Sunday, May 15, 2011

Dead Air Church: Our Facebook era

Meditations today concern the rise of our social networking.

I was asked a question in response to my post about the late Ben Masel (in one of the comments later eaten by Blogger): Did I have any contact with Ben in recent years? And this made me think about The Rise of Facebook.

I had only re-established contact with Ben on FB rather recently. And far too soon, he passed away. It was painful, more painful than if I'd heard about his death at a remove. Hearing about memorial services, mourning friends and Ben's surviving daughter in "real time" was somehow more disturbing than if I hadn't.

I suddenly realized that Facebook has changed everything, including (most especially?) our interior landscape.

Remember how it was to "fall out of touch" with someone? To eventually lose contact completely? It just happened. In fact, let me be clear: it always happened, unless that someone was especially dear and precious. (And how many people are, really?) The meaning of the old-school Christmas card, for many of us, was what Facebook is now: a way to keep in touch and stay up to date. If you weren't on the Christmas card list--no known address, return to sender--well, that was that.

The funky guy who told the great jokes on your job; the pleasant lady who brought the children cookies at Sunday School; Ben Masel, who taught me to be a Yippie... teachers, co-workers, ex-spouses, ex-neighbors... whatever happened to ---? Now, we can keep in touch with them all.

So to speak.

And are we really "in touch"? I guess so, since we can look in on them and see what's happening, or at least see what they want us to know is happening. We can see how they look, where they live, and what they find important enough to mention.

Falling out of touch? Losing contact? Well, you never have to let that happen again.

That is... jarring, to those of us who grew up that way. And what does it mean, that future generations will never know what that is like?

Or will they? Will there always be the Facebook holdouts, the deleters of accounts? The people who simply 'disappear'? Such an act will now take on added significance; it is now deliberate. Before Facebook, it was just the way of the world. And now? It will seem suspicious, as if one is purposely, even determinedly, anti-social.

Maybe it's a sign of being an old fuddy-duddy, but I am glad the various addled twists and turns of my life are not available for public consumption. Certain periods of my life (hardline feminism, early sobriety, the dreaded pseudo-Opus Dei period) are somewhat embarrassing to me now, and I am glad I didn't (couldn't!) broadcast any of that stuff. How could I have explained it? Buddhism holds that there is no "I" or actual self, while Facebook enshrines that same nonexistent self to a fare-thee-well.

If I was unable to completely escape or obscure aspects of my past, would I instead embrace them with verve? Would I change as quickly and easily as I have changed so many times in my life, or would I be even more committed to a particular lifestyle as part and parcel of my identity?

If "hard-partying" became an iron-clad part of my identity, would I have entered recovery at the relatively young age of 24? Or would it be even easier, since a thriving online scene beckons from that corner also? (Do the hard-partiers defriend the people who enter recovery? Vice versa? Admittedly, I have no idea.) If I had totally ensconced myself with Opus Dei-like commandos, would I have ventured out to hear what the Buddhists have to say?

When my daughter moved to Texas, she didn't leave her friends behind. I often think back to what a comfort that would have been for me, those times I uprooted myself and nearly died from homesickness.

And then again, there is Gatsby, the quintessential American character. We re-create ourselves throughout our lives, in numerous ways, large and small. Is Facebook making Gatsby more or less possible and is that a good thing?

Just some random Sabbath thoughts. And what do you think?


John Powers said...

Wow, trying to respond to this and found myself rambling. It's better to do that at my blog; a good excuse to post there as I haven't for months.

Marshall McLuhan would be 100 this year and there's some interesting stuff of his being put up in honor of the occasion. Seeing that has me thinking more about him.

There's an essay tat WFMU by Kliph Nesteroff The Comedy Writer that Helped to Elect Richard M. Nixon

That essay doesn't really go to your question about Facebook except that McLuhan has been so influential in how we understand media.

The surprising thing to me is how important it was that right-wing authoritarians were early adopters of the McLuhan's theories.

Adam Curtis's "The Century of Self" is remarkable to me in the way in which Freud's theories, which seem remarkably flawed, could be so employed to particular ends to such effect.

Online social networks have all sorts of ramifications. As flawed as theories about social networks maybe, if past is precedent the theories about them are probably more important than we realize. One lens to think about such theories is to wonder what if right-wing authoritarians take them seriously.

JoJo said...

What an excellent post. Although you do realize that you actually have broadcast those small details of your life on Facebook, by virtue of Networked Blogs?

I have always been a keep in touch person anyway, so I used to hand write volumes of letters pre-computer. Then I'd just type them. I love knowing where my old friends are, see their pictures, etc. And if it wasn't for Facebook, I wouldn't have gotten back in touch with an old high school friend who is now the love of my life. And the sad truth is that Facebook is also now responsible for an upswing in break ups and/or divorces as old classmates start hooking up.

word verif: cradrac

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jojo, and thanks for being the catalyst of this post, by asking me about Ben. It was on my mind anyway, but it coalesced when you asked the question!

I love Facebook too, but recently got somewhat upset when a high-school friend suddenly de-friended me... looking at her profile, I see it was my nasty crack about Glenn Beck that probably did it. (so yeah, I know people DO read Networked Blogs!)

That made me upset, and then I thought, wait, what kind of bullshit is that? I haven't talked to this person since .... Lord, I can't even remember. She is not the same person, and neither am I, yet that sort of thing STILL upsets me. (((rolls eyes for emphasis)))

Looking forward to reading your post, John ... I was thinking that Christopher Lasch and JB Ballard would both have so much to say if they were here. (One of those unpleasant things about aging is that we lose our intellectual gurus... and as I did with my post about Ben, I try to think of what they might say if they WERE still here.) And interesting about McLuhan, Lasch was also beloved by hard left and hard right alike--so weird when that happens, but it likely means they really were onto something important. If you have never read Lasch, you'd enjoy him.

Mr Daisy (Facebook holdout with a vengeance) thinks that time will divide into before and after the internet, as in, B.C. A.D. and B.C.E. I think he's right.

And that's another related issue: Mr Daisy is a Facebook holdout as far as it goes, but at least 20-30 of my FB friends are *really* his and they know they can get in touch with him through me. I wonder how often THAT also happens?

And what happens when my granddaughter grows up and every developmental milestone is clocked on her mom's FB? Will she mind or just take that for granted? Will any of that get used against her, or maybe help her? (i.e. we see the child could read at the age of 4; she's smart, so let's hire her... we see the child is mouthy and tires out her mom, maybe we don't want her at the sleepover.... Etc.)

So many questions....

DaisyDeadhead said...

JG Ballard, not JB Ballard, she hurriedly corrected herself. James. Graham. Ballard. (In the Cronenberg movie, Crash, the James Spader character is actually named Ballard.)

(sigh) I miss him like the dickens.

SC Boy said...

I am old enough that I caught the tail-end of the dropping-out-of-touch-as-default way of things. I remember sitting there at my HS graduation and one of the goody-goodies was making a speech about, "Look at the people beside you. Look at the people in front of, and behind you. You're never gauna see them again." Being the sap I am, I actually got sad. Then, two years later, I joined Facebook. And *here they all were again!* I did see them again...

It does keep these people relevant in a way that they wouldn't be otherwise. It can be years since you've been in the same space with them, but you see them every day.

John Powers said...

I do need to read Christopher Lasch, I didn't back in the day when so many of my friends were reading him. My rambling post is here

La Lubu said...

I specifically have not gotten on Facebook because I don't want to be contacted by people from the past, nor do I want toxic messages from certain right-wing family members polluting my day (or the drama that would come from blocking them in order to avoid that mess).

Also...I truly resent the implication that if someone isn't on Facebook, it is because he or she is antisocial. I'm very social---and if you know me well enough, you already know how to contact me.

Good point about people in recovery and how Facebook impacts them---I'm a survivor of domestic violence, and while my abuser is dead now (thus, moot point) one seems to think about the safety factor for women. Back in the day, it was ok to be unlisted from the phone book, and everyone understood that as a basic safety measure for women. Self-protection 101. Now, one's whole damn life is supposed to be online and available to any passerby? Yeah...I don't think so.

Facebook isn't about keeping in touch. It's about marketing. It's sophisticated technology to compile data for marketing purposes....without having to hire staff to do it, and correlate the data over a number of years. No, this is putting the customers to work, doing the unpaid labor that will make millions. Mostly, having women do the unpaid labor of keeping the marketing mavens informed of the intricate details of their lives, the better to have their lives re-created and sold back to them at a premium later. (or at least, that's what I see---women who are part of a couple get the responsibility of doing all this updating and keeping in touch; a HUGE timesuck). There's probably a feminist analysis in there somewhere.

DaisyDeadhead said...

LL, I certainly don't think you are anti-social, but I think people will reach that conclusion more and more, as Facebook gets (even more) popular. Mr Daisy resents the implication also.

And it IS marketing, but it's also LOTS OF fun. I figure marketing is one of the prices of admission.

I have someone in my past I would also like to avoid, which is why I don't use my "real" (legal) name, although plenty of people now call me "Daisy" in IRL. (I prefer it) You could always get a pseudonym. What is interesting is that certain people find that strange (political people never do, of course) and won't friend someone with a gonzo name, even if they do know you and see you every day. People use THEIR real names and demand the same of others; you have to be somewhat thick-skinned to buck the trend.

But you could try it and just friend people you know online; that is becoming increasingly common. I did that for about a year before I decided I could branch out to people I actually knew. The links and connections are fantastic. For instance, events and demonstrations can be managed very easily, invites sent, etc. Political work can be streamlined very efficiently. Of course, right before the demo, I got hits from Dept of Homeland Security, so there is that. But I've always assumed they are watching, so not too startled.

The links from other people, the sheer volume of input, is addicting and that is why I keep going back.

And being nosey about everyone, of course. ;)