FACING FACEBOOK: THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS OF A LUMBERING LUDDITE

By Paul M. Lewis

In case you may be unfamiliar with the term, a Luddite is someone who is resistant to new technology, a definition that could all too well be applied to me over the years, especially when it comes to the latest forms of electronic communication.

But, I have to ask, who knew Facebook could be so difficult? I’ve been on it for several days now, and only slowly do I seem to be getting the hang of things. True to my Luddite roots, I resisted for years, but now that I’ve published a novel, I’m told I really should become familiar with the social media movement, since this is one of the best ways of getting word out about the book. I understand that, and I even appreciate that it puts me in contact with whole lot of folks whom I would otherwise never know. But all this comes at something of a price. Maybe because of my inexperience—some might say because of my resistance—the learning curve has been a steep one, and things have taken much longer than I thought they should.

Just the mere process of signing up on Facebook was harder than I expected. But with the patient help of my partner, who is far more computer enabled than I, we were able to successfully achieve this first step. Then came the concept of friending people, which, I have to admit, I found a little strange. This notion of connecting with people I know, and then with friends of theirs, and sometimes with friends of friends of friends, people whom I don’t know and will probably never meet, was a concept that took some getting used to. But it does stand to reason that a friend of a friend could become a good acquaintance. So, I accepted offers of friending from a number of people whom I’d never met, except virtually.

The very term “friending,” in fact, seemed telling to me, rather than the more traditional notion of creating a friendship. But then, the idea of friendship designates a deeper relationship, one that usually presupposes an actual face-to-face, in the flesh meeting of individuals, taking place over a period of time, even years sometimes. It assumes a gradual getting to know one another at some deeper level, a modicum of shared values and interests, and a whole set of any number of other indescribables that unconsciously go into connecting two people who know and like each other. Is it possible that this level of mutual knowledge could take place solely online, where messages for the most part are customarily reduced to a few lines of text? I suppose that miracles, which are by definition rule-breakers, are always possible, although I don’t necessarily count on them.

When I was an adviser to international students at US universities many, many years ago, these foreign students (as we called them then) would sometimes come to me and complain they had a lot of difficulty forming deep friendships with American students. “They’re very pleasant and they smile a lot and ask me how I’m doing,” they’d say to me, “but I never feel I really get to know them.” My ready-made answer was always this: you can’t push a friendship. It has to develop naturally, and for most of us this happens when we’re not really looking, when we’re not even thinking about the idea of making a friend. It happens when you work or study side by side with somebody, or when you join a club that promotes an activity or an ideal you believe in, and maybe you do a project together. Friendships sneak up on you and take you by surprise, mostly while you’re doing something else. And before you even realize it, if you’re lucky, you’re sharing things about yourself and learning about the other person by giving each other the time and emotional space to reveal yourself at a deeper level to that person, and allowing her or him to do the same with you.

To be fair, though, I have been told that this notion of friendship isn’t the real purpose of Facebook. What it’s designed for, on the one hand, is more of a quick way of keeping in touch with people you already know, of finding out what is new and intriguing in the lives of those whom you don’t necessarily get a chance to see all that often, and so more or less of keeping up to date with how they are. And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Another reason for Facebook is to connect with people whom you may never have known, but who might share similar interests, concerns, or worldviews as you do. Again, nothing at all wrong with that. In fact, it’s good to know that there are folks out there who agree with how we see things and to know that we’re not alone when it comes to how we view important issues, like what to do about global warming. So, if in the process, we also see umpteen pictures of somebody’s grandkids, or yet another photo of Hello Kitty, or of a stranger sipping a grandemochafrappuchinolatte at some generic Starbucks, what’s the harm?

Any longing for the supposed good old days of frequently seeing and talking with people you know and love is maybe overblown and over-romanticized anyway. We all lead busy lives and have less and less time or opportunity to spend hours chatting with friends. And in an ever-increasingly mobile world, friends and relatives move away in order to find jobs, to be near their kids, or to live in places where their money stretches a little further.

As you can probably see, what I’m trying to do is to argue myself into accepting the good that is in Facebook, while simultaneously attempting to wind down the whining about what can, admittedly, be some of its more superficial aspects. As they say, the tool isn’t to blame when it’s misused. So, here’s how I’m going to approach things: I’ll make a valiant attempt to capitalize on the strengths of this technology, which—as I see them—are the ability to get quick, efficient word out to a whole slew of people about a specific topic (usually, one simple message), and to remind folks of subjects that have some importance to me, and maybe to them too. Next, really along the same lines as the first, I’ll use the power of its reach to let people know about the novel I’ve written, to inform them of how they can learn more about it and how they can buy it, if they so wish (see my website at www.paulmlewis.com). And I’ll probably also occasionally browse the information people send out and see what so-and-so is up to of late, especially if I haven’t had the chance to see him or her in quite a while. Really, are her grandkids that big already? Although, I think I’ll pretty much have to draw the line at Hello Kitty.

I get it that the creation of deep friendships is not the forte of Facebook. And that’s fine. In a way, I’ll think of it as advising myself (as I used to advise international students), only this time more or less in reverse. Not every paintbrush is designed to create an amazingly revelatory piece of art. Sometimes, you just need to paint a wall with it. So, I’ll do what I can with this new technology and hope for the best. Maybe one of those miracles might even take place, and I’ll get to know some people better, more deeply, than I ever thought possible. In the meantime, this particular Luddite will try to lighten up, just a little. After all, I’m here to admit to you, I’m on Facebook now, and who knew that could ever happen?

WHAT’S IMPORTANT IN THE NEWS?

By Paul

With the ever-increasing use of the Internet and all manner of social media, it seems to me of late that we have become inundated with news bits of every description, and in fact that we are in danger of becoming so overwhelmed as to find it difficult to distinguish between what actually may be important and what is not.

In an attempt to filter and to prioritize for myself, I have come up with five categories that assist me in (informally) deciding between those things that seem to be of vital importance and, by the process of exclusion I suppose, those things which appear to be less so.

Here, for your perusal, are the categories I have come up with, and a few words about each

  • The Survival of the Earth

What in fact could be more important than this category?  I virtually always read or listen to what is reported on this topic.  Upon it quite literally depends all else, because without a physical home we have nothing to act from, as it were.  Just recently, for example, my friend and fellow blogger Kevin sent me an article entitled “Methane Outbreak Alert!” by Robert Hunziker, published in an on-line magazine called “Dissident Voice” (see http://dissidentvoice.org).  The purport of the article has to do with newly identified methane emissions coming from deep in the Arctic Ocean, and on the devastating effects methane has on the climate.  According to scientists quoted in the article, if we have not yet reached the tipping point, we soon will do so, unless stringent action is taken immediately.  Methane in the atmosphere, as they describe it, is far more harmful even than carbon dioxide.  And there are vast reservoirs of methane gas in the arctic region, both undersea and beneath the tundra.  The rapid warming of the planet in the last 100 years, but even more so in the past 20 to 30 years, is releasing more and more of the methane that had been trapped for millennia beneath the water and the land.  The more methane released, the more it affects the atmosphere, and the more it affects the atmosphere, the more methane is released, creating a vicious cycle that will soon cause the complete meltdown of the arctic region.  The result will be a total disruption of global weather patterns, which itself will engender either devastating drought or catastrophic flooding, and the consequent disruption of world agriculture.  The article goes on to describe what it refers to as a potential “mass extinction event,” otherwise known as “The Great Dying.” These are not pleasant things to read about, it goes without saying, but I believe it is necessary to consider them as real possibilities, given our recalcitrance and inaction in the face of the continual warming of the globe.  Perhaps scientists can save us from ourselves by coming up with ideas to geo-engineer a cooling of the planet.  One such concept that has already been proposed is the injection of large amounts of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, essentially mimicking vocalic blasts, which in the past have had a cooling effect on temperatures.  Let us hope that this is not what we will be reduced to, but we shall see.  Who knows what unintended consequences could come about as a result of such deliberate massive human intervention into world weather patterns, even if we could get the nations of the world to agree to it?

  • Equality vs. Inequality

I suppose inequality has ever been with us pretty much from the beginning, when one group of hunter-gatherers got the jump on another and was more successful in feeding and clothing itself than its rivals.  In that sense, it could be argued, we aren’t doing anything that our ancestors didn’t do when we live in our current world where the “haves” possess so much more than the “have nots.”  But lamenting that it has always been so does not mean that it always should be.  The question, I suppose, really is what can anyone do about it?  One thing, as is always the case, is to keep ourselves informed.  And there is plenty to be informed about, everything (in the recent news) from the terrible collapse of the garment factory building in Bangladesh, to issues of homelessness, lack of jobs, problems with the minimum wage, inequality in pay between women and men in the workplace, racism, sexism of every stripe, scurrilous and scandalous language about the LBGT community on the part of certain politico-religious leaders (not just Christian, but Muslim and Orthodox Jewish, as well), the right to marry whom you please, and on and on.  Not a single day goes by when at very least one, and more frequently several, of the above topics is not discussed in some respected news source.

  • Help Those In Need

Just taking a look at the front page of the Los Angeles Times for Thursday, May 2, 2013, we see articles on both the “nasty side effects” of the new health care laws coming into being, and one entitled “Misery in the Sinai,” having to do with a man from Eritrea who had gone to the Sudan to look for work and who was subsequently kidnapped and held for ransom.  It could hardly be clearer that both have to do with people in grave need, in the former case, all those who want to work for themselves and their families, and who are then limited to just under the cut-off point in terms of hours before getting mandated health insurance.  One example given is the city of Long Beach, CA., where I happen to live, which limits part-timers to 27 hours a week, specifically so as to avoid providing health care insurance for them.  As one employee said, “It’s ridiculous that the city is skirting the law,” and who could disagree with her?  In the case of the kidnapped Eritrean migrant worker, his captors are demanding $33,000 in ransom money from his family.  As the man’s father said, “That amount is bigger than our dreams.”  And should it not be the dream of all of us to help such people in need?

  • Do No Harm

This is truly a motto for the ages.  Westerners probably first heard of it in the Hippocratic Oath.  Doctors are enjoined, first of all, not to harm patients, and then after that to do what they can to heal them.  “Primum non nocere”(first, do no harm), as they say.  We also know of it from Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy and his insistence on non-violence, from the great Mohandas Gandhi in attempting to rid India of British rule, and from Martin Luther King, in all of his efforts to bring justice and equality to a people who have been discriminated against for centuries.  But “ahimsa,” as it is called in India, where it is practiced not only by some Hindus, but also by Buddhists and Jains, is not only a relic of the past.  Can we not see its effects in almost any news story current today?  All we have to do is take a look at what terrorists have done the world over (and only recently in Boston) in the name of ideology, or what is happening in Guantanamo Bay, or the bullying of gay children in the school yards of our own nation, or the death of over 130,000 young children in Somalia because Islamist rebels banned the delivery of food, or the devastating harm done to the earth itself in the terrible practice of so-called fracking, to remember all of the harm that is being done these days both on and to the earth.  Let us, therefore, as much as possible not participate, and let us inform ourselves of instances of it and do what we can to prevent it.

  • Freedom (to Act Responsibly)

We Americans frequently pat ourselves on the back, and rightly so, for all of the freedoms we enjoy.  Surely, in spite of all of our problems and, yes, even our defects, it is a great privilege to live in a democracy, and a thing for which we all ought to be enormously grateful.  But let us also remember that not everyone enjoys the same rights and privileges.  There are dictatorships abroad, for example, some of which we have at times lamentably propped up for our own gain.  There are horrendous civil wars, such as the one currently raging in Syria, where tens of thousands of innocents have been killed by a brutal dictator.  Kim Jong Un crushes his own people practically on a daily basis, and threatens the world with nuclear warheads, and no one seems willing or able to do much about it.  Closer to home, millions of immigrants, whose only crime is having entered the country without proper papers, live a marginalized and frightened existence.  We are subject to the most vile and disgusting hate speech by religious extremists of every stripe.  The Westboro Baptist Church, for example, proclaims at every funeral they can manage to picket that “God hates Fags!”  Only slightly less hatefilled speech comes from groups such as the National Organization for Marriage, or from the former, now emeritus, pope who is on record as having said that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” and that gay marriage is contrary to God’s plan and “objectively sinful.”  Millions of Americans own guns in the erroneous belief that more guns will make them safer, and Congress itself does not have the backbone to pass the meagerest of gun-control legislation.

These, then, are five of the general categories that I use in order to distill the onslaught of information that comes at each of us everyday from every direction.  Not everything is important, and some topics rise, or ought to rise, to the top, lest we become quickly overwhelmed and buried in data.

It’s not that such items as “Funds for Raises in Mayor’s budget,” Tech Tackles Cheating,” “Measure Would Go After Bad Doctors,” or “Depression Era Film Starlet Dies” are not interesting or even important to some in their own right (all, by the way, can be found in the Thursday, May 2, 2013 edition of the LA Times).  It’s just that no one has unlimited time.  And so, in the end, all of us are obliged in one way or another to sift through and strain out what we cannot, are not willing to, or choose not to handle.