The most upsetting thing about Facebook to me is how addictive it is. Almost immediately upon joining Facebook around 2007 I told friends that it was the “greatest time waster ever invented.” Nothing has happened in the past 12 years to dissuade me of that observation.
Would that wasting time was the worst effect that Facebook has had on me. How I wish I’d spent those lost hours by reading silly jokes, or watching a python try to eat a crocodile.
But Facebook became far more insidious than that, at least for me. I don’t know to what degree Facebook is a reflection of the shallow, self-righteous memes that that now pass for “debate” (one friend made the unusual claim that “voters enjoy being lied to,” to which another responded that President Trump lies because the Democrats make him lie) and to what degree social media simply lends itself to the wild frenzy expressed in both those statements.
The thing that most astounds me is that both are good, intelligent, educated people, accomplished professionals and terrific family men.
But when I’ve tried, for years, to challenge statements like those with clarifying questions that I’d hoped would bring serious issues back into the arena of intelligent discussion, in nearly all cases the speakers doubled down on their outrageous claims. I cannot remember a single instance in which a person said to me, “you know, Andye, you’re right. I mean, Trump’s border detention centres are horrible and should be dismantled, but maybe it was wrong to compare them to concentration camps” or even “yeah, I think Brexit is a looming disaster, but perhaps it isn’t the best political strategy to view 52% of your country as ‘dumber than a sack of shit.’”
So I don’t know which is the cart, and which the horse, meaning I don’t know if Facebook is a reflection of societal norms, or a factor that is driving them. But I do feel that the social media stage amplifies inanity and self-righteousness, thus drowning out anyone trying to moderate the issue at hand with a level-headed, pointed, honest question. The echo in the chamber has become so loud that no one can hear any attempt to lasso the noice into intelligible words and ideas.
Why, then, is it so hard to leave? Why not just ignore moronic posts about Donald Trump or Women of the Wall and concentrate on posts and comments you can have a discussion four have a discussion with?
I’ve been pondering this move for many months, but haven’t had the guts to jump. Even now, it has been 10 minutes since I hit ‘post’ and logged out and I’m feeling panicked. What if I miss some earth-shattering video? What’s going to happen if I don’t weigh in next Sunday when the Women of the Wall square off against the haredi mob at the Kotel (Western Wall) for their monthly riot.
Part of the answer, I think, has to do with addiction, which is defined as knowing that Behaviour X is bad for you, knowing that it makes you feel bad, but being powerless to overcome the urge to do Behaviour X. Thank God, I’ve never struggled with substance abuse or gambling. But Facebook certainly feels like that.
On a deeper level, however, I wonder if there is a piece of this puzzle that drives to the very heart of the human experience: The need to be heard. This brings to mind both Monty Python’s famous Argument Clinic, in which John Cleese needs less than five minutes to drive Michael Palin out of his mind by just saying “no” to any point Palin makes, and Stephen Covey’s exhortation to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Certainly, when the room is full of noise, Covey’s suggestion is counterintuitive; logic would lead us to overcome a very loud room with an even louder noise. One would expect in that situation that additional decibels would bring “victory” to one’s ideas.
In actual fact, however, ramping up the volume merely adds to the din in the room, which in turn bolsters the frustration and loneliness of not being heard.
How ironic, then, that this astounding breakthrough in communications technology has actually served in so many ways to demolish communication itself.