people of the book

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It’s always confused me, the etiquette for letting people know that I’m taking a break from facebook. How does one do this without sounding like a self-important jerk? There are no good answers. Whatever you do, you’re screwed. If you post a windy diatribe against social media, tell all your facebook friends that you need to be more “present” in your “real” life, and say something flippant like, “See you on the other side…” you will be viewed as 1. The above-mentioned self-important jerk (since you assume that people actually care enough to want to know why you’re leaving) and/or 2. A social media snob who just gave a big digital bird to all the people you just left in your binary wake. Of course, if you say nothing and just disappear like a Web 2.0 D.B. Cooper, folks will think you’ve de-friended them and you’ll get angry and/or hurt messages asking if they’ve done something to offend you or what’s going on or why did you leave or do you still like them?

As a chronic short-timing facebook quitter, I’ve had many chances to think about this dilemma.  My friends know the story. I’ve quit, with all kinds of quasi-Luddite pronouncements, only to come back the very next day, or in most cases, before lunch. In fact, my friends are laughing at me right now. I can hear their chuckles coming down the ethernet highway. Yes, I may change my mind. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a month from now. Maybe you’ll never see me again (Take that, suckers!) Human beings can change their minds, right? I mean, who here is the same person they were five or ten years ago. Hell, we’re not the same people we were this morning, or even five minutes ago. I don’t know if my abstinence will stick, just like I don’t know if my sobriety will stick, or if I’ll ever learn to surf, or find The Hissing of Summer Lawns on vinyl. Doesn’t matter. We are allowed to change our minds. If you say you’ll be the same person in ten years as you are right now, that you’ve got it all worked out, then you’re a liar.

Let’s face it: facebook changes you. And not for the better. It changes the way your brain works. It alters your cerebral chemistry. It makes you snarkier, ruder, less sensitive, more eager to please, more easily hurt. Lonelier. I could show you studies. Trust me.

All your life events, the things you used to hold onto and only share with people you could physically touch or who were breathing the air in the same room or in the same stand of trees as you are now in the cloud. You had adventures, not events. You took photographs that had to be developed. You couldn’t record and/or store anything, except in your own neurons. Unlike the replicants in Blade Runner, you had real memories. Not the implanted kind.

When everything becomes sharable, then our brains start making calculations. This would be a great tweet, we say. I can really make myself look sexy at the beach if I upload this photo, we think. Just tonight, I made crab cakes and sautéed baby kale for dinner. I plated it on a dish my wife and I received as a wedding gift; the “Water Music” pattern from Crate and Barrel. It looked beautiful; the dark green of the kale juxtaposed against white china and the dark brown of the crusty cakes. The first thing I thought, and I’m not joking here, is, “If I took a picture, this would make a great facebook update.” Not, “Wow. This is going to taste really great.” My brain had already jumped ahead to the Big Share. And that’s just one of a hundred calculations I make throughout the day. And I bet you do too. Facebook isn’t real, but the emotions we invest in our posts, pictures, and comments are.

Of course, there are some people who have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards facebook. Or the real rebels, the facebook resisters. To both these groups, I say, “Bully for you.” Seriously, I commend you. I wish I had your strength. I wish I didn’t feel so insecure to need the thumbs-ups and the likes and the comments. I wish I didn’t work in a lonely, windowless basement where most days facebook is my only connection to the outside world. I’m reminded of the Zen master who, speaking to his students, pointed to the window and said, “There are people walking around out there who don’t need this thing called Zen.” Why? Because they are already enlightened. I really think the hard-core facebook resisters are the most enlightened people on the planet right now.  Facebook? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

I write all this with my biggest, Whitmanesque heart. No one has the answers. I’m making up the rules as I go along, just like all the rest of the world’s digital citizens. No one can foretell if all this facebooking will turn us into flesh batteries for the Matrix, or will usher in a future era of worldwide peace and eternal life. Or maybe a time halfway between these extremes where you can get an MFA in Advanced Snark, every movie is a sequel to The Hangover, and all the restaurants are Taco Bells.

I haven’t had a drop of booze in over a month, I’ve dedicated myself to learning how to surf, I’ve started collecting vinyl records, I always have a book going, I love spending time with my wife and children and my friends, far and near. I want to talk to people not about what they do, but who they are, what makes them happy, who they want to become. I will meet love with love. If there is a god, then he definitely don’t make no junk, but he isn’t finished with me either. Nor with any of you. I always advise folks to get out there and live life without looking in the digital mirror. Yeah, I should talk. But most of you are living your lives, without worrying about what facebook will think. Again I say; kudos.

But I’m not that strong. And facebook doesn’t have an out-of-office message. So, I wrote one myself. Please see below. Feel free to fill in the blanks and/or cut and paste for your own needs. Like human beings, it’s DRM-free…

(YOUR NAME) is taking a break from Facebook, beginning (DATE) . (HE/SHE) will be back some time in the future, but (HE/SHE) is not sure when. (HE/SHE) can be reached by email at (YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS HERE).  (HE/SHE) (WILL/WILL NOT) be receiving facebook IMs and or text messages during (HIS/HER) hiatus. (HE/SHE) will continue blogging at (ENTER APPLICABLE BLOG ADDRESS HERE). (HE/SHE) also accepts phone calls, letters by post, old vinyl LPs and pie. (HE/SHE) wishes you well, until (HE/SHE) meets you again on the internets. Or on the street. Aloha!

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One comment

  1. Cindy Harris

    Michael, this is a window into an aspect of Facebook that I didn’t even know existed. I myself started off posting simply what interested me and a few friends and have been fascinated to see how many people bring up in conversation something I posted ages ago. It hasn’t changed what I post, but I’m much more aware of how connected I am to an enormous network of fascinating people, including “friends of friends” like you who I’ve never met. Thanks for sharing your insight on this crazy idea. Enjoy your social media fast, and come back refreshed.

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