Make the silent heard and the invisible seen.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Quitting Facebook

Since sharing the post for Dan Yoder’s blog, Top Ten Reasons You Should Quit Facebook, on Facebook (May 4, 2010) I have, disregarding a few exceptional moments of weakness, stayed off the social network. My avoidance is not out of concern for personal privacy or security that has been much written about, discussed and criticized of late. Believe me, I've shared and exposed, literally, more online than I care to remember with each new version of a porn site; but all of it harmless between consenting adults. The internet is for porn, and each new social media sensation can trace its origin to, in all likelihood, not some lightning-strike idea from some programming geek, but a gay chatroom or straight counterpart. We were listing friends, what guys were hot, who thought we were hot, bookmarking and viewing long before Facebook gave us the chance for virtual friendships - and very rudimentary at that - like trying to collect the most Valentines cards in Miss Chisholm’s  grade 3 class.

Over the last few weeks I’ve thought daily of quitting Facebook. However, quitting Facebook would be to quit the world as we now know it, and even that has a certain appeal. But, herein is my problem with FB - friendship. What Facebook has made of friendship is not harmless. Case in point:

Brad Fraser, one of the 400 or so friends I have collected on FB, give or take, is an exception. Brad is a friend. He commented on the Yoder blog, as follows: “I read it and thought the same things could be said about the telephone company, the cable company, any major corporation and most world governments. Whatever it's failings, FB still contains great potential to convince when all twitter does is inform.”

Brad, and a few others, actually read the post. I often wondered, when I was sharing news and information that I found politically and socially interesting, if not critically important, which of my, so called, friends actually took the time to read the article and then offer thoughtful comment, as Brad had done and did regularly. I single out Brad because had it not been for Facebook, we might, sadly, have never re-connected as friends. About a decade ago, Brad and I were as close as two friends could be but for a falling out that I doubt either of us can remember the true details. Within the last few days, as true friends will do after not having seen or spoken in some time, Brad inquired, "Where are you? Did you really drop off of FB? Why aren't you on the radio? What's going on?

Facebook has done some great good for me insofar as friendship – finding those long-lost, like Brad and others, repairing damages, and making anew. It has also allowed me to have an open line to the lives of them and my family. (My sister, naturally, was the first to see I hadn’t been making my daily FB visit and ranting back on May 12, asking in rather lame FB vernacular, "Whatsa ya doing?")

But, for the most part, my recent disappearance from FB has gone unnoticed; much like my absence from radio has been forgotten in the 7 months since my talk show was cancelled. It’s funny that my list of friends still includes the people who fired me: some friends, huh? It even includes people who I have little regard for and many I’ve never met. But by including them as “friends” I add to my total number, like those 3rd grade Valentines. There was a time when I was doing my daily broadcast that I ranted against Facebook, and vowed never, ever to join its growing mob or take-up what was then the newest social mob-media craze, tweeting. However, after a time, I saw the branding and marketing value in each, and started to incorporate both platforms in the production and promotion of the show. And it worked. I became known as an ‘innovative’ producer for incorporating old and new media.

Now, however, in these days of the decidedly solitary confinement of writing, and working on the launch of my next media enterprise, I find myself missing not so much the friends that I have never met face-to-face or my followers, but my true friends and family.

By friends, I mean those life-long, and some far-flung, individuals who are all so much a part of shaping me as the man I am. Friends - you know that you are my friends because shared knowledge is part of what makes a friend. Know that I regard your friendship not in Facebook’s collective term, or as Emerson wrote: “a thousand friends (and) not a friend to spare.” Your friendship is, paraphrasing and combining a few more thoughts by Emerson: Friendship may well be considered nature’s masterpiece and one before whom I may think aloud.You are my private sanctuary and security. So long as I am known by my friends then I could give a rat’s ass what personal information a web site steals.

To you who have followed me faithfully, or were classmates, work colleagues, associates, even chance encounters, or added to my list out of suggestion, I have deep appreciation, and please know that I mean you no disrespect. I hope that we’ll continue to engage in sharing and commenting on stories of interest and import with reason, respect and common sense, as I haven’t quit and will return to Facebook soon and, what Brad calls, its “great potential to convince.”

And convince we must because it has become much too easy to quit, as easy as it is to add a friend.

The internet allows us, without any foreseeable consequence, to quit human contact. Online, we have the capability to have and quit virtual relationships, sex included. We have quit eye-to-eye contact for screen fatigue. We are quitting the world, giving over our own neighbourhoods and streets to the false sense of privacy and security of friends we will likely never meet, and web sites that reflect only our values and beliefs. We have quit everything outside of what we chose to see on that screen. The sites that we favour or bookmark don’t demand much work on our part but to scan a headline and a few sentences, or a top-10 list. We are quitting the politics of Canada and the world. We are quitting the stewardship of the planet. We are quitting knowledge and analysis.

If Dickens had not walked the dangerous streets of Victorian London we would not be left with some of the greatest characters and storytelling in history. But here we are, quitting the street for the tweet in all of its 140 characters. An entire generation has quit knowledge of history, even quitting the fundamentals of our most promiscuous English language. There are times when I try to decode the abbreviations in txts that I wish I was a contestant on Wheel of Fortune so I could buy a vowel from Pat Sajak.  

But herein is the paradox: if we quit the online social mob or give-in to its lowest common denominator of trending tweets (more fad than trend) then we will all but lose the individuality and humanity that is nourished by true friendship. What we are to make of our society is being shaped online by twits who tweet so there is no reason on any list that I can think of to quit and give-in to them. It’s too easy to quit, which is why nature and friendship are masterpieces. Imagine if nature quit because we are imagining what will happen if we quit nature.

My friends would never accept it from me quitting them and I'd never let them quit me without a fight because we share a common bond and shared experiences that we did together, face-to-face. What we have is precious and priceless. Facebook is, so far, free and cheap, has no traditions, etiquette or civility. It requires little of our time and even less thought. In fact, it demands nothing, which is perfect for this do-nothing world of ours.
Friendship should be surrounded with ceremonies and respects, and not crushed into corners. Friendship requires more time than poor busy men can usually command.  
- Ralph Waldo Emerson