The View From Away: A moth to the flame of Facebook
I am psyching myself up to reactivate Facebook. I left during the run-up to the election because it was becoming increasingly aggravating and a massive time suck. I couldn’t stop myself from trying to inject some reason into threads about why Obama or Romney was a minion of Satan, and the next thing I knew, it would be bedtime. Morons are like crack to me.
After a few months of cooling off, I want to return, partly because I miss the back and forth of posting links to Forecaster articles and other writing projects. Surprisingly few people thought I was an idiot, and some of the feedback spawned interesting online conversations.
Mostly, though, I miss contact with local friends and the creative community I met in grad school at the University of Southern Maine, people like my friend Erin Enberg, a gifted screenwriter who is building her film-making career from the ground up in Portland, supporting herself however she can while building up a body of work. I missed not seeing Helen Peppe’s incredible pictures of dogs, cats and especially horses on Facebook. Helen is a photographer by profession who seems to specialize in taking amazing pictures of animals. She also writes beautifully. She lives close enough that she used to pass my house when she went out running, but my contact with her was almost exclusively on Zuckerberg’s Folly.
People like Erin and Helen are heroes to me, and I have missed the inspiration their postings give me. There is a lot to be said for that fly-on-the-wall Facebook experience that stimulates you by seeing what others are doing, but it comes at a price. Facebook’s most destructive characteristic, arguably, is the lack of accountability that makes it an easy and powerful bully pulpit for cowards who get off on belittling people who see complexity in complex issues. This side of it was always annoying, but it became intolerable last fall.
During election season, annoying became appalling. The big news was about the politically motivated fake pages that suddenly appeared and gathered hundreds of fraudulent “likes” before falling back into the ooze.
I became more upset about the real people. Finally, I had an epiphany of who Facebook rewards when I started seeing threads started by someone I actually knew a little bit in the '80s. Back then he was a craven, soulless hack comic. He was an example of the worst people in the comedy community, somebody without a scintilla of talent, but who craved the spotlight. Even an ordinary mind can be dangerous when it’s focused on one thing, in his case a sociopathic commitment to do anything to or for anybody if they thought it would produce an advantage. To my knowledge, he never crossed me, but I gave him a wide berth and wasn’t sorry to lose sight of him when Carol and I left New York.
He resurfaced as a Facebook Jesus, proclaiming the Good Word as a conservative comic/pundit, recycling conservative talking points and accusing anyone who disagreed with his simplistic reasoning of being a simpleton. As a business strategy, my hat is off to him. In the '80s, comedy was more an art form than business. Creatively, he brought a knife to a gunfight, and a butter knife at that. But today, it’s a business. He doesn’t have a conscience or a comic point of view. He wants to find an audience. Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck have identified the market. All he had to do was find a niche within a niche, frightened people with money to spend. He probably makes a good living now reinforcing the prejudices of the entitled.
I became like Don Quixote with this guy, because I am a special kind of stupid. Obviously, he was not open to other points of view; it would have screwed up the business model. Maybe it was his naked cynicism, or maybe because he was abusing my beloved comedy to feather his own nest, but I could not stop answering this guy, and I finally had to get off Facebook. And now I’m afraid to go back because I don’t want to get sucked in again.
It’s sad, in a way. If I had any gumption, as my parents used to say, I would stay off and just arrange to see my local Facebook friends in the flesh. As if they were actual friends. I suppose lunch is now a “virtual virtual experience” or “analog contact.” If you start a trend and all your friends start actually seeing each other, your lunch meme has gone viral. But I digress; because I hate the vocabulary the Internet generation has developed to convince each other that isolation is cool.
If there were computers in Emily Dickinson’s time, she would have had to go out in public to be a recluse. LOL.