The Return of the Mack: Facebook et al

I get a sinking feeling in my gut whenever I see trees that have been cut down.  Or big shady, full, lush trees whose branches have been cut back to stubs because they’re near telephone pole wires.  You know?  I’m not Mr. Environmental or anything but I’m not blind.

Check out the latest reports and studies on our water sources and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s not good.  Or studies that show that 90% of us have known dangerous chemicals in our systems and urine — including teflon, BPA and others.

Bees in trouble.  Frog species going extinct.  Rainforests being denuded to make farm land, grazing land or to grow corn and soy to be used for bio fuels (which then must be shipped and transported everywhere using petroleum).

How many Walmarts do we need?  How many “luxury” apartments and condos are necessary?  We can keep expanding highways all we want.  They’re still going to make for congested and nerve wracking commutes.

Trees are the lungs of the planet.  We keep chopping them down to put up a parking lot.

You know?  It’s crazy.

Meanwhile, India and China are expecting to have the excessive standard of living as in the West, which means … what?  More petroleum?  More plastic?  More cattle?  More genetic modification?

Not that I’m sitting around fretting and policing everybody’s “green footprint”, much less my own.  Some people are taking that concept to the extreme.  It’s kind of a new spirituality and/or religion.

Anyway, the oil spill in the Gulf isn’t helping.  Five weeks of oil and gas being vomited into the Gulf.  Holy crap.  That’s going to cost us, and no mistake.  We’re going to pay for this.  This is one of those epic events that we can’t really understand because it’s on a scale that’s beyond our every day lives or even life times.  Like volcanic eruptions and the amount of energy released in earthquakes.  Solar flares and black holes.  Our national deficit(s).

It’s going to get worse before it gets better, unfortunately.  Including the illnesses that the people cleaning up will be subjected to.  Argh.

Drill, baby.  Drill.  And drill now.  With no contingency for worse case scenarios because we’re a greedy, petulant, short-sighted child-race.

Everybody’s blaming everybody.  All of a sudden the “too big” Federal government is supposed to have the expertise and resources to shove BP aside and take care of this mess.  The comparisons to Hurricane Katrina are fallacious at best.  Not that it won’t stop people from using it as a talking point in upcoming elections.

Trail Hungry

My trusty steed is in the shop.  It doesn’t take 16 days to tune up a bike but that’s the amount of the time they quoted.  And right after my first night ride when I was all stoked.

Gary not happy.

I’m checking out my old bikes to see what kind of shape they’re in.  Hm.  Not great.  Got some work to do.  But … maybe I should be taking this time to crosstrain.  Get in the fitness room and work on the elliptical, treadmill and machines.  Eh.  Screw that.  I have to ride!  Or both, but you know.  We’ll see which one will hold air in the tires until morning.

Keep your toothbrush in water and hydrogen peroxide.

Facebook

Computers are ruining my life.  Maybe yours, too.  I don’t like admitting this but I’ve missed workouts in the morning because i was putzing around on Facebook, syncing the iPhone, downloading audiobooks or other randomness.  I have spent (and will spend) nights waxing poetic about being lonely and chronically single while the rest of humanity is doing whatever it is that they do to meet people, find dates, get laid or whatever.  eHarmony?  Clubbing people over the head?  Something like that if I’ve heard correctly.

There’s a lot of stink about Facebook’s privacy policy these days.   Even to the point of some people saying they’re going to quit or trying to get others to quit.  And I have friends who have quit, although some of them just don’t like the idea of social networking.  They don’t want their persona out there in public.  Period.

See, I’m not saying it’s a total loss.  I’ve reconnected with a few people via the computer and stay connected, come to think of it.  So Facebook and others serve their purpose.  But it also more often leaves me with an odd assortment of sensations.

  • Overwhelmed by the amount of information and crosstalk
  • Underwhelmed by the depth or lack thereof of the communication taking place
  • Annoyed/distracted by the lack of controls to keep those dang games that people play from clogging up my bandwidth
  • Socially void

There’s something about the vast, broad dissemination of communication that renders it impotent.  Example: birthdays.

I’ve got a thing about birthdays.  I used to have a goal of collecting a birthday so that every day of the year I could wish someone a happy birthday.  The reason I kind of gave up is because people keep stacking up on me.  It seems like if I just kept going collecting the birthdays of friends I’d end up with some kind of plot akin to a DNA test.  It’s weird.  Neat but weird.

I will admit that I enjoyed the feeling of someone appreciating the fact that I remembered their birthday.  It makes me feel good to make you feel good.  Right?  They’d be like, “Oh wow.  You remembered my birthday and I think I told you once five years ago.  Every year you remember.  Thanks.  How are you doing?  We should get together some time maybe.  Okay.  Yeh, I’ve been good.  This is going on and that’s going on and blah blah.  How about you?  Well let me know when you’ll be in town…”

Of course, now Facebook lists upcoming birthdays and everybody’s happy birthdaying each other.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  It’s a good thing that someone can be recognized by dozens of people once a year.  Awesome.

Thing is, that’s the extent of it.  There’s something missing.  Now it’s:  “Thanks, everyone, for the birthday wishes.”

That’s it.  In a stubborn attempt to hold on to some sense of meaning, I tried to respond to everyone who left a birthday greeting on my wall individually.  I think I got everyone.  Sometimes people respond to that.  Most times they don’t.  That’s weird.  Understandable.  It is the Facebook/Twitter world after all.  But what used to be a thoughtful, personal gesture is now just social graffiti.

Kilroy was here.  On your birthday.

There are a lot of old friends that I’d like to hang out with.  But something about social networks — the constant peripheral awareness of each other — makes for superficial trite relationships.  I mean, there are a lot of people I miss and am nostalgic about and want to spend time with but something gets lost because they’re always kind of “there”.  Or around, if only digitally.

This is just my perception, of course.  Maybe everyone else is living life to the fullest aided by Facebook, Twitter and FourSquare and what not.  I dunno.  But it seems like social networks just enforce the status quo.

I have allergies.  I used to think that the trees and grass are trying to kill me.  Then I realized that was ridiculous and superstitious anthropomorphizing.  Truth is, they’re all just a bunch of perverts!  Shootin’ their jiz into the air all willy nilly with no regard for decorum, decency or modesty.  I come out of the house in the morning and there’s flora money shot all over my car.  What sick…

Trees: Nature’s Shameless Whores

I kid the trees.  We’re cool.

Anyway, what was I saying?  Oh.  Right.  I’m not one of those “everybody get off of Facebook” people, but I mourn the passing of being present.

Even on the occasions when I do get together with friends, they’re constantly checking their damn phones.  Taking calls, texting constantly, changing plans at the last minute.  And I know the pull, the gravity of addiction to these amazing gadgets that connect you to the cloud.  It is a compulsion.  Substance or not I get an urge to check my phone even if I just checked all my email and stuff.

But if I’m with you, I’m with you.  I make an effort to be present.  Not because I’m somehow superior or more righteous, but because that’s what it’s all about.  If I’m expecting an important or time sensitive call I’ll tell you so up front.  “Hey, I may get a call that I have to take.”

My phone is on vibrate.  I feel it buzz and I resist the urge to check it.  Until, maybe, I go to the restroom or something.  Or if you take a call I may check.  Then I feel like an ass because we’re two people sitting at a table totally not paying attention to each other.  But hey.  What can you do.

When I took my nephews hiking the other weekend, the oldest, 14, was texting constantly.  I kept threatening to take the phone from him or to make him turn it off.  I didn’t, but I did keep complaining about it.  It was annoying and distracting.  So finally I said, “Be here!  You’re out here with your family on this amazing day in nature with the river and the trees and perfect weather.  Be here.”

Then he said something that pissed me off.  He said, “Everything looks the same.”

After the demon red faded from my eyes … I mean.  He didn’t really mean that.  It was just, you know, what he said.  He was having fun, too.  It’s just one of those things that people say when they want to disarm you.  Reflexively jerkish and dismissive.

That phone was this close to going in the river, though.  At one point he said something like this:  “It’s not my fault.  People keep texting me.”

You see the implication there?

Side note.  I hear parents complain about their kids texting at the dinner table and so on.  As if they had no say about it.  Why do people let this happen?  Be a parent.  Doesn’t make sense to me to knowingly let your child become addicted to any device, much less a device that allows them to communicate with anyone, anywhere, anytime while simultaneously ignoring the people in their immediate vicinity.

Of course, I say that assuming that the parents aren’t on their own phones.  At the Original Pancake House the other weekend there was a couple with a little girl next to me.  Cute kid.  Precocious, bright, keeping quiet because the tension between her parents (I’m assuming) was thicker than real maple syrup in a Northeast winter.  The parents didn’t say one word to each other for, like, a good 20 minutes.  I kid you not.  There was some kind of argument going on.  The silent part of it.  The wife was playing on her phone the whole time.  Then the husband, playing tit for tat, would pull out his phone.

She was obviously punishing him for something.  Meanwhile, this poor little girl is sitting there trying to psychically balance the humours of her immature parents.

Hell.  As long as I’m sounding like an old man, I’ll just wrap up with this.

All this technology for communicating and the new social norms make me … isolated.  And a bit lost.

Oh well.  So it goes.   Luckily, our infrastructure is fragile and teetering so eventually there’ll be some quiet and peace, reconnecting and getting back to basics.

I guess what it boils down to is … well, it’s the same lesson again.

Convenience is no substitute for effort.

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9 comments

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  1. tslajs

    “Convenience is no substitute for effort.”

    Ah, the simple beauty of truth. Or the beauty of simple truth? Whatever! It’s a lesson that the Twit(ter) Nation needs to learn.

  2. garyarthuryoung

    Exactly. As a great man once said. You see, we learned too late that man is a feeling creature…

  3. Sarah Benelli

    Computers are ruining my life too. But how do you keep from feeling lonely without them, when everyone you love is in the computer and not in your living room…?

    I wonder if I’m present. I take pictures of things that delight me and I post them on facebook so I can share with others. Maybe they’ll be delighted too. But maybe I’m just showing off? Like I can’t wait 30 minutes to check if I have new notifications. Is it the attention I like? The tiny reminder that someone remembered me a moment ago and “liked” my picture of my kid? But am I forgetting my kid – the object of my delight in the first place – by photographing and sharing his picture with my friends on fb?

    There’s some pressure I feel to be “on” on facebook. Like if I have something to say it ought to be clever or interesting or impressive. What’s that about? Is it because I have 500 “friends” and so I can’t really be myself?

    I really feel like a minimum of 20% of my day goes to managing my online persona.

    And those were my musings…. 🙂

    • garyarthuryoung

      Sarah!

      What’s up, Sarah B? And Sarah’s online persona.

      It is a conundrum. Once you start with the digital persona … it’s a trap! (Thank you, General Akhbar.)

      Even when I’m out riding I want to take photos and GPS it and everything. To what end? I’m disappointed if something goes wrong and the trail isn’t recorded. Isn’t that weird? So far no one’s been enticed by the photos and GPS tracks.

      How much is too much? I think it’s already kind of too much. But what can you do. I wonder how many people spend more energy feeling the urge to capture their kid’s moments than … you know. The focus. To just enjoy it.

      And with blogging, it’s the same phenomenon with thoughts.

      Too much distraction by virtual relationships, worlds and interactions.

      Give me some grounding advice, Sarah.

      • Sarah Benelli

        Grounding advice?

        Make real connections on the web or don’t make any at all. Send private messages to people rather than general publications into the webiverse.

        (I say that, but how sad would I be if you quit blogging?)

        The truth is I really, really enjoy your blog. Sometimes in a passive and impersonal way, something interesting to read, like any article I’d bother with. But more often, as a glimpse into your life. I appreciate that you’re sharing. That’s what’s interesting to me. If we ran into each other in some coffee shop (miracle of miracles), I feel like we could pick up and have a conversation. We already know what’s going on. We could talk politics, major life-happenings, your fiction. I like that.

        Maybe you don’t know that though. Maybe I take the time to read, but I don’t take the time to respond. That human thing, where the two people mutually acknowledge what was just said before moving on to the next thing. That isn’t there.

        I guess my advice would be to always respond. Or almost always. If there’s something to respond to, I mean. If someone’s really sharing something. My second piece of advice would be to delete everyone you can’t see doing that with.

        But who knows if I’ll follow my own advice….

  4. garyarthuryoung

    Life happenings. I needs me some of that. 🙂

    That is good advice. I was thinking about the Facebook thing and…

    Oh wait. Something about what you wrote in your first comment. Social persona performance anxiety. Do you feel it when you’re on?

    I feel guilty about removing people so I don’t. I just hide their notifications on my news feed. So they’re still there. I just get less stuff right off the bat.

    I wish there were filters I could turn on (no offense to anyone but … you know. to each, his/her own) so I could block out reality TV show chatter, any more than 4 consecutive Tweets, baby and toddler-related posts.

    That’s not directed at you, of course. It’s a general thing. An adorable photo followed by 20 “Oooooh! So cute!”s. Which is great. I just don’t need it in my news feed. Same goes for weddings.

    And you know. People are at different stages in life. So it’s all good.

    But I’ll tell you, Sarah, what I would like to see. I know some extremely talented people. Obviously. And so much of their time gets sucked up by Facebook or YouTube or Hulu. It’s sad. All that creativity and potential for constructive creation being “stolen” by all this … stuff.

    Like some of my morning workouts. Casualties of virtual distractions. Ironically, virtual distractions are very real.

    It seems like something has to give. But I doubt it will. The culture will just shift to accommodate.

    Everybody walk the dinosaur.

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