I’ve just noticed something about the true nature of Facebook. The insight should have happened sooner, as those who used to work with me when I was getting a paycheck for a living came to expect, but I’ve been distracted for some time.
I’ve been on Facebook quite a long time. Not exactly since the Winklevoss era, but one was still required to have certain email address domains, e.g., harvard.edu, in order to be instantly vetted. And when young Mark Zuckerberg was furiously, and perfidiously, keyboarding his first lines of code for what would become Facebook, I was deeply involved in the mortal fate of my late wife, who had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer.
Obviously Facebook has become quite a phenomenon. Even discounting the many redundant subscriptions (it’s beyond me how people sign up more than once, especially under the same name, but it keeps happening to people with advanced degrees), the people who are dead now, and the legion of pranksters, merry or otherwise, there’s still a significant number of people on the planet who “belong.” If not 500 million, then we are, I am sure still in the neighborhood of some multiple of 10^8.
It’s my guess that most of the subscribers are fairly well off, access to a computer (or a smart phone) and a certain amount of idle time being prerequisites for regular participation. I would add a certain amount as well of self-absorption, but that would be cynical.
So, I’ll spell out what I’ve noticed is the business of Facebook, no matter what Zuck and his buddies spew out through their laughable public relations apparatus (Public Irritation is what they should call it; they have a knack for programming, there is no doubt, but there’s an equally brilliant knack for coming up with precisely the wrong mechanisms to add to their Rube Goldberg device of a website… or precisely the wrong ways to apply what are otherwise innocuous features… with the result that what they mainly accomplish is pissing people off in the midst of their deep self absorption—oops, there I go again). I don’t blame Zuck or his cohort for not understanding what business they’re in. I had many clients who had no idea what business they were in. Some of them even paid me to tell them. In addition to Zuck’s public displays of evidence of a perverse personality, he has demonstrated not a small dose (it’s possibly a tyrannical dose; I mean that in the sense of “tyrant-size,” several times larger than king-size) of grandiosity, with a soupcon of messianism. Not unfamiliar, if ironic, traits in a secular Jew from the United States.
The facile, if not the glib and cynical way of putting it is, Facebook is bread and circuses.
What I’ve noticed is that no matter what position on the political spectrum you occupy, and I have friends on the left, on the right, in the center… fancy themselves progressives, liberal, conservative, libertarian, what have you—and why isn’t there a “what have you” or even a “whatever” political party? careful, trick question—if they are not otherwise occupied with documenting online the minutiae and quotidian bustling around they do, they are excreting the latest, usually doom-laden or darkly predictive or pissed-off handwringing their particular political leanings induce them to share with us, the great unwilling.
It’s all to no effect of course. No one actually has a solution in mind, unless they’re in the government. I have no doubt that policy and decision makers in the government also have Facebook accounts. I daresay they don’t do their work in these precincts, but at their desks using databases that so far Zuck cannot access, though he’d no doubt share them with the highest bidder, once he does.
Probably, it’s entertainment for those who actually do hold the levers of power, that is, reading these ridiculous pronouncements, usually pompous, and always self-righteous, earnest and rife with certitude.
It may be, levers of power at their fingertips or not, they are no more powerful than we mere plebes at fixing what’s wrong, in which case, they probably need the relief. We all need relief—it’s become a perpetual condition—but I’m already making the case that “relief” is the mildest of the benign ways of characterizing Facebook.
However, all in all, this doesn’t solve the problem of knowing what to do about what increasingly leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, and misanthropic. Everyone has myriad friends on Facebook, but there is no question that equally everyone has found an enemy out there in the real world to bitch about. The end result is, there are many “wrongs” perceived. Consequently, there are as many “rights.”
Many are presumptuous enough to imply there are solutions to the woes and tribulations they excoriate. No one, not a one, offers a single word of substantive, coherent exposition of what that solution may be. In this, they are no better than anyone who runs for and eventually serves in office, but I would guess, without knowing that every politician in America has a Facebook page, or public profile, so they’re in the same leaky boat as the rest of us.
The fact is, I don’t know, no more than you, what the truth is. There are many “truths” out there on the internet, and virtually all of them have been cited ad nauseam on Facebook, from the left and from the right, with all the stops on the local train that runs between them. However, it’s an old, sorry and tired adage that “lies have many fathers, and the truth is an orphan” (I think the reference originally was to wartime…).
So, in my view, which I have no doubt will be attacked, feebly or vociferously, it is very much like the enchainment of the mass flying public that Al Qaeda, with the help of the Federal government and the Department of Homeland Security, places us: sans shoes, sans belts, keys, loose change, old love letters, overdue balance statements, and soon, it would appear, bereft of any dignity or sovereignty as an individual if only for the few moments it takes to be dosed with x-rays or to have our private parts groped by a stranger in vinyl gloves, though absent medical training—that we have allowed ourselves to be enchained by Facebook.
Essentially, we jabber happily at each other, usually in the crypto pseudo language of texting (so nuanced, so suited to convey sincerity): “OMG!!?! Did you catch Jimmy and posse at the Flaming Unicorn lol, c u l8r…” Alternatively, the more earnest, clinically beset with psychoneurosis or other disorders, or just plain generally pissed and with time to kill reading the mainstream press, online and off, across the spectrum of utter political lunacy so as to “like” and “share” it all with the rest of us, known henceforth as noted as the critical mass of the unwilling.
We each of us have become the subject of that famous quote of George Bernard Shaw’s to the effect that some hapless woman who crossed his withering attention cause him to observe that although “she has lost the art of conversation, but unfortunately not the power of speech.”
And we are apparently content to do this, to be in this state, content to take our daily dose of the “soma drug” of Facebook, and to do nothing else, really (all 500 million, give or take, of us).
Marx (Karl, not Groucho), Ghandi, and King reel on the streets of paradise. Why we don’t get off our asses and actually do something about what generally fuels the air of misery and discontent we breathe, anesthetized by our pretty good lives, in our nice homes, and our late model cars, with our cute children, and cuter grandkids, or our buds, bffs, and inexorable ineffable “friends” of whatever age? You’re asking me? I didn’t think so.
And when this fairly typical screed of mine is read, it will be promptly forgotten, because time and Facebook never stop. Each is eternal, in the sense that the now is eternal. Both move on inexorably, with us or without us to take notice. But speaking of now, right now, I have to get online and check Facebook, to see if this has been posted with the proper link to my blog. I mean, what’s important?