A nice guy somehow acquires psychic powers. He finds he can telepathically receive the thoughts of those around him. At first he is fascinated, surprised, and disturbed by a new voice in his head. He’s waiting in the subway for the train to arrive and looking at another guy. He hears, “Why is that weirdo looking at me?” He realizes that he either must be going crazy or he’s actually hearing another person’s voice in his mind. Afraid, he looks around. As his gaze frantically shifts from person to person, he hears the voice of each. The number of voices and a growing sense of pressure both mount. He freaks out and runs away, hearing the echoes of thoughts like, “Jesus, crazy freak!” and “What the hell is wrong with him?” and “Fucking crazies …”
Sooner or later, he meets a mentor. Some person catches his eye and projects, “I know you can hear me. It’s ok.” Suddenly, the other voices vanish. The mentor continues, telepathically, “You need to learn how to control it. Otherwise, you’ll lose yourself and won’t know which thoughts are yours.”
This scene or one very much like it appears in a number of movies in which a character learns he has somehow developed the power to read minds. In doing so, the person, usually a nice guy who has miraculously peachy keen, nonjudgmental thoughts, will say something like, “They are so ugly … I never knew people had such ugly thoughts.” I guess he’s the hero, and we have to identify with him. And, of course we don’t have those nasty kinds of thoughts running through our heads most of the time, so we feel that, hey, here’s a guy I can relate to.
In The Matrix, a friend of Neo’s named Choi drops by to pick up some illicit software or data. He sees that Neo looks pretty worn-down and tells him, “It just sounds to me like you need to unplug, man.”
For me, both scenes relate very strongly to the reality of Facebook.
The term “connection” is now ubiquitous. You cannot escape it. It seems a thing valued in and of itself. To be connected is good. To be disconnected is bad.
Decades ago, when I saw that cellphones were becoming pervasive (and invasive), I questioned the wisdom of it. I avoided owning a cellphone for as long as I could. I viewed them as electronic tethers.
I saw how, once you had a cellphone, people felt entitled to a connection with you, anytime and anyplace, regardless of any concerns or boundaries you might have. The old “ball and chain” is no longer a nagging, controlling wife, it’s any fucking wireless device.
Whether you see it or not, it’s a major issue now: boundaries. Our boundaries have been dissolving at an increasing rate for decades.
Way back in the day, before the internet, people with computers and modems connected with each other in a serial fashion. Hobbyists ran BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) on home computers with dedicated phone lines. You would call them (only when the previous user had disconnected, it was a one-at-a-time thing) with your modem and your computer would connect. The connection speed by today’s standards would be considered hideously slow. Text at 300 baud would literally crawl across your screen.
I actually liked 300 baud. It gave me time to read the text.
And that’s what you did. You read the text that other people wrote. You had time. And those who authored what you read had time to write something that they had thought about. People who spouted the verbal diarrhea now accepted as the norm were viciously ridiculed. Their posts were literally a waste of time (text scrolled by slowly, remember), and regarding them the spacebar or n key was your friend. The spacebar aborted the post, the n key skipped directly to the next post.
You called a BBS because you wanted to read (which meant really consider and enjoy or revile) the content other people wrote, and, by-and-large (depending on which BBS you called), it was stuff worth reading. Collaborative fiction, interesting discussions, humor… it was a gold mine.
Not saying the internet now is not filled with all kinds of awesome. It is. And I do love it. But things were a bit different back then, and I miss it.
There was a wisdom to things back then that is now lost. Back then, there was an understood distinction between what came to be known as “cyberspace” (now an outdated and clumsy term) and “meat space” or IRL (in real life). We often used aliases and realized that there was a real difference between our online personas and our offline personas and our lives. “In real life” pretty much says it all. You were not to take what occurred online too seriously, and taking squabbles from BBSs into “real life” was taboo. You could get banned from a large number of local BBSs for it.
Now there is no separation. But the fact remains, people are somewhat different online. The boundaries, I think, are dwindling. The two worlds are conflating if not totally conflated already. I don’t think this is a good thing. People really don’t appreciate the difference anymore, and our behaviors have not caught up with this fact.
Although there is much less of a sense of anonymity, the feeling of freedom that anonymity gives you–which used to be a really good thing IMO–is still there. People say things online that they would never say in a face-to-face interaction. And they say it a lot. I would wager a large percentage of what people post willy nilly on their fb timelines are things they would never say to others face-to-face. (I’m including myself here and in much of what I have been saying people think and do online.)
We just don’t broach certain topics in social gatherings. The person who brings up politics, religion, or gender issues at a dinner with friends or at a party is considered a boor and is penalized with social pressure. Not so on fb. In fact, quite the opposite. Boorish behavior is often rewarded.
We have developed unspoken rules of etiquette for face-to-face social interactions which have evolved for thousands of years. We have netiquette for online interactions, but netiquette in its current form is dreadfully insufficient. Online behavior is often rude. It’s negative effects on me have forced me to quit fb.
Netiquette has a lot of catching up to do. It’s more important that you do not type in all caps than to not get up on a soapbox or simply be ugly, complain, or whatever on fb. But they are essentially the same things! To spill whatever ugly thoughts or feelings you have on an issue. To pontificate. To complain. To say whatever you feel like whenever you feel like to an audience that sometimes numbers in the hundreds. Not everyone wants to see that shit. You go to a blog for rants, complaints, opinion pieces, or whatever. I don’t think they belong on something like fb. I am totally guilty of doing it myself, I know. I have learned from consideration that it is a mistake to do so.
People are learning about online consequences with regard to work and the law, but we don’t seem to be even near the clue train when it comes to the social and psychological effects our words have on our fellow human beings and ourselves when we post on fb.
So many people use fb as a soap box for various political or religious issues. Some people use it to condemn and ridicule others willy nilly. Some use it to simply be a spoiled brat and say things that more befit a rotten child than a mature adult. Sadly, these people are often lauded, told “OMG, You are so awesome! I love you!” People love it when a grown adult acts like a shitty 5 year old instead of the mature individual he or she should be? WTF? This demonstrates a fucked up value system.
I don’t want to read that shit. It disgusts me.
So, back to the scene in that movie about the psychic guy. Having quit fb, I have learned in retrospect that many of those thoughts which were being conveyed via so many lines of text, images with captions, links to articles, etc., here, there, and everywhere, were going straight into my head and affecting me emotionally.
Despite what I’d like to think and the admonition that, “You shouldn’t care what other people think,” I realize that I do care what other people think. Probably too much. And I cannot help it.
If I read a ton of filthy crap–and a lot of what people say is pretty much filthy crap–then I feel like filthy crap. I feel hurt, sad, angry, and somehow insecure, as if a number of things I had read were aimed at me. And, by way of an author’s use of generalizations, it kind of is aimed at me. People talk about this kind or that kind of person. Sometimes I am that person. White people. Men. People who do this or that. People who believe this or that.
So many fb posts = <bitch, rant, moan, complain, pontificate, blame, claim victimhood with no agency or personal causation in regard to the problem>.
A lot of shitty fb posts begin with or contain the words, “I wish.” Well, I wish they would shut the fuck up. But I am not going to get my wish any time soon. Neither are they, conceptual posters of fb horeshit. So maybe we should do something mutually beneficial concerning this?
Personally, I hate it when people play the victim and do nothing about it except complain and drain energy. There is a metric fuck-ton of that on Facebook.
Regarding Facebook, I realized that, holy fuck, I feel victimized. Well? What am I doing about it? Just bitch? Claim victimhood on fb while demonstrating a fucked-up sense of entitlement like I find in so many posts that I hate?
No. I did the only thing I felt I could do. I quit Facebook.