IT WAS THE SOUND OF SUNDERING MYSELF FROM FACEBOOK
And then, the silence.
You could hear it. Peace descended upon the earth with a great silence like the inherent silence of the Apocalypse. (As Jack Kerouac described what would happen if men fell to their knees and begged forgiveness of their women—a line deleted from the original 1951 scroll of On the Road.)
A year ago I decided I’d had enough of Facebook. The bald shock that registered on a friend’s face when I told her I had deactivated my account lingered a bit. Is that a big deal? I asked. Only because I was pretty active on there, she clarified.
If I’m active on there it’s because I spend many hours online most days editing photos on PicMonkey and posting them to flickr. It’s my job I don’t get paid for. And when you’re online for long periods of time, you want to distract yourself from the task at hand every so often. Or always. Five minutes on Facebook is a nice online break from being online. Except when it turns into an hour every time I get a case of the fuck-its (A condition whereby you’re content to spend nine hours on YouTube watching a cat flush a toilet–Dana Carvey) and don’t want to be responsible for creating my own mind food. Now and then one needs a social media cleanse, a high colonic of the mind.
Everyone likes to be served.
Here! Instead of planning and cooking and eating a nutritious meal of your choosing, here’s an instant plate of junk food handed to you piled with ideas you don’t have to have yourself. Kind of like the free cell addiction I acquired instead of dealing with renting my Portland house out and moving to Berkeley.
It’s my understanding that all games of free cell–open-faced double solitaire–are winnable if you make the right moves. You’ve got to look at the big picture and map out strategies. Free cell is one of my McDonald’s substitutes. I don’t eat meat so I need to replace it with other junk food. All the crap out there, says comedian Jim Gaffigan, is someone’s McDonald’s, whether you read Us magazine, or track Jennifer Anniston’s love life, or weigh in on Beyoncé’s new haircut.
When I was planning my move from Portland to Berkeley in 1996, I racked up 148 games of free cell that I won by in some cases starting over and changing my moves. I would never go on to a new game till I’d solved the one at hand. There’s a satisfaction in seeing a course of action to a “successful” conclusion, of solving the puzzle and watching the auto-play pile the remaining cards into suits–let the game do the rest of the work!
And it’s relaxing.
It engages my mind and problem-solving faculties just enough to occupy me but not challenge me too much. But mostly free cell is a time waster. He who kills time, as Thoreau put it, slays eternity, and I am a serial killer. I could just as well be surfing the web for Kate Middleton’s or Kate Upton’s last outfit, flipping through Entertainment Weekly, or contemplating whether I should lose respect for Benedict Cumberbatch for appearing in Star Trek into Darkness. But mostly I play free cell as a distraction from something I have tired of doing, something, usually, of importance or at least time-dated urgency. You know like when the taxes are due and it’s suddenly crucial that you clean your oven.
As one who was arrested in the anal stage of psychosexual development, I do derive pleasure, feelings of justification, perhaps, at watching things fall into place and summarily wrap themselves up, as when you remove the one remaining obstacle to victory and you can sit back and declare, “My work here is done!”
At my age (I summited the hill quite a while ago) one is advised to keep one’s brain active. Mahjong is another mental and visual dexterity-enhancing time waster. But however relaxing and/or stimulating these pursuits are, they’re still junk food. I prefer I’d spend the time in nourishing pursuits, not repetitive ones.
Clearly I have nothing to prove to myself,
but time-wasting is a manifestation of my time-honored practice of avoidance–procrastination that feels like doing something that is so clearly nothing. À la Facebook. [Time does not honor avoidance. Time spits on avoidance. -Ed.]
Of course it’s not exactly nothing, you are communicating with people who mean enough to you to take them on as Facebook friends (which inherently is worth a nickel minus five cents), but it’s a trade-off. We abandon more personal interactions and more time offline for the convenience of mass announcements. And also, one feeble set of ears hearing what we have to say is not enough. The whole world needs to know what we’re thinking. It’s that important.
The programs Freedom and AntiSocial turn off the internet or social media for a specified amount of time, but they’re like a Flintstone band aid on a blood-gushing wound. I sought to heal that wound—the rift between myself and my life as I used to live it. It used to be I never turned my computer on unless I was going to write something—never to surf the web or consult the Oracle of the Book of Face or even check email—certainly not for entertainment or something to do. I joined Facebook when it was still not all that pervasive, but it started happening that you wouldn’t hear about stuff going on around town because people were posting it to Facebook as the default manner of announcement. Why didn’t I hear about that? I don’t know [I did my duty] I posted it to Facebook…
Political rallies or local events might pass you by because you weren’t on there. Kind of an “it’s-how-people-communicate-now” vibe and aren’t you with it? If everybody played by the same Facebook rules, it would be cool to know about that upcoming fundraiser, who has signed up to go, and the person among them that you either do or do not want to see. To know for sure that if they are there, you would either go or not go. 5000 is the Facebook friend limit, but a great many of those 5000 turned off your feed as soon as they added one more digit to their friend total.
Initially I joined Facebook
in order to write a column, “I’m Not Really on Facebook I’m Just Spying on Those Who Are” (not available at this time). A friend shut his account down as soon as he had a child. Good on him! It might feel like you’re taking a stand. I’m not wasting any more time on Facebook! But it’s no moral crusade; it’s just a choice. We don’t have to buy into the inevitability of social media even if it does surround us. We sign up for it. We willingly devote our time to it. We derive enjoyment or emotional support from it or use it as a crutch or outreach or publicity tool. It saves stamps and smartphone minutes. We control our use, and now and then I choose to control mine by ceasing it.
When I first shut down my account, I had been on Facebook complaining about Throwback Thursday. “I would like to take the nitwit,” I had posted, “who thought of Throwback Thursday and throw him back to last Thursday.”
Someone quickly responded, “Aren’t you just a ray of sunshine.”
“How does the Internet,”
I continued, “co-opt something as basic as a day of the week, and convince the world they all need to be doing and thinking the same thing on it?”
Another friend weighed in, “Much ado…”
In the scheme of things, it is nothing. If you enjoy it, go ahead and enjoy it. No harm, no foul. Not the crucial issue of our time. But it strikes me as some feel-good sheeple group-think thing. It’s Thursday! Everybody gather ’round, rifle through your lives and share it with the others! Come ’round! Wiggle your ears! More s’mores!
Maybe we should wear a looney-toon hat
on Thursdays in case we go outside, so fellow throwers-back will know we are participating in the throw-back, just to reinforce that it IS Throwback Thursday, that whatever else we do that day, fear not, we will be sure to throw back. The first friend suggested I needed a break from the internet and I realized she was right.
Deactivating your Facebook account is not that satisfying—all one need do to reactivate it is log back in. Still my immediate response was physical, mental, and emotional relief. Something cracked wide open. I used that phrase to describe the line from the George Pal film “The Time Machine,” “He has all the time in the world.” It cracks everything wide open. Marcia Gay Harden said it to Ed Harris in “Pollock,” “You’ve done it, Pollock. You’ve cracked it wide open.”
I’m wary and weary of this age of homogenization,
this let’s-all-be-on-the-same-page mentality, experiencing and reacting to and discussing the same things at the same time. There are too damn many pages! Facebook. Facebook Live. Twitter. Instagram. Instagram Live. Reddit Snapchat Foursquare Google+ LinkedIn Tumblr Pinterest Periscope YouTube Vimeo Vine Skype Meetup Tinder (“Tinder is how people meet. It’s like real life, but better.”)
How does one even define real life anymore? Is there any interaction between people that hasn’t been coded? What happens anymore that doesn’t go through an app? Photography is not what it was, as seen through the framework of Instagram—the resulting picture is not so much a free-standing result of photographic choices but an “instagram,” an instance of application use. I’ll crop my photo square if I want to after I see it.
One has to shield oneself
against overexposure to unfiltered information. It’s practically radioactive. It weakens and sickens one over the long term. I have turned off Yahoo as my home page so I don’t boot up to that day’s filler crap.
- DJ Tanner (aka Candace Cameron Bure) just chopped off all her hair, and she looks SO chic. OMG, girl! Could you be more fabulous?
- Kelly Ripa’s 10 Most Probable Co-hosts, Ranked From Most to Least Liked (Most: Morris Chestnut [who he?]; Least: Fred Savage)
- The Do’s [sic] and Don’ts [sic] of Wearing Eyeliner
- Chris and Liam Hemsworth’s Dad is a TOTAL hunk but we are not surprised
- Brock Turner Going Free Is the Best Thing to Happen to Rape
- And oh yes, the President of the Philippines called Obama an SOB.
The greater part of the click bait we click on we would never investigate if we had to trouble ourselves to look it up. All that info is waiting for us there on the web. You’re not going to take the time to search for how to dip a t-shirt into Portland cement to create Halloween lawn ornaments, but you might click on it (I did–to see what it is people will SO be doing after learning this trick). My mind is cluttered with things I didn’t need to have seen. Clutter—as in a room of suffocating stuff you should just get rid of. Don’t rearrange it—ditch it!
Facebook is always there
for one’s use. Go on it, go off it, whatever. But I’ve been ensconced in such childish and churlish confrontations and misunderstandings with folks (many of whom I’ve never met), I’m tempted to throw the baby out with the bath water.
I’m conflicted about Facebook
because of carbon dating. I’m so old I date back to the days of carbon paper, mimeograph machines and white-out, party lines, telephone exchanges, and two-digit zip codes. Face-to-face relationships were the norm at one time. Getting a phone call and not knowing who it is. Someone showing up at your door. Meeting someone through a “personal ad” used to be an embarrassing anomaly.
In other words, I’m a fuddy-duddy. I prefer the way things used to be.
When a friend wanted me to meet a friend of his via Facebook, I forced the issue. I forced us all out of the house to meet at a coffee shop. Haven’t seen either of them since. I still use and like Facebook because I find lost friends, meet new ones, get turned on to a lot of creative output and new information, but I don’t like the changes in personal communication it has wrought worldwide. Other than emergency and volatile political situations, I don’t see an inherent value in the 21st century status quo of being constantly communicative, constantly up on the latest means of following people around online.
There is a need for Facebook, or it wouldn’t exist. But is it healthy? Is it enabling us to distance ourselves from each other?
Look at this: Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?
Because your 179 friends will no longer be able to keep in touch with you. What arrogance! It reminds me of a sing-songy Time magazine ad that claimed “Time lets you care” about current events. As you see folks are crying, screaming, and pleading with me not to go. But if Facebook is the default way to interact with people in the modern age, what a pathetic statement about today’s human relations.
What about Fear of Missing Out?
You are always missing something, and always will be. Even if it’s all you do you can’t keep up with the pace of social media—the danger is it does turn into all some people do. There are levels of engagement, and you’re in control of them—until you’re not. Then you might as well face it, you’re addicted to Facebook.
The Checking-in Phenomenon
What is that about? Why track your minute movements throughout the day and broadcast them to your friends at large? X is with Y at Z. You’re already with the friend you want to be with, enjoying a personal interaction. “Hey everyone else: I’m here without you. I’m sharing this with someone else, but you still have to know about it.” Is it an invitation for anyone reading it to join you? I doubt it. I saw one such posting of a crowd of friends at a concert I would like to have been included in. That has probably happened to everyone. “We didn’t think of you when we made these plans, but here’s a smiling selfie for you to enjoy.”
My subtle commentary on the matter was to post that I was at a gas station with a friend. Who could possibly care? One mundane post covers them all. Though some bored soul might ask, “Oh really, where are you going?”
One brilliant guy, a chemist and teacher and an amusing conversationalist, would post along the lines of “Stopping for a bite before the show,” as if we’re keeping a logbook of his movements. Hold on, I show a gap between 7:10 and 7:14. What were you doing? Walking to your car? Let me get that down. I was about to unfriend him for being boring despite his advanced education (how does one work that?) but he beat me to the punch. (Don’t you hate it when someone unfriends you before you’ve had a chance to unfriend them?) Do we think people are that interested in our minute-to-minute activities? Do we think we are that interesting? Do our egos need such constant bolstering? It’s great news for stalkers, though.
THE CONNECTED GENERATION
I guess I am one
who doesn’t need to know everything about everything everyone I know is doing at any given moment. But I am also one who values solitude above constant companionship. I treasure my own place, my own silence, my own bed, my own insistence on doing whatever pleases me at any time. Some folks must enjoy constant worldwide fraternizing, but as a homicide detective put it in “The Fall,” “Modern life is such an unholy mix of voyeurism and exhibitionism. People perpetually broadcasting their internal and external selves.”
As soon as I graduated college and was on my own, I decreed that I would never wait to do something until someone wanted to do it with me. That’s how I ended up by myself on the Trans-Siberian Express. I routinely attend concerts and events by myself; it usually doesn’t occur to me to invite anyone along. I go to movies by myself so I won’t have to talk about them later. I recognize that most people don’t want to be alone, they want companionship and family on a daily basis. I realize most people have a greater capacity for talking than I do for listening to them.
But some of these people don’t know how to be alone, or how to enjoy their own company. And Facebook is somewhere to meet up with others needing something to do.
People sound off,
lament, announce an event, or post random observations instead of calling a friend, because then only that friend would know about it. That’s not nearly enough attention being paid to us. Not to say I haven’t participated in these practices myself, because they’re the accepted language of Facebook and you fall into the rhythm.
There’s the passive-aggressive cry-for-attention post—some obscure, mysterious statement begging to be asked what it’s about.
Fuck, shit, crap.
Never gonna do that again.
Everything’s going to be fine.
Only three more days…
Prompting responses like: Are you OK? Hugs! I’m here if you need me. You are beautiful. Stay strong. Etc. Sometimes you feel like you’re constantly ministering to people. Are people not getting this support from the humans in their lives, or do they just want more? Is our need for validation so pervasive?
Did I miss keeping abreast of my friends’ daily lives while deactivated? Even if so, I’d rather live my own daily life. It’s like the voices in my head stopped talking. It took a while for the reverb bouncing around my skull to settle down. Anyway, we know who our true-blue friends are, and those who are mostly avatars–the madding crowd we invite into our homes. It’s hard to resist taking advantage of a platform to say anything you want. But you don’t know who’s turned your feed off, who’s not “on” that day, who’s not paying attention. In a way it’s still yelling into a void, though the world be at your feet.
When my attention gets too scattered by stimulus on the web, I eliminate the option to choose from it. Say I click on 50 links in one day. 45 of them are trash. But I still went through the motions and have nothing to show for it. Look at your browsing history, if you want to be appalled. There’s groovy stuff out there, no doubt. But it’s in you, too, waiting to manifest.
I’m in an insulated bubble of privacy,
writing offline in Word at midnight, crickets sounding off at the window. No one knows where I am, what I’m thinking, what I’m doing, reading, eating. Freedom! Have we forgotten what that feels like? How much time do we spend showing off to people, some of whom we don’t even care about, because we’re on a public forum?
The Misfit Cafe
Is where I take my tea
When I’m trying to impress others
Who don’t impress me
– Mayor Jones, Postcard Pomes, 2001
I, of course, am the biggest show-off of all, a writer.
LIFE AFTER FACEBOOK
If you’ve read this far, you wouldn’t have read this far if I hadn’t written this far, and I did so in the beatific space left by the expulsion of social media. But my cold turkey experiment of last year didn’t work. Facebook is a facilitator of friendship but it is not a substitute for friendship. The sad fact is, I don’t stay on Facebook because it’s the de rigeur way keep up with my friends. It’s because if I leave, they will not keep up with me.
♥ ♣ ♠ ♦
Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch. – Omid Safi, “The Disease of Being Busy”