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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. See main page for full contents

September 30, 2009


Djelloul Marbrook - There's a big short in the circuitry of my understanding of Facebook. Like so many other things in my life, I get it intellectually, but emotionally I don't. Who are all these strangers claiming to be my friends?

I can't bring myself to call strangers friends. Not because I'm antisocial-albeit I'm not the most sociable person in the world-but because it seems so patently disingenuous. It reminds me of my many unsuccessful attempts to have fun at parties. I don't like parties. In fact, I fear them. All those people spilling all that grimly determined fun all over me.

At one level I perceive Facebook as a kind of vacation from the mean incivility that sickens our culture-a boorish congressman calling the President a liar in Congress, torrents of hateful, mendacious, ignorant e-mail, radio rant and screed, everywhere the volume turned up by the media and stridency approaching stroke rates-but at another level I regard Facebook as profoundly inane.

Is it an avoidance tactic? By swapping irrelevancies do we avoid real engagement with each other and with ideas? Do we wallow in twaddle in order not to have to think about how to be of some service to each other, not to have to think of how selfish we have become?

Is it the same kind of exhibitionism we see in cafes and the streets, loud talking on cellphones by people wanting to be seen as important and engaged? Surely it's a form of self-advertisement, but why would anyone want to market such inconsequence, such shallowness? I remember a large man showily purposing around a Starbucks in Manhattan, shouting in his cellphone. A young man seated next to me said, Hey, we get that you're important, okay? Everybody laughed and the big man yakked his way out into the street. Is this what Facebook is about?

Okay, you're important, each and every one of you, but I don't want to be your fan, and you don't have to be my friend, and, above all, I don't want to swap inanities with you that I wouldn't insult a dog with. I was never any good at small talk and Facebook strikes me as an extreme example of it.

I'm sure it's a generational thing. I'm 75. I know how to navigate Facebook, although I draw a blank here and there when the designer-nerds have been a little less than intuitive. But why would I want to waste my precious time? I overhear better conversation on the street, I find more ideas reading books or searching the web. Facebook strikes me as an immense dead zone. Indeed I sometimes think it's what news organizations are on their way to becoming.

I understand the value of a little biographical information. I like to study people's faces. But the continuous blather? It seems to me not unlike polluting the ocean with plastic bottles and styrofoam cups, or polluting the atmosphere with more noise than is good for a sentient being. As minimalist painters like Robert Motherwell have suggested, there is such a thing as visual pollution, too.

My sense is that a great culture will eventually find the restraint not to launch every conceivable sound, image and thing into the world without regard to the total impact. Whether a society as commercially driven as ours can achieve such restraint is beyond me. I would like to think so, because without such restraint no great art is ever produced. Music and literature are as much about silence as they are about sound. Art is as much about what is not put on the canvas as what is, as Paul Cezanne with his bare canvas suggested.-DM


Blogger Rhonda said...

Thank you. I enjoyed your Facebook Shortcircuit. I wish we could have a cup of something together and an enjoyable conversation. What an idea these days--talking person to person.
I like your thoughts.
--Rhonda in the sticks in England

September 30, 2009 7:16 PM  
Blogger Del & Marilyn said...

Dear Rhonda,
Thank you for not thinking me curmudgeonly. I nurture fond thoughts of discourse not having become a shouting match in the UK. Perhaps I have watched too many parlor room movies. But it would be good to think English is not everywhere used to beat each other's over the heads.—DM
P.S. I live in our sticks, in the Hudson Valley of New York.

November 7, 2009 6:51 PM  

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