Last evening, in something of a pique, I decided to downgrade my presence on the Book of Face. My existence there was experimental–I opened the account for selfish reasons to begin with–an attempt to broaden the audience for my writing–and am stepping far back for equally selfish reasons: the preservation of my mind.
Once, I wrote a piece for The Nugget News that was derided by at least one reader as “a rant against connectivity.” Fair enough, though that bent is a misunderstanding of what connections actually are, or at least a failure to embrace their realized potential. The virtual relationships of Facebook are not to be confused with actual connections because they are, at best, partial.
And why is connectivity, understood in its virtual meaning, so great and desirable anyway?
Rick Bass, for my money one of our finest writers, might have articulated my feelings about Facebook best when he wrote this, in his essay On Willow Creek: “What happens to us when all the sacred, all the whole, is gone–when there is no more whole? There will be only fragments of stories, fragments of culture, fragments of integrity.”
And that is what I find repulsive about Facebook. It exists in fragments, which by their very nature lack integrity. Memes, short and badly contextualized videos, occasional rants, and always the underlying insistence on the contributor’s absolute and wholly realized righteousness. It is an endless narrative, endlessly shotgunned into meaningless patterns and entirely lacking the whole. In fact, I would argue that Facebook works entirely against notions of approaching anything whole at all. Who has time to look at the whole, after all? Facebook is, in many ways, the ultimate deconstruction machine, a virtual woodchipper, grinding the whole into meaningless piles.
And lately–timing has never been my strongest suit–it has been inundated by political fragments, shards even, that do nothing at all to solve the difficult equations facing us all, but instead exist to incite the basest emotional reactions–which are then attacked from various quarters by equally fragmentary and even more angry one-upmanship. Meme after meme, non-sequitur after non-sequitur, the book of face marches one and all into some kind of intellectual and emotional oblivion.
So I need a break. I realize that it can be a tool, and like any tool it requires some discipline to use it correctly. Thus far, I have not used it correctly, and it might just be that after some time away I will return, ready for another round of punishment. Selfishly, I should quit more often, because after making my squalid announcement the sign-ups for this blog jumped.
In the meantime, I have found myself with more time. And I think that is something else that Facebook does, so insidiously. It swallows time. It fills space. We are a culture increasingly uncomfortable with silences, the long pauses, and grasp almost desperately for anything that will fill the contemplative gaps between activities. We meet more and more people for whom silence, or stillness, exists as a terrifying faraway land, a modern version of the old tales of Gog and Magog, where men grow 9 feet tall and eat their children. Silence seems to have become the land of the savage northmen.
It isn’t. A good pipe full of tobacco, a decent book, and a hot cup of tea go much farther in filling those spaces than another round of angry memes about the electoral college, or which politician should be in jail–which is probably just all of them. So I am looking forward to getting back to that place where I once was…one guy in amongst the trees, toiling in the rain shadow of the Cascades, working each day to make our little ranch productive in a meaningful way, and quietly looking for better ways to live wholly, and with vision, and compassion, on this shrinking planet.