Imagine yourself sitting down to dinner in a restaurant 15 or 20 years ago. Your meal is placed on the table before you and it looks fantastic. “Good enough to take a picture of you,” you enthuse to your dining companion.
Now, those many years ago, would it ever have occurred to you to indeed actually TAKE a photo of your entree? And proceed then to then go forth and share your picture to all of your friends who happen to be nearby? Was the meal really good enough to show everybody in your immediate social circle—and possibly even their friends, too? These days people do just that all the time.
And not only their meals: children, painted toenails, bathroom decor—if it can be photographed chances are it’s been willingly placed and shared on that great electronic fence post we call Facebook.
Odd when you think about it, isn’t it?
On its own homepage, Facebook brags that their social network is “free and always will be.” But is it really? There has to be some kind of psychic and spiritual cost to all of the revelations shared by individuals on their precious personal pages (which, truth be told, really aren’t all that personal).
Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy using Facebook albeit in a wary and highly skeptical way. And I’m a frequent poster and reader although I did discover a few facts about the network and many of my so-called “friends” during a recent experimental sabbatical.
These “friends” “like” your comments, thoughts and pictures—a few of them, anyway. Do these same people—using their computer screens to interact with you—ever contact you outside of the social network? Do they call, drop by or, heaven forbid, write you a letter? Probably doubtful. Mine didn’t—probably 95% never did.
Moreover, Facebook is an antiseptic, sterile form of communication and interaction. It is, for instance, evidently “safe” for a married man or woman to correspond with other such individuals over this public forum in ways they would dare not do, if ever, publicly or over the phone. Flirtation or overtly physical comments are not even off limits to some users on Facebook since, after all, their whole cadre of “friends” can read them, right? Totally innocuous, innocent, safe and, ultimately meaningless.
People of my mother’s generation—those over 70—still send personal cards through snail mail, bake food and bring over, visit to talk, engage in book and other such real social clubs, i.e., they truly DO interact with each other. And on birthdays? My mother still receives several cards in the mail, usually accompanied by personal, handwritten congratulations and well-wishes and enough Christmas cards to still cover an entire door.
Facebook reminds us of our friends’ birthdays and some of us, in response, type out a “Happy Birthday” to those people (at the prompting of the network). A few of us even take the long, extra step of keying in a line or two with a personal message to our friend’s page. Ah, the effort. Ah, the warm and fuzzy feeling of reading a small birthday message that the sender had to be reminded to compose.
And, oh, maybe out of your possible 500 Facebook “friends” perhaps half of those—possibly less—even took the strenuous, difficult, time-consuming effort of typing that birthday message in the first place. On the other hand, maybe they took that extra, touching step to attach one of those cute emoji symbols. That’s GOT to mean true friendship.
Then, of course, there is the sheer unmitigated, unapologetic, relentless, often ridiculous and normally flat-out asinine narcissism which is the modus operandi of all Facebook users—myself included. (Although I do try to present any posts I make in a useful, dignified and respectful manner). The proverbial Monday morning quarterback calling his or her own plays—informed or, predominantly and usually, uninformed—every single day of the week on absolutely any issue that can be named. You know the type. Experts are suddenly made by the push of a button. Digital democracy in action. Too often the results are embarrassing, irrational, hysterical or—even more often than is comfortable to notice—a little disturbing. The goal is not to inform or challenge—it’s to titillate, receive empathy or—simply and more than a little sadly— just to get noticed.
Invective and insults, ad hominens and attacks, are aimed mercilessly behind the safety of the computer screen. Personal verbal assaults are increasingly de rigeur on Facebook. Apparently, in the minds of the attacked, the anger and outrage they have stirred up only confirms and reinforces the truth of their original posts—especially when goaded, encouraged and numerically trumpeted by the Almighty God of Facebook, the “Like” button. The old cliche has changed in the digital age: “Likes”—not might—makes right!
But perhaps even worse than the dogmatic (and quite possibly psychotic) Facebook users out there are the “lovey dovey”, prayer-of-the-day, uplifting meme posters (usually female, for whatever reason) who obviously believe that bumper sticker slogans can replace logical thinking and problem solving.
Sharing a bit of the misery currently being suffered through can provide the empathy and “likes” (“We sure need a ‘dislike’ button” becomes an obligatory comment) the poster needs to feel better about themselves. Yes, public displays of psychological and personal dirty laundry can sure elicit those “like” buttons. But, ah: don’t you feel better already?
But I should lighten up. This is all a little tongue-in-cheek anyway. Maybe. Who doesn’t like being an electronic voyeur, posting selfies and posing as an expert? I sure do!
I’ll be certain to make this column available on Facebook as soon as I can, by the way. After I post some more pictures and present my take on the situation in Ukraine. Just be sure to “like” it for me if you can possibly manage the time. And, oh—I turn 50 in July: start picking out those emojis for me.
Thanks so much, my good “friends.”
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