mating criteria in every Harvardian’s residential college room. It was made with a snicker, and seemed oddly soft-pornish — at least to the rube from the almost-Ivy Cornell.

But in 2009 I was acquainted with a media star, a Harvard grad, who asked me, via email, to “friend” him. I did, because I liked him, but more, because he was cool in extremis. Soon I was “friends” with politicians, media moguls, even stars. Simply because so few of us were on Facebook, it was de facto elite.

But then the other 2009 Harvard grads, thirty-five years younger, opened Facebook up to everyone. And all the glam “friends,” save my one actual friend, vanished.

De-friended due to lameness is not uncommon in my life, but this event was a powerful exemplar of the potential for shallowness in all human relationships — as were the Xeroxed visages found in the original Facebook.

In 2009 I was writing my seventh book, and my publisher literally required that I participate in all social media: so I tweeted, blogged, Linked-In, etc. The book did OK in the post-housing-crash crater, but the blog, Saved By Design, remains a nice way for people to read my stuff; and I now have quite a few “friends” on Facebook. My social following may be quaintly lame in the mass media world, but I do nothing to recruit viewers. I just write things and post my work.

Despite my un-promoted presence, social media is not a benign world. Instead, malevolent algorithms want to “friend” me: they want to use my now-ancient cyber-place to spread ads, malware, or spam by pretending to be humans in love with me. (It is annoying, because sometimes actual living humans, who I do not know, want to “friend” me because they like what they see and read.)

But in the last few years, an algorithm has desperately wanted me. It latched onto two points of reference: first, despite my gender ambiguous name, I am a heterosexual male; and, according to Facebook, I was born in Whitehaven.

Actually, I was not born in Whitehaven (which I understand to be in England). Back in 2009 there was a rudimentary list of Facebook queries to fill out to join — including gender, where you went to school, birthday. I did the minimum (no films), but I had to list a birthplace and hometown. Given that I was reared and now live in suburbia, I wrote “Whitelandia” for both — a snarky disclaiming of the demographic that still surrounds me.

Facebook had no “Whitelandia” in its GPS database, so it gave me “Whitehaven” — without any possible alternative. Soon I received “friend requests” from, theoretically, other residents in Whitehaven. They had no friends — no anything — but only a picture, and so I deleted them. I may be old, but I am not stupid.

Often daily, a dynamically posed, provocatively dressed, and completely made-up Super Vixen is begging me to be her “friend.” Every request comes from Whitehaven, England. I delete them with a chuckle.

But the dismissive chuckle ignores a simple truth. Some percentage of hometown hotties are accepted as friends, by someone, every day. If millions are sent, then even hundreds of new platforms makes enough Bitcoin that the server keeps pasting together stolen images and text to keep at it — mindlessly, unrelentingly, profitably.

Why do the Girls of Whitehaven do so well? Because we, all of us, are broken — we need them. I do widen my eyes at their huge eyes, inflated breasts, and exotic clothing — all promissory, all offered up in an active beg for approval.

No matter how lame I am, they love me. I am torn away from the daily blur for three point two seconds, until their sham poisons the buzz, and I vaporize them — along with duplicate “friends” faked from actual acquaintances. These and others are the flotsam and jetsam of poser frauds sloshing into my view.

We all want to be loved by the Girls of Whitehaven. Part of us wants to believe we are lovable enough that some random human — who just happens to be scorching hot — wants to connect. Because we want to connect.

I go to church and hear about the God who I know loves me, even when I hate myself the most. I feel the love of that incoherent, unabated embrace, which defies my lameness. But the sad truth of social media is that the emotional plinth of its roaring expression is that same unconditional embrace. The Whitehaven Girls, too, promise to make our lameness irrelevant. We desperately want the cool vibe of those pics, the unreasonable turn-on of hotness that bypasses the harder, more loving truth of Grace.

Just like Grace, these Whitehaven Girls come from nowhere, unasked, uninvited. They offer themselves to me simply because I participate in the Twenty-First Century Babel of Media Extension. In the end, though, there is little or no validation from the Whitehaven Girls — except the validation of our vulnerability to our weaknesses. Many friends have simply quit Facebook, because it preys on the human/love transaction in a way that takes far more than it gives. Hours spent in surreal performance to validate online love both exhausted and depressed them, and they turned it off forever. During that deep dive into rage, morbid curiosity, defensiveness, and superficial selfie-izing, those folks had lost themselves — and opted out to end the madness.

I love a drink, but I am not an alcoholic. So I post on social media, and I care about the number of hits I get: but I know it’s a construction. Facebook is no more sinister than the architectural websites that excite us designers: I write for some, look at most, but I could never design to be included in their celebrated pictures. Using a place does not mean living through it.

Some of us find ourselves changing in order to have the Whitehaven Girls love us. But they cannot love, because they are not real. Just like so much of cyber-land.

The weakness that drives people to “friend” them, to perpetuate them, it’s in all of us. Despite the heady thrills of “likes” and “shares” and “friend requests,” there is something is missing in these constructs.

As the Facebook refugees attest, with or without social media, there is a base-truth in all of our lives. Call it what you will, but it is Faith — it is the abiding heart of the love of God. God is real. And unlike the Girls, he is always there for us.