Facebook has been a bit of a distraction to me lately, you could say. There are a lot of people on the planet, and a lot of them are online now. A small but often vocal few are on my news feed, and every one of them has something interesting and important to say. In and among all the cats, as always. Opinions are everywhere, available information is overwhelming, arguments are being had, and all the darker things that result from poor understanding, bad communication, and hurt feelings continue to play out, in graphic detail before us.
What kind of social transformation are we in the midst of, at the moment? Do we have any sweet clue where this will all lead, being all interconnected in ways that only years ago were only being speculated at?
I grew up in the seventies, and I feel really lucky to be able to say that. I got to have a childhood largely free of ever-connected devices and unlimited information. Television was a reliable one-way channel for advertisers to reach my young brain through the serving up of entertainment as well as news. That is, what was then called news, and might now sometimes be called Fake News, propaganda, skewed opinion, psychological trickery, or Business as Usual. I don’t mean to suggest I’m living in a rabbit hole, just that media has always been used for the twin purposes of informing as well as influencing; we can reasonably assume it has been so for a while, without being labeled a conspiracy theorist.
I still think having TV was largely worth it – The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, Electric Company, 3-2-1 Contact, and many other shows got me tuned into the notion that “school subjects” could exist outside of school, and be delivered in an entertaining wrapper to boot. Many other shows engaged my creative mind : Battlestar Galactica, V, Buck Rogers, Robotech, etc etc. This isn’t meant to be a full playlist from my childhood – it was long, as many childhood playlist were and are – just a quick tour of some of the awesome I got handed through that simulated woodgrain appliance around which so much of my time had become arranged.
But that box never asked me for my opinion on anything, never asked me to share my own ideas, or even send feedback about what I was watching there – it couldn’t. At some point I actually had to go outside or otherwise figure out how to use my imagination, because there was only so much one could glean from staring at this:
Remember those things? There were periods during our evenings, late nights, and early mornings where television didn’t show anything but a test pattern, or even better, static. This wasn’t that long ago, a lot of us still remember that pretty clearly. My own elders remember not having televisions in the home until a certain point. We’ve now shot a sports car into space and are all carrying around gps-enabled tracking devices, capable of bouncing signals around the globe via a network of satellites. We’ve come a long way, in terms of how connected we are to the flow of information, and we are now nodes capable of interjecting our own thoughts, spreading messages or not, and curating our own intake of it all, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This has all happened rather suddenly, in our own lifetimes. Where it will go from here is anybody’s guess, and I supposed we’ll all see it play out in real time. Will we start to get implants so that the clunky cell phone and its associated wifi / connectivity / battery issues no longer waste our precious moments? Will we want to be even more online in the future, about as online as we already are, or less online, in search for some of that distance from it all that used to be imposed upon us by technical limitations that apply less and less every day? Do we get to have a test pattern ever again? Maybe only if we impose it upon ourselves.
Is that conversation happening, and what about the younger generations who don’t remember having an imposed break from devices, information streams, and channels of communication at all scales? Do breaks from the Internet of Things even resonate as an idea to the young? You’d have to tell me, I’m no longer one of them.
So about a week ago, I had had enough of Facebook’s grip on my day-to-day life. I had come to feel that the social media world somehow needed my scintillating opinions, thoughtful likes and shares, and sustained attention in order to function correctly. Of course I’m exaggerating, but my behavior certainly implied that I had become emotionally and functionally invested in being online, reachable, and participating in the Grand Discussion. I needed an actual break. I took seven days off from that one platform, and it was pleasant.
After week 1, 63 activity alerts and some friend requests, which are confirmed. The steadily growing list of Things That Have Happened in Your Vicinity on Facebook grows longer by the hour, yet I have no desire to delve into it. This is unexpected. I decide to extend my Facebook Vacation by one week, immediately. The world there has managed to go on without me, and the notion is immediately humbling and also a relief. What spell have I been operating under? Something about ego, I’ll wager. I have so much of the stuff, draped over me like a cloying blanket!
In part II, I will presumably write about not being on Facebook for an entire second week. I will try hard to add some drama or perhaps a compelling observation. Stay tuned.
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