Tag Archives: Facebook

Life Envy: The FOMO

 

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I want to be living that life. By myself, late at night, sitting in the dark of the back yard with my phone, the dog, and a drink, I actually heard myself say this out loud: I want to be living that life. It’s crazy, I know, but looking sometimes at pictures of people on Facebook doing things you would like to do, having experiences you would like to have, you get this feeling, an inescapable feeling that you are missing out. We call it FOMO. I must admit that I have experienced the FOMO. I try as best as I can to massage my FOMO into something like happiness for the person in the post: I am so glad they get to have this experience. Then, I take it a little bit further by thinking that I am so glad they decided to share this moment with their friends, of which I consider myself one. Then, the conclusion of the exercise is to think or actually say out loud how grateful I am for the experiences I have had, the luck, and the privilege. I know, in these moments, I have had experiences that some of my friends have never had, and I know that I am super fortunate because of that. In 95% of my waking existence on the planet I would not trade my life for anyone else’s. But on this last occasion, when I caught myself expressing the FOMO out loud to no one in particular, to the trees, to the dog in the yard, to the martini I was sipping, to myself, I panicked for a moment. What is it about this that I desire? The person in question may be beautiful. It may be that they seem extremely happy or content. In all likelihood, they are in a place I have always wanted to go, seeing something I have always wanted to see, learning something I have always wanted to learn, successful at something at which I too would like to succeed, or doing something I know I would enjoy but find I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy. It is ridiculous and ridiculously human, a tendency we have always had, to be envious of others, but now exacerbated by social media because we are not only hearing ABOUT the experiences of others, we are seeing them in photo, or seeing and hearing them in video, ALL THE TIME. And that pushes the buttons of desire and envy. But . . .

It’s like meditation. You don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders. Instead, you simply notice its wandering, you pay attention, and then you come back to the breath or the mantra and you continue. Maybe that’s why I said it out loud: I want to be living that life. I was paying attention. It was kind of an alarm set off by my internal brakes to the wheels of envy and desire. This is better than what I suspect a lot of people do: they see their friends and acquaintances living a great life and they begin to feel anxious and sad without being aware of the connection. And we have to remind ourselves, don’t we, that our facebook personalities are self-curated. Some people select only the happiest moments and ignore the trauma and sadness, others, in an effort to be authentic, balance the joy and the suffering, while still others use social media to essentially suffer in public. While the middle way seems most admirable, none of these strategies are inclusive of a life. They’re still just snapshots. Judging me from my facebook posts, it might seem like the only thing I ever do is play the drums and listen to music and that I am an extremely cheerful guy. Only partly true. There are things that make me fearful or anxious; there are issues that need attending in my own inner and outer work; I sometimes question, as William Stafford does, if “what I have done is my life.” It is pointless to haunt one’s self with What If questions. If one is haunted by a What If question, perhaps some action is necessary. But if one is suspicious, self-reflective enough to recognize the FOMO for what it is, sure, go ahead and say out loud, I want to be living that life. In the next moment, though, allow the gratitude to bubble up for this one–and then put your phone away, write a poem or read a book, or have a drink outside with your dog.

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Filed under Culture, Self Reflection

#66: The American English Teacher Doesn’t Want His Student To See Him Using Facebook

No Facebook

So, the student stops by the house
of his English teacher
to pick up a younger member of his family who’s
taking music lessons from the English teacher’s wife,
and he comes into the study to say hello
and the English teacher minimizes his Facebook page
so that the student doesn’t know
that this is one of the ways his English teacher
spends his time at home.
Afterward, the English teacher writes a poem
about it because it strikes him, somehow,
as a very strange thing that he’s done, this minimizing
of Facebook, or because it makes him feel odd,
like he’s almost been caught doing something bad, or, at least,
caught doing something he’s self-conscious about,
something he doesn’t want his students, or this
particular student, to think he does all the time.
The English teacher can’t quite settle the dilemma,
doesn’t quite know how or what to think about the issue,
but eventually comes to feel all right about the whole thing,
liberated as he now feels from the earlier worry of the day
that he would never find another idea for a new poem.

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Filed under Culture, Poetry, Teaching

Of Likes and Comments

Some people like and don’t comment and some people comment and don’t like. Some people don’t like to like, think it’s somehow a lame effort or no effort and therefore stupid.  I don’t like that.  I like things all of the time.  I like it when people like.  I like it when people comment, unless they make a comment I don’t like.  And then I don’t like but sometimes I comment because it’s hard to keep my proverbial mouth shut.

I don’t like it when I’m writing and someone’s looking over my shoulder.  It’s odd, sometimes, what people don’t like.  I recently read someone venting about generic birthday wishes, as if it would be better to say nothing than to say, simply, happy birthday; probably these are the  same people who think it’s lazy to like without comment. It seems to me that a birthday wish is a birthday wish, a like is a like, and sometimes the simplest thing is often the simplest and therefore the best.  Granted, it takes more effort to type the words “happy birthday” than it takes to point and click on the like button.  I’m not saying that they’re equal gestures.  I’d rather have someone say happy birthday to me, like my friend Curtis does every time he sees me, than to simply like a post of mine.  But I got 80 plus likes once on a post I made of a stupid picture of me, and that made me feel good; it made me feel liked, more liked, perhaps, than would a single birthday wish.  In Death of a Salesman, Willy and Biff Loman’s lines  have so much more meaning now than they did in the 1940’s, that Charlie and Bernard are both liked–but they’re not well-liked, and somehow that’s a problem.  After I posted that photo, I felt well-liked.  If only Willy Loman had Facebook.

I wonder how I would have felt had no one liked my photo.  I’d feel, perhaps, like Willy and Biff think Charlie and Bernard feel, but of course, they’re wrong about how Charlie and Bernard feel, and maybe I’d be wrong–Willy’s biggest problem is that he puts too much stock in whether or not people like him and that sends him into a psychological tailspin: he believes he is well-liked–and he might be–but he’s a terrible salesman and no one’s buying his shit. So he fails.  Charlie is shrewd and wise and Bernard is a hard working nerd, neither of them liked too terribly much, both of them successful.

What I realize, and like, about this blog post so far, is that (I’m guessing) four years ago this would make absolutely no sense to a great many human beings.  I like how it still might not make a lot of sense to a great many human beings.  I like, and don’t like simultaneously, how Facebook has changed our language, how a friend is no longer a friend, exactly, how both friend and like have become actions, how to comment is now about the same as it ever was, which I like, by the way.  And I like how I managed to talk about a play.  And I like how, in doing so, I might have landed on an idea.  Remember how Henry David Thoreau, in that one book, talked about how most letters were not worth the penny post it cost to mail them?  That was awesome.  I know Thoreau would absolutely hate Facebook–but he might appreciate how little it costs to send someone a message, less than a penny.  And Arthur Miller, and his tragic hero Willy Loman, might appreciate how the word like has become so absolutely pedestrian so as to mean almost exactly nothing.  I can’t believe I just wrote 632 words on this topic.

Thank you, Jim Thornburg.

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Of Social Networks: Is Real Dialogue Possible?

First off, I offer my apologies, to anyone who’s actually following this blog, for my lengthy absence from the sphere. It was August the last time I penned anything for this venue, and that’s been weighing on me pretty heavily during this most difficult first few months of the school year—over 200 high school students on my caseload, new curriculum again, new standards again, and very little in the way of additional support. So, I come home feeling hit by a bus and pour myself a glass, listen to music, play with my boy as much as I can, work on fiction maybe a couple hours once a week, and sleep.

I decide today to break the dry spell, in the wake of the last week’s horrors, to ask a question regarding the social network we call facebook and the degree to which it is a viable avenue for social discourse of any consequence.

Let me give some brief context. I’ve got friends who aren’t really friends (an interesting commentary on the way this particular social network has really morphed the meaning of that word). You know, we all probably have them—ghosts from our past who friend-request us, people who, decades after our initial acquaintance, likely old high school haunts, we would not even recognize if we saw them on the street. We vaguely recognize their names, find out they were ex-students, or we were classmates or neighbors or something, and we say, of course, why the hell not? Let’s be “friends.” And over the course of this precarious “friendship”, we end up learning a little bit about these people, most disconcertingly perhaps, that they do not share our politics. Now, that, on the surface, is no big deal. I have real friends, ones I see in the flesh every day, whose politics are very different from mine—and yet, we get on just swimmingly.

But let’s say for example, after last week’s mass murder of children, and in my own neck of the woods a mall shooting, when you’re exploring these issues around security, school safety, gun control, media responsibility, and mental health, trying your level best, liberal as you might be, to make sense, to figure out some stuff, to come to terms, while taking care as best you can of your loved ones—you’re checking out your news feed on facebook and this is what you see. It’s one of those quote graphics, words of “wisdom” against a pretty and sometimes appropriately themed backdrop. And this one concludes with this: “The problem is not guns. It is a Godless society.”

So, now that you’re squarely in my shoes, I’ll speak in the first person. Immediately, I’m enraged. My heart pounds, my blood boils. I cannot help but respond. And the exchange that ensues, sometimes reasonable, but mostly not, mostly frustrating, mostly talk at cross-purposes, some name calling, a lot of misunderstanding and dismissiveness, consumes practically my whole day. I try to stop. I can’t. I walk away and say that I’m done. A half an hour later I’m checking my notifications to see what new idiocy appears there. Part of me says, dude, you can defriend the guy; this is swallowing up too much of your psychic energies. Defriend. Problem solved. The other part of me says, no, I must not remain silent. I must not allow people to explain away an extremely complex and urgent social problem with a supernatural, pre-modern, anti-intellectual, fairy story. If they’re facebook friends of mine and they say things publicly I disagree with on some deep, important issue, I have an obligation to speak up.

So I keep at it. The last post in the thread, mine, appears at 1:30 in the morning. I’m in the process of letting it go now, perhaps, only because the friend in question and a couple of other voices that chimed in on his behalf have been silent. If they were to keep at it, who knows how long I would have pursued the argument—and finally, for what effect, to what end? And I’m sure these other folks felt the same way about what they perceived as my bleeding heart stupidity. Why was I doing this? Did I think I would change their minds? Doubtful. Did I derive any pleasure from the contest? On the contrary: it stressed me out. Was anything accomplished? Thus far, only that I had the last word. I don’t find that terribly satisfying. So, rather than saying anything specific about the issue we were arguing about (the simplification of complex social problems around gun violence to the SINFULNESS of our nation), I just want to pose these questions and offer some possible answers:

What are the benefits of facebook participation? I enjoy hearing from people I care about from time to time, dropping in on their lives for a moment to find out what’s going on. I enjoy readings or images and audio posted by these people I care about. I enjoy articles posted by on-line publications, artists, writers, musicians I subscribe to or “like.” And I enjoy the benefits in the opposite direction: letting friends know what I’m up to or thinking about, telling people about my writings, my blog, or my musical endeavors. For the most part, I enjoy political or philosophical posts made by real friends of mine; and because we have certain sympathies in common, these posts rarely make me uncomfortable and often confirm what I already think. And this may or may not be a benefit of facebook: that most often, people are preaching (or posting) to the choir. No change occurs, just people patting each other on the back. That’s the sort of cozy community aspect of facebook, which, while it may not be all that earth shattering, passes the time somewhat pleasantly. Ultimately it’s just another kind of television.

Can facebook be a place to conduct meaningful social discourse? Generally speaking, I hate to see people airing their dirty laundry or their personal squabbles on facebook. That’s unseemly to me, embarrassing. By contrast, also generally speaking, I get more interested when people argue politics and big ideas, but find, like I found with my own experiences with this, that it’s impossible for people to really reach each other this way, in part, because there’s so much less accountability when you’re typing something from a distant place on the web-o-sphere and not speaking face to face, there’s a tendency toward nastiness and attack, and as a result, nothing changes. There’s a part of me that wants facebook to be a way to decompress and “be with” friends. That part of me advises against becoming friends with people I don’t know well, or people whose world view will make me angry and upset; it’s hard enough navigating the interpersonal relationships with the people I encounter every day in the flesh. But then, there’s another part of me; (there are often, I must confess, on any number of issues and occasions, more than one part of me). This part of me says SPEAK UP. Be like Gandalf in the Fellowship film, faced with the big fire monster; when ignorance rears its head, say, “You cannot pass!” And stand your ground. If I do this, as a practice, I’ve got to approach it in way that results in less hand wringing, less blood boiling, less anxiety. That’s hard for me. To those fears, those emotions that threaten to twist up my insides, and to those who believe God is punishing us by killing our kids, I must again borrow Gandalf’s words: “Fly, you fools,” and continue to argue for sanity.

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Filed under Culture, Religion