While we’re on the subject of social media—and let’s do move on soon—I just dug up a tidy little time capsule from Writing Boots, 12/16/2010:
I FEEL WELL-INFORMED. BY FACEBOOK. (SERIOUSLY.)
Before the advent of the goddamned Internet, it was possible to feel a feeling called “well-informed.”
Back then, you read your hometown newspaper. You listened to National Public Radio. You read The Wall Street Journal. You read a trade publication. And you felt, more or less, rightly or wrongly, as if you had a handle on things.
But then the Internet, with all its nooks and crannies, its infinite capacity to contain odd points of view convincingly expressed, its oceanic ability to remind us that our stupid little place in the world is the real cranny, took that feeling away.
Permanently, I thought.
In recent months I notice that the feeling of being informed is creeping cautiously back into my head and heart. And I think I know why: It’s Facebook.
Here’s how it works now: I do my diligence—I read the local and national newspapers, I keep up on the communication trade as as I always did—and then I rely on my 368 Facebook Friends to give me a heads-up on the rest of it. I reckon—rather, I passively, subconsciously assume—that if something important is happening that’s not in The New York Times, one of these friends or acquaintances or who-is-that-again-half-strangers will point me to it.
A quote, a new song, a YouTube video, a new piece of architecture or writing: I’ve got hundreds of friends or at least like-minded acquaintances scouring the world every day in hopes of finding something to amuse or inform their like-minded friends. (That’s me!)
Knowing this, I begin to feel not only informed but, dangerously, justified in the feeling. And, after all these years of forced informational humility, even deserving of it.
Wow, it’s hard to get the mind back into that ancient place, only a dozen years later. Now that many of us don’t read a “hometown paper” (even if we’re lucky to still have one). Now that National Public Radio is seen by half the country as a leftist propaganda outlet. Now that the “Internet” no longer seems separate from Facebook and other social media at all—and it all seems about 80 percent subfecal.
Even the then-neutral term “like-minded” now suffers putrid connotations of tribalism on the one hand and exclusion on the other.
And the idea that one went to Facebook to get culture, and a well-rounded view of the world! Granted, it might have been fatuous to begin with. But now it’s nothing short of far out.
You know what I’m doing on Facebook these days? I’m purposely choking my own feed by joining odd groups that correspond with adolescent fascinations—including several related to Jim Morrison and the Doors, one that colorizes old photos of Irish people and several more related to professional football history. I even belong to one group devoted to:
You know why I gape endlessly at all that stuff, mostly to the exclusion of whatever it is that my now 1,006 “like-minded” friends (and some not-so-like-minded friends) are posting?
Because I have spent the last few years making An Effort to Understand.
And I’m a little tired of it.