Taking the facebook Pledge; or, The Allegory of the facebook Cave

I decided again to leave facebookland. I’m back on the facebook wagon. I spent too much time driving around in circles, and my time on facebook was beginning to feel like living on a freeway, not free, and only two ways, on and off, and I had to keep up with the traffic, stay out of the way of semi-posts, watch out for falling photos. True, the sky was blue, the windows down, the radio on, everyone waving to one another: life is good in facebookland.

I also ditched twitter, which had come to feel like reading in a nest of mosquitoes. When I left facebookland, I was detained by lures of questions asking why I was leaving, and I was distracted by messages claiming that my friends would miss me, specific friends: Jack will miss you; Jill will miss you. Twitter has a slightly different guilt driven, exit poll strategy: I was advised that I may never come back using the same name and address. It’s like going home again: you can go back home, but only as a different person. You may re-enter the facebook highway anytime you want; your friends may not even know you got off. If, when you exited, you de-friended them, that’s problematic, since they may not re-befriend you, but they’ll probably be happy to have you back, and say something like, I thought we were already friends.

Facebook has features I never used, like the real time chat, which must feel something like an electronic cocktail party rather than an endless freeway commute. It’s not facebook’s fault, my leaving. Facebook is a clean, well-lighted place that never closes, even if it is a cave. There is no night in facebookland; the sun never sets. Part of the reason I found myself soaking up more and more facebook light recently is my new laptop, a refurbished MacBook Pro I bought a couple of months ago. It’s a hovercraft. I love the way the keyboard lights up in the dark. The design is perfect, like a well-fitted, classical guitar. No viruses. As intuitive as a bicycle. It goes everywhere my backpack goes.

But the primary reason I left facebookland are the writing and reading projects I have going. There’s no pursuit more pleasurable and rewarding than reading and writing. Not that I’ll ever finish any of these projects (can one finish a blog? one might end it, but that’s not the same as finishing it), but that’s of no consequence, whether I finish a writing project or not. Abandoning a writing project is an experience very close to finishing one, though perhaps not as satisfying. One abandons books, occasionally, as ill-suited, poor fits, bad choices. Just so, one abandons one’s own writing projects. Perhaps we were not ready for them, the writing or the books we gradually let go of, until one day, they were simply gone, like past friends. One must read and write every day, without interruption, just as one must pick up the guitar every day, or the brushes or sticks, or the golf club, or the fishing pole, or the shovel or rake, or the hammer, or the ball and glove, or the pool cue, or the surfboard. And whatever distracts from these purposes, these pursuits, must be put away.

Perhaps facebook is a kind of reading and writing, some new electronic sub-genre, like texting, videos, and other sound bites. But at least facebook is what it purports to be, a social media, driven by advertising dollars, purposed to persuade users to continue, to keep on, to stay in. Facebook is a new rhetoric, a new art of persuasion. Here is facebook’s mission statement: “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” Does the world want to be more open and connected? Apparently so, given the number of facebook users. But what does open mean? How does one measure more? And connected to what? “Open Sesame” gets you into the cave of the thieves, but you don’t want to forget the magic words that unseal the cave so you can get back out. Those magic words might be “Deactivate Account.” Or we are back in Plato’s cave, and though it appears we are looking directly into the light, what we see on the wall of the facebook cave may not be reality, but shadows of advertisements passing before the fire of commerce that burns behind our backs.

Increasingly, we seem to live in two worlds, “in twosome twiminds,” as Joyce said, the electronics of visual perception (the charge of the light brigade, for Joyce, was the coming of television), and the philosophy of acoustics, and we are drowning in doubt.

Note: Meaghan Morris, “Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney,” published a scholarly article titled “Grizzling About Facebook” in the November, 2009 issue of the Australian Humanities Review. The article is not what you might expect. For one thing, Meaghan resists the old journalist codger who would “urge me to spend more time off-line (‘making new friends and maintaining old friendships’) for the sheer good of my soul is a grizzle from those fairies at the bottom of the garden” (para. 9). Yet she acknowledges that facebookland does indeed have its back alleys and unlit corridors:  “I certainly do not mean to suggest that all criticism of Facebook is grizzling. Serious legal, ethical and political issues are arising from or being intensified by the ‘Facebook’ phenomenon (to use a typifying metonym myself), in the process sharpening some of the challenging debates of our time; free speech and its limits, censorship, the right to privacy, the negotiation of social protocols for a transnational economy that thrives on difference as well as inequality, the relations between semiotic and other modes of violence, tensions between legal, communal and performative models of identity, the foundations of community, the power of corporations in our personal lives, and the technological transformation of work are just a few of these” (para. 10). But while recognizing the traps in facebookland, Meaghan seems to think the risks worth taking, and this is what makes her scholarly viewpoint worth listening to: “…what Facebook does well is combine: you can write private letters, play games, send gifts, do quizzes, circulate news, post notes, music and clips, share photos or research, test your knowledge, join groups and causes, make haiku-like allusions to your state of mind and chat on-line with friends, all in one place and time—restoring or relieving, according to need, the pattern of an everyday life” (para. 22), and who among us, Meaghan asks, does not value these life on the street, at work, and at home activities? I’ve mentioned Meaghan’s article in a previous post, here. Meaghan’s article is a scholarly gem.

4 thoughts on “Taking the facebook Pledge; or, The Allegory of the facebook Cave

  1. Congrats on your new Macbook Pro Joe! I remember talking about Mac in your class (at Concorde), you might of thought I was a little crazy for being so passionate about Apple. Heh.

    PS. You can use the “giant — dash” much easier on a Mac. And it’s available virtually in every application!

    Directions:
    Apple Toolbar > Edit > Special Characters > Punctuation

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    • Hey, Joey. Nice to hear from you again. Yes, I no longer look askance at MacEnthusiasm. Truly, the ergonomics of this thing are wonderfully put together. I will try the MacDashMaker. E. B. White would have loved it, of that I’m certain. Yet I must confess, still being a newbie to this thing, I didn’t know there even was an “Apple Toolbar.” — ah, ha! There it is! Your directions proved sound, and i just accomplished in a second what would have taken a year on an IBM clone, no?

      Like

      • That’s funny, I just started a subscription to The New Yoker. I don’t know much about E. B. White but the fact he was a longtime writer of the magazine. I think my first edition comes Monday! It’s actually quite cheap; just $6.99/month and delivered weekly — I wanted The Nytimes but it is too expensive. Not to mention sometimes my week gets busy, and it ends up being a waste of paper (maybe the weekender is my solution?). The magazine will also be good because I work nights at OHSU… been working as a nursing assistant there for a little over a year and it gets quiet at night!

        PS. Check out my newest hobby: web design! I created a Pearl District website, it’s http://pearlhelp.com

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