The general inanity of the average Facebook update is the contemporary equivalent of the rooster’s crow. People live, die, go to prison, fight in wars, and steal things, but that’s not really the stuff of daily life for the typical Facebook user. One can feel reasonably assured that if most else fails, there will be the steady drip-drip-drip of posts about what Robert ate last night or how slow the train was today to keep the rhythm of the time like a particularly slow-moving metronome.
There is the impulse to feel grateful that one is able to use such a social networking site when people in other parts of the world are kept from using it by their governments or by a basic lack of access to the Internet. What if, however, I put it to you that the utter failure of Facebook to provide something approximating relevance is one of the few first-world problems that is actually significant? Confused? I’ll explain.
Mainstream media drones have given endless credit to social networking sites as a key tool for social uprisings like that in Egypt earlier this year, and perhaps more ignominiously, the current riots in London.
Yet it is undeniable that what usually goes on is something far less impactful—a post here about kittens, a tweet about where you just ate, and (God forbid) an endless stream of 4Square updates that makes the rest of the internet huff with exasperation. There’s nothing wrong with being frivolous and chatting with friends about the minutiae of life. Indeed, it is the WD-40 of social interaction, a means of easing the inevitable onset of boredom, a pastime as fundamental to human life as eating or sleeping.
But look—shit is fucked. The global economy reels daily from overwhelming sovereign debt all over the world and malfeasance in the American political system, while unemployment remains high in the US and elsewhere. Three years after the economy truly collapsed, most people in America remain worse off than they were before the Great Recession. American politics, stunningly, has reached a low of dysfunction not seen since the Gilded Age. Kids are obliterating their own neighborhoods across England out of a potent combination of rage, discrimination, opportunism, and an utter lack of respect for civic institutions. When the US credit downgrade is off the front page, there’s something seriously wrong with the world.
It is little wonder, then, that the sheer inanity of what I witness daily on social networking sites drives me to clench my teeth in anger and frustration. I use Twitter to entertain myself, share writing I’ve done here and at Good Men Project, and learn things. In this context, I can control what comes into my stream, and get rid of the extraneous bullshit. Facebook offers no such means to do so, or at least makes it so onerous that I would have to block the wall posts of nearly 300 ‘friends’ to actually hear if people have something to say. Occasionally, they do, and I rejoice and ‘like’ it. Most of the time, however, it’s an exercise in distraction.
Cutting my ties, however, has proved difficult. Quite frankly, it is the only means I have of staying in touch with people who I had once had connections with or still do. Email is too intimate for many of these ‘friends’, but that there is one genuine means of staying in contact (Google+ remains in its infancy, though it looks promising) says plenty about how inured we all are to the sheer amount of constraints over speech and content large, faceless companies (Facebook got rid of the sad guy a long time ago) can and do put in place. It is nothing new, and it is something one either works with, works around, works against—or, in most instances, some combination of the three.
To be sure, posting bullshit (as I have been guilty of in the past) is a means of inuring one’s self against the endless bummer that is the world at large. We are human, and I have to accept that. It is also undeniable fact that I, and probably you, are among the 3% of the wealthiest people in the world. I have health, an internet connection, a family I love and that loves me back, and food. Life is good, and I am grateful to live it, but what passes for job creation and democratic government is completely unacceptable. I just wish that my Facebook feed reflected that sentiment and that it didn’t feel like everyone was just plugging their ears and going LALALALALA. Please wake up–it’s nasty outside, and we need to do something. /steps off of soapbox