Saturday, January 13, 2018

the loneliness of Facebook

It has been the better part of a month (12/18/17 submission) since I sent in the following to the local paper. The article makes no mention of local links (name of a town or region) so I suspect whatever consideration it is being given as a "guest column" is in the rear-view mirror. Anyway, I'm tired of waiting for the editorial stamp of approval. It ain't great, but it ain't that bad either. I'll put it here:

In an age of loneliness and gilded gadgets, no enabler of that loneliness stands out more sharply than Facebook, the lucrative internet format that allows people to imagine they have friends and enemies.

But now a shadow has crept across the sunshine of this internet platform. As a Guardian article suggested recently, "Facebook has acknowledged that social media use can be bad for users’ mental health, a sign the company is feeling pressure from a growing chorus of critics raising alarms about the platform’s effect on society....
The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, has asked for forgiveness and claimed his new mission was to “bring the world closer together.'"

Zuckerberg's mea culpa is leavened of course with the knowledge that the man has made billions of dollars promoting the notion that somehow Facebook already brings its users closer together instead of driving them further into the quicksand of loneliness and separation. "Bring the world closer together?" Don't make me laugh.

When it comes to addictions, I really am not sure which is more pernicious, opiods or Facebook. Some may see this statement as overreach: Facebook, they may argue, never killed anyone. My reply is two-fold: 1. Are you really sure of that and 2. Facebook nibbles at the human spirit. It does not gulp. But where there is enough nibbling, the result is likewise corpses. Is Facebook addictive? My guess is a resounding "yes," which is why I have done what I could to stay away from it and opiods. Both opiods and Facebook have some legitimate and informative uses, but there is no denying the addictive potential.

To rewrite Beatle John Lennon's observation about life, "Friends go begging while you were busy making Facebook "friends."

Facebook is very much like the widely-available pornography on the internet. Yes, it looks like sex. Yes, it is graphic. Yes, it reminds users of a potential reality. But what is that reality? Sex on the internet can hardly be called sex in all its actual-factual wonder and giggling and epiphany and despair. Similarly, Facebook "friends" or "enemies," with some rare exceptions, can hardly be equated with the wondrous complexity of having a real friend or enemy.

Turn off the phone and users of Facebook and porn are likely to find themselves every bit as lonely as before they turned it on and got so engulfed that they walked into light poles or ran over pedestrians. Friends and enemies require time and patience, stops and starts, surprises and doldrums. They are not based in the ability to type some long-distance witticism or lie or quick-hit observation.

There is nothing inherently wrong with Facebook or porn. What is wrong is the belief that this medium represents an honest and soothing human reality. No one has as many real friends as they can cobble together on Facebook. No one has as much sex -- even the no-giggles, one-dimensional sort -- as porn sites offer. But, to mix the metaphors, if you believe that Facebook actually brings people closer together, you're screwed... and left wondering why the loneliness of our time and gadgetry remains unassuaged. No one can have a beer or a cup of coffee with a pair of agile thumbs.

I grant that there is/are the occasional Facebook romances that turn into marriage. I grant that there are the shared interests in worm farms and astrophysics. I grant that there are connections that crop up and blossom. But into this mix I would add the deep suspicion that in the midst of it all, as reliance on Facebook grows, real friendship goes begging. I'm sorry, but the people I count as real friends have halitosis I have smelled as they have smelled mine. Building a friendship is subtle and not always as deliciously complete as a quickie message. And finding an enemy is much the same.

In the midst of Facebook's mea-culpa soul-searching, the answer proposed to the potential for a depressed user was every bit as gob-smacking as the notion that the institution might weigh its flaws at all. A study found that using Facebook "passively" (just reading it) could inspire depression, but that the cure was to be found ... wait for it ... by becoming more actively involved with Facebook. Join the fray. Add your comments. Dispel the loneliness.

It has been suggested that the definition of insanity is "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result." Drug addicts have a similar psalm: "If one's good, two's better."

Wouldn't it be better to expend the energy to make a real friend than to wallow in a fragile belief system whose warmth dissipates at the push of a button?

Loneliness, after all, is no joke.

Friends are not a dime a dozen.

1 comment:

  1. Facebook certainly adds to the feeling that the world is just fucking up in a bewildering number of ways.