Tuesday, June 27, 2017

online and offline

So, I saw this headline this morning. It could have been misinterpreted, it could have been overstated, but that doesn't really matter given how I'm going to riff off of it.

Fundamentally, it claimed that Mark Zuckerberg said that he wanted Facebook to fill the role the churches and civic groups (Little League given as an example) once filled.

Okay. First up. I love the Internet, but only for some things.

It's easier to find special-interest communities online. I doubt I would be as avid a knitter as I am (and might not even be a knitter at all) if it weren't for the internet. And there are lots of people I "know" (and a couple I have even met in real life) that I only "know" through the internet. And it is nice for sort of shy, contact-averse people like me: there's almost always someone on somewhere, so if a person needs someone to virtually "sit with" them (while a loved one is in surgery, or when a difficult career decision needs to be made, or one is facing the anniversary of a difficult event), there is usually someone there.

And I know a lot has been said about the cruelty and unkindness of some on the internet, and I don't deny that there are the "edgelords" out there who seem to derive joy from belittling others or stomping on people. I've MOSTLY not run into that because I'm careful where I hang out, and my default way of treating people is with kindness, and if someone starts to be unpleasant to me and it's not a case of "they're having a bad day" or "it's a misunderstanding that can be cleared up," I back out of the interaction pretty fast.

And I love online shopping. I think I would find it hard to live where I do - in a town where basically, wal-mart is the source of your "needs," without the ability to order stuff online. Stuff like wool sock yarn and Golden Syrup and reprints of 1930s mystery novels and Monster High dolls and, and, and....

And yes, catalogs. But you have to know about the catalog, and request it, and it's a longer wait to get whatever it is you've ordered than if you do the ordering online. And catalogs are more limited in what they can display.

But there are other things about the Internet I think we need to be careful about. And Zuckerberg's comment is one of them. My immediate reaction to "Facebook can replaces churches!" (or sub in "temples, mosques, synagogues, meeting-houses" or whatever term you prefer) was "Oh, and does Facebook feed the poor, sir?"

Even my little, struggling church tries to help out the local food bank. And we do quarterly driving for Meals on Wheels. I'm probably gonna do it (for the first time ever) this July because we're having a hard time getting people, and with not teaching, I will be available over the noon hour.

And that's part of the problem, right there. There's often a shortage of people to do volunteer work. The work isn't photogenic or cool, necessarily. But it's important.

And that's my big gripe about the whole slick side of online-life: it's the photogenic stuff that gets paid attention to, and the stuff that's less "sexy," no matter how important it may be, gets ignored.

I find myself thinking of an early lesson in how advertising lies to you, sometimes: Fourth grade. There was "student council," which was a series of elected positions (kind of like a mock government). Of COURSE the "cool" kids got all the student-council slots.

Then, some weeks later, they came 'round asking for "student leaders." No, this wasn't going to be an election, they said. We're just looking for volunteers.

And I admit, I kind of envied the council kids. I thought it would be cool to be a "decisionmaker," even if the decisions they made really weren't that significant. So, even though no other detail was given us, I put my hand up.

You want to know what "student leaders" were?

They were the kids who, one day a week, gave up their recess time to give the custodians a break by washing down the tables after lunch and helping to fold them up and roll them away. (We ate lunch in the "multipurpose room," which was also the gym and was also where we had assemblies). So for one day a week, I had my hands in water that smelled somewhat of Pepto-Bismol (I wonder now what the detergent was they used, and what we were exposed to, but it was the 1970s and people cared less about kids' safety than they do now).

Anyway. I felt VERY cheated. For one thing, they were kind of like, "Yeah....Student Leaders....yeah....that's the ticket" without explaining to us what it meant. And secondly: like a lot of those things? I just got teased even more. Because the stupid, snobby rich kids at my school thought we were there to be their servants (and yes, they sometimes left the tables extra messy for us). And I think we got a pizza party at the end of the year, but it was school-cafeteria pizza, so.

It was an early lesson for me in (a) be careful what you volunteer for, (b) people will lie or withhold information to get what they want and (c) some tasks are really super thankless.

But anyway: I don't know how necessary "student leaders" were other than that it lessened the burden on the custodians one day a week. But there are a lot of tasks out there that are not fun but are necessary.

And one of the things I worry about is that there is a certain subset of people who pick what they're willing to do - if anything - on a volunteer basis based on what's likely to get them "liked" online for doing it.

It's really hard to get people to do some stuff. There was a minor crisis in the local AAUW chapter last year because NO ONE wanted to be president. I said I'd do it, but that would mean me being president AND recording secretary (which I had already agreed to do) and I didn't think that was a good thing. (And no one volunteered to take secretary from me, either). We were even talking about the possibility of disbanding and FINALLY someone who had already done it a number of times grudgingly agreed to. (And it's not that HARD of a job - treasurer is probably the worst job)

And you see that everywhere. I've talked about how I'm probably Head Elder for Life because I'm the one who's always there for the meetings, and I'm the one who's usually in church, so I can fill in if someone who is scheduled is absent.*

(*At the church my parents belong to, they've largely abandoned schedules and just rely on "at least two elders and two deacons will show up every service" which I think is a super dangerous way of doing it and it likely means there will be some three-day holiday weekend where there aren't enough of whatever group to serve)

And I admit it, it's not a very nice thing about me but: I get tired of filling in all the time. I mean, it's worse for me to have to shanghai another elder who is present but was not scheduled to serve and go "Fred's not here again, will you take his place?" so I just do it, but I will admit, and God forgive me for it, but: sometimes I slightly resent having to fill in again and again and again.

And I do think we're seeing a shift in our society, where some "boring but valuable" jobs go unfilled because people want the stuff where they can take selfies and post them on Facebook and have people tell them how great they are for helping clean up that beach, or for volunteering at that kids' field day, or whatever.

We're becoming narcissists. I see it in myself sometimes, when I feel "jealous" of someone who gets a lot of adoring comments on their posts (while I am deleting 9 spam comments for every real one) and who seems to have a prettier, happier, easier life.

And that's another part of it: the editing of life to make it pretty. The fact that everyone is showing their highlight roll online and for someone like me - literal-minded, honest, and who mostly just works - well, I don't have that much of a highlight roll. I don't go on fancy vacations. I don't have adorable pets or children. I don't do things that are Meaningful with a capital M. Which means, in the weird life-inflation world of the internet, I'm boring. (Which is why I get 9 or more spambot comments for every real one).

And the whole "superstar" or "rockstar" mindset: I know I've railed against it before but it does seem to be increasing in the era of social media everything.

There's an ad on right now, I can't quickly find it online, but it's a car ad. Essentially, the voice-over implies that the goals of being a good husband and father and a decent person are not good enough - that you have to be Outstanding! and Excellent! and all of that.

And that ad makes me profoundly tired.

As I've said before: we don't NEED more flippin' rockstars in this culture. We DO need more decent people - and yes, good husbands and fathers and wives and mothers and parents and children and workers and everything else. But because of that weird inflation of expectations that seems to be encouraged by many social-media sites, it's now apparently not ENOUGH to be merely a decent person. (And it makes me wonder: if you're a rockstar but a right jerk, does that make you more worthwhile than a decent person who is kind of boring?)

Some years back I wrote about the woman who was, for many years, the organist at my church. She was somewhere in her mid-90s when she died. She was never a "rockstar" by modern standards: I don't think she ever traveled more than 200 miles from where she was born. Her life mostly revolved around her family and church. And yet - she made so many people's lives better by her being there, by her doing what she did.

And to me, that's the fundamental cognitive dissonance of the Facebook-world Zuckerberg seem to be selling, versus the real world I know: it's the people who work behind the scenes, who don't have a million "followers," who aren't minor celebrities, who actually make a difference in the world. The people who care more about their work than they care about peoples' reaction to it.

And it's easy to forget that your work is what's important, rather than how people react to it. And going down that path - caring about the "likes" or the comments or God forbid, "going viral," is a sure road to dissatisfaction. Because who KNOWS what people will like? People are irrational and they will also turn on a dime in their sentiment about something. People will run a fad into the ground and sap any goodness it may have had at the beginning.

The other problem I have with some social media is how people see it as a substitute for actually keeping people in their life informed of stuff. There's a lot of stuff going on among friends and relatives I never hear about because it's all on Facebook, and I just don't have the time or energy to venture into Facebook. And when I hear about something, for example, and I ask a person, sometimes I get almost a huffy reaction - well, I put it up on Facebook, just go read it there.

Really? You had a kid/got married/whatever and you want me to go read about it when I'm standing here in front of you after not having seen you for a year?

It's like....I don't know, it's like instead of having conversations any more everyone just has their stereotypical Christmas-card letter (you know - the list of brags of what they did over the year, maybe even with photos from their luxurious vacation somewhere) that they hand you and walk away. (I....generally don't read people's photocopied Christmas-card letters.)

Again, I suppose it's the narcissism and the life-editing and all that. Maybe people are losing the skill of knowing what they need to tell different people so they just make a one-size-fits-all version.

And yes, I know, it's my "fault" because I don't want to wade into Facebook but really? I have a job to do. And already I find I need to stop spending time online in the evenings so I can actually get some work done on my real hobbies.

the other thing, I confess, is to me, Facebook feels kinda like the "tables" in the school lunchroom. Like, there are popular-kid tables, and B-lister tables.....and I don't really fit in at any of the tables and by now I'm way too old to be that awkward nerdy kid who walks up to a table of kids way out of my league, popularity-wise, and go "Hi, fellow kids! What is up?" and have all of them kind of look at one another in disbelief, and maybe one of them kind of give me a pitying look and say something that's an insult designed to drive me away, but I'm too awkward to recognize it as such....

And yeah, I know it really isn't like that, but there does seem a cliquish element of it that I just don't want. And also, to be honest? I don't WANT the people who tormented me when I was 13 to be able to look me up again. (And because I haven't married, I have the same name now as I had then, and while there are other people in the US with my same name, I'd be easy enough to find). And I don't want to know that some dude who knocked my textbooks out of my hands in 1982 is now single again and he always really had a little crush on me and UGH. Yeah.

(I also don't want the blow-by-blow details of people's medical stuff, which it seems that some people do. It's enough for me to hear "Oh, Maisie went into the hospital for gallbladder problems" without having to hear about the anesthesia and how long it was before she was out of Recovery and everything else).

So I don't know. I think my decision to assiduously avoid Facebook was a solid one for a lot of reasons. (I'm not even considering the privacy issues here, or the "hive of scum and villany" issues where it becomes an echo chamber for certain opinions...) That said? I would appreciate it if certain relatives thought to e-mail me occasionally to let me know about their lives instead of just going "UGH. Just go on Facebook."

And I do worry about the increasing tendency in our culture for us to avoid being "meatspace" social - I really do not thing Facebook could take the place of religious/civic groups (as I said on Twitter: will Facebook drive me to the endodontist if I need a root canal requiring sedation? I don't think so.) For those of us without family nearby, we need IRL people to have contact with, if for nothing else than having someone to call when you've got food poisoning and are out of Pepto and don't trust yourself to be well long enough to get to the CVS, or to have someone to drive you to the doctor for some kind of procedure....


Lynn said...

The idea that Facebook can be a substitute church or civic group is hilarious. I find it somewhat useful for communicating with family but that's offset by they 90% of it that's just silly memes and links to articles with ridiculously misleading headlines.

Charlotte said...

I don't do facebook either. For me, it's a matter of privacy. I don't want anyone who wants to knowing all my business. If I want you to know, I'll tell you.