But I never learn, do I? What is it about this inane website—so brimming with venomous, ungrammatical proselytizing and banal chit-chat—that lures me back again and again? Why don't I just hole up in my blogspace and write angry letters to the government like any self-respecting crackpot? Good questions. I'm tempted to believe that this is a Train Wreck phenomenon—in which the spectator is repulsed but also endlessly fascinated by tragedy—the tragedy in question in this case being the decline of Western Civilization—and, since the internet no longer recognizes discrete geographical borders, the decline of Everything and Everyone.
A bit too grandiose? I think so. What's interesting about Facebook isn't that it's causing the world to be more fucked-up than it was pre-Facebook, but that it's broadcasting the evidence of this fucked-uppedness—immediately and without the intermediary of 'respectable' media—so that we can't live in denial anymore.
Before Facebook, for example, I probably wouldn't have known that some of my friends—and by extension so many Americans—were borderline illiterates. Arrogantly perhaps, I would have assumed that we were all in the same linguistic ballpark. This isn't a conscious assumption, mind you. I'm not delusional, after all. But when a question doesn't assert itself directly in our lives, we tend not to supply an answer. If I never had any cause to wonder if my friends and relatives were butchers of the English language, I probably wouldn't have considered it.
Facebook is like that. It tells us so many things about other people that we never really asked. We might have been aware of so-and-so's political leanings, generally speaking, but we might never have known the sputtering anger and hatred that informs his individual positions if Facebook hadn't come along and supplied a handy soapbox for any and all to mount and declaim from.
What bothers me about Facebook more than the typical bugaboos of political posts and those obnoxious Facebook game updates is the outrageous banality of so much of the communication there. In real life, when we meet up with vague acquaintances, we're likely to engage in pointless small talk, just to fill the blank space that arises between us, but Facebook presents us with a permanent blank space to fill—and users are all too eager to fill it with the minutiae of their everyday lives—what they're having for dinner, what the weather's like, whether they're feeling tired or excited, how their day's shaping up, what their plans for the weekend are, and so on and so forth.
I'm one of those cranks who believe we shouldn't speak (or post) unless we have something to say. And by 'something to say' I mean something that might be interesting to the general public outside of the hermetically-sealed domain of our egos. If we want to hear ourselves talk, there's such a thing as an internal monologue. We can talk our own ears off inside the hollows of our private consciousness without cluttering up the world with more noise. The world is already noisy enough these days, and as the tentacles of technology keep reaching to heretofore unimagined corners of our lives, the world only promises to get noisier. Admittedly, this isn't an exact science. What we think is interesting might bore anyone in our vicinity to tears, but I think most of us are endowed with a self-awareness that tells us that our laundry or toenail-clipping probably doesn't require a formal declaration or press conference.
It must be a horrifying history lesson for militant Facebook users to discover that a century ago people had to content themselves with a private knowledge of the dishes in the sink that need washing. They couldn't tell the whole world about it. Can you imagine? All of that ordinary, self-referential cognition without any outlet? (Oh, the humanity!) They couldn't even pick up a (land line) telephone and call up their mothers to tell them. They lacked the technology to inflict their egos upon friends, family members, and complete strangers halfway across the globe.
Before Facebook, I had absolutely no idea how boring most people are. It never occurred to me that if you gave the average schmo a megahorn to broadcast his thoughts to the world, all he'd be able to come up with are reports on how he slept the night before or the status of the lawn: does it need mowing or not? Don't get me wrong. I understand that the ordinary details are (generally speaking) the substance of our lives, but I try to remember that my ordinary details are the substance of my life, not yours.
Facebook reveals how difficult it is for people to think outside of themselves. Maybe as society grows more accustomed to social media as a fact of life, it will learn how to contend with a captive audience. I hate to equate a person's life with a movie or other entertainment, but it's about time Facebookers understand the economics of attention spans. When Cuba Gooding Jr. started making nothing but crap-movie after crap-movie, people stopped paying attention to him and his movies got lost in the direct-to-Netflix market. Likewise, people need to understand that when they yammer on and on about how they hate Mondays or about their dentist appointment later in the day people will stop 'listening' to them. They'll be hidden from the news feed altogether, which is really akin to not existing at all in this strange new world we're embarking upon.
Please always remember your freedom of expression is not free. Your Facebook friends have to pay for it.
The status updates featured in this blog post were not generated by any of my Facebook friends or any of their friends. These are status updates from people I don't know (and don't wish to know). The names have been withheld to protect the
innocent extremely guilty.