Facebook Nation

I’ve got to face the muzak, I am a member of facebook nation, whether I ever click on facebook or not.

“Social media” connects us in the most superficial possible way.  Which is cool, it is the least we can do to keep up the pretense of connectedness, and for many, also the most we can do.  It takes a few seconds to see the update, and if we’re not interested we click the next tab, no need to be polite or interested in the privacy of cyber friendship.

What has long irked me in real-life irks me on-line: it is rare for people to simply answer a simple question.  We are distracted all the time, much more now with powerful personal computers in our shirt pockets.  I don’t remember the last meal I ate in a restaurant without somebody at the table consulting a tiny, irresistible glowing screen for real-time updates.

“Oh, I’m sorry, did you say something?”

I had a friend of many years, somewhere on the Aspergers spectrum, I would think, very active on social media.  We eventually had a terminal falling out, no doubt years in the making, after he promised to do a small favor in his area of expertise and then, after not doing it, was peevish about me not answering his missed call to let him explain why he didn’t do it.  I wrote a series of pieces here about the unraveling situation, and in that month my “readership” spiked dramatically.  In fact, it set a personal record for this largely unread blahg, a record that could stand as long as DiMaggio’s hitting streak.

The nice thing is that through writing about the situation as clearly as I could I emerged as the vicious bully and he, unrepentant but cruelly misunderstood, came out as the victim, at least in his mind.  In our last call he actually attempted to bully me, which surprised me, but the point was made, if it needed making again:  written words can wound.   Over and over again, apparently.

After my final post on the slow-motion falling out went up I had an email from a friend.  “Good thing he doesn’t have a gun,” wrote my friend about the piece.  I hadn’t thought of that, but it was a good thing.

That’s the thing about being a cyber-presence, you don’t actually have to look anyone in the eye when you shoot them in the face.   Look at the comments on-line sometime.   I am often impressed by the level of civility and intelligence I see in comment strings on some sites.  People actually support each other and try to exchange differing views in a mature and nuanced way.  Then someone jumps in swinging virtual fists, light sabers, burning paper bags full of dog shit.  There are some sites where fisticuffs is the norm.  Put two of these bellicose trolls in a room and it’s unlikely they would be so fierce in each other’s actual presence.

Whenever I told the story of the end of the friendship with this former friend of mine I always added a line I never said, then admitted I didn’t think of it at the time.  The line was “if you want to bully me, come on over, I’m home.  I’ll wait for you.”  This is the kind of line we would write for a laconic tough guy narrator, which I am not.  But I play one on-line, you see.  Not that I would have needed to be any such thing to get this particular fellow to stop talking shit.

Writing here is the easiest thing I can think of to do at the moment– it’s almost like scrolling down a friend’s facebook page.  The least I can do and also, at the moment, the most.  Once I send it into cyberspace I plan to get on to many things I have been thinking of doing for the last couple of weeks.  In fact, let me do that now.

But first, how are you doing, my friend?

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Epilogue to Childhood Memory

The ideologically driven filmmakers of “Let My People Go” (see previous post) certainly made their point to an eight year-old viewer, at least until the moment he was forced to make a dash to vomit.  In the fifty years since that visceral moment, history, like freedom, has been on the march.  

There were several wars in those years between the Jewish State and its neighbors including a decisive one, in 1967, when the virtually indefensible 1948 borders of Israel were expanded to include the buffers of the Occupied Territories of Gaza, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Sinai.   Since that time, various Israeli governments have put permanent, strategically placed settlements in some of those territories.  There has been a shit-storm of controversy, with violent fanatics on both sides having way too much say over the outcome.  No doubt, given the choice, most people on each side would prefer peace to endless war.  The tragedy is that the voices of modest, decent people are rarely as loud and persuasive as the voices of violent haters ready to kill, everybody and anybody.  Take no chances, don’t trust their words, kill them!  Make them pay!

Intellectual understanding only goes so far.  I can understand why powerless people living in hopeless camps for generations, subjected to curfews, checkpoints, searches, rough treatment, detention, torture, would feel desperate enough to resort to and celebrate violence.  I can understand why peaceful citizens on the other side would demand curfews, checkpoints and heavy-handed tactics in order to avoid being killed by people desperate enough to blow themselves up.   Like I say, understanding with the mind only goes so far.   Certain things, in the word of one peace-loving Israeli I once knew, are un-understandable.  

In hindsight, as they say, many things snap into the old 20/20 focus.  If you think of a handful of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, determined to take some Nazis with them to hell as the Nazis were ‘liquidating’ the ghetto, you have a clue how this rear-view moral vision works.

There is no real choosing which was worse, the killing of millions during the Middle Passage over the course of three centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, or the killing of millions during a frenzied three or four year industrialized killing machine fueled by German ingenuity and efficiency.   I could not say, generations later, that either atrocity gives anyone a right to kill anyone else over it.

I’ve got no answer, propose no equivalencies, no justifications, nada.  It’s a horrible situation over there in Palestine/Israel, Israel/Palestine, as in many parts of the world, many of them in the immediate neighborhood.  Violence and brutality are always passionately justified by the practitioners.   History shows that the violent and brutal often carry the day while voices of reason usually get their brains blown out if they speak clearly enough and get enough attention.   I’d like to believe that in the long run human decency and our eternal longing for peace win out, but, looking around, I realize I may be with Anne Frank there, and Jesus, and right before he got shot, the Gandhi I was cursing just the other day.

Vonnegut’s Genius Take

From a short book he wrote toward the end of his life, a series of mini interviews with famous and infamous people from the world beyond.  Afterlife Correspondent Vonnegut would enter the Pearly Gates for each interview, pursuant to the deal the atheist made with St. Peter to be allowed into heaven to conduct these short chats with historical figures for the benefit of those of us walking on the earth at that particular moment in time.  The proceeds from the sales of the book were donated to National Public Radio, or possibly to WNYC.

In his short intro Vonnegut describes the loneliness of modern life, a theme he often revisited.  He contrasted life in modern industrialized society to the vastly more social lives lived for millennia by groups of humans.  An Ibo baby in Africa is taken to meet her 400 aunts, uncles and cousins who take her in their arms by turn and coo at her and tell her how beautiful she is.  Wouldn’t you love to be that baby? asks Vonnegut.

The truly genius take is this, and I don’t have the text ( less than two sparsely type-set pages in total) in front of me so you’ll pardon (or not) a paraphrase.  

Freud didn’t know what women want, wrote Vonnegut, but Vonnegut does.  Women want to talk, to everyone, about everything.  What do men want?  Some pals and nobody to be mad at them.  The modern arrangement, a man and a woman pair off and live together, become the largest part of each other’s social universe.  

The woman gets somebody to talk to about everything all the time: but it’s a man.

The man gets a pal and somebody not to be mad at him: but it’s a woman.

Because a great Vonnegut insight should end with a profound, yet comic bow he adds:

Each one, unwittingly, has the same anguished complaint against the other: “you are not enough people!”.

As pithy a nutshell of something fundamental as any you’ll hear today, it seems to me.

Stats Corner

One thing I love about baseball is the stats.  You can look at a sheet of numbers next to a bunch of names, arranged as a box score, and quickly learn virtually everything about the game these people played.  Few stats are as straightforward as the numbers in a box score, though, of course, a blooper that falls in and rolls is indistinguishable from a shot that caroms off the wall at 120 mph.  “That will look like a line drive in the boxscore,” says the announcer of the dribbler that stops halfway to the hot corner as the runner reaches first and gets a perfectly valid base hit.  Most stats can be manipulated any number of ways, like words, moods, standardized test scores, economic numbers, people who want to please, fearful souls, etc.

WordPress offers stats, along with your free blahg.  Stats let you know how much traffic your site is getting, how well your little on-line journal is doing as far as readership.  You can see, for example, how many visitors you have on any given day, week, month, year.   You can see the numbers of likes, comments, views.  I look at these from time to time and nod, observing what an obscure little corner of cyberspace the gratuitousblahg occupies.   Rearranging the stats like the entrails a sooth sayer in the time of Caesar studied for omens of the future, I see this smiling augury.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.41.27 AM

Not a bad trend, I think, coyly trimming off the tell-tale column to the right that shows the actual numbers.  But look at the trend, if you will; it is the trend I am getting at here with this chart.  I have reason to feel slightly encouraged by the steady uptick in annual visitors, do I not?  In ten years time, at the present rate of increase, I will have as many visitors in a year as the average porn site gets in a few hours.  Progress, by any measure, I’m sure we all agree.

Stirring the entrails with my stick to divine further trends I notice an odd contradiction in the stats.  Although I’ve stopped complaining about it, as much as I am able to, long time readers of these posts will know I’ve often sung sad songs about the difficulty of getting any feedback on anything.  The echoes from my adversarial childhood make me more susceptible than some to the sting of silence by way of response, though I think anyone  who expresses herself does so with some hope of a response.   (Note the sensitivity of my gender choice there, gentle reader.  I was encouraged to do this in law school, of all places.  Funny, I know.)

The most dependable form of response in real-time, something that, sadly, cannot be heard in cyberspace, is a laugh.  A laugh is also gratifying because it’s usually honest, spontaneous and an instant of blessed relief for everyone involved.   Not so with a response to other kinds of expression– they require both thought and action, even if each might take only a few seconds.    

Much non-response is simply the result of most people being too busy to read, hear or watch something they thought was pretty good and then take even more time to type “nice”.  “Nice” seems insufficient, so after a moment of searching in vain for a better four letter word they sensibly move on to the next thing.  

On top of the fast pace of modern life, it also doesn’t even occur to most people that a person who spends time creating something would be gratified by the encouragement, even as they applaud even a mediocre live performance (writing isn’t a performance, read it publicly, then we’ll clap) and most people remember to compliment the chef at dinner when a new dish is served (hey, nobody asked you to serve me this crap, bub).   Social behaviors change when people are anonymous, which is whey they created the “like” button, although the chart for gratuitousblahg likes is too ambiguous a little mountain range to be of any use to us here.

There is pleasure and satisfaction to be had from doing a thing as well as you can.  These excellent things are not to be sneezed at.   Recognition that the thing is well-done, interesting, has provoked a thought or feeling, welcome as the validation might be, well… no one can hear you shake your head in cyberspace   Anyway,  have a look and quick ponder at the next telltale graph, comments on the blahg since its ‘launch’ in August of 2012.   And, please, no comments, this one’s on me.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.40.52 AM

Storytelling

“I am feeling more and more like a melancholy ghost,” he said to nobody.  The dust looked at him apathetically.   “Of course,” he thought, drawing in a deep, dusty breath.

We humans are moved by stories.  That’s why gossip is sometimes hard to resist.  He did what?  She thought… what the hell WAS she thinking?  Fucking humans… can you believe?   And if it is hard enough to believe, but still possible to understand as unmistakably true… or even mistakably true, damn, you got the kernel of a good story there, son.

A lawyer successfully making her case tells a story the jury believes is more true than the other story.   A huckster selling you a rock you can keep for a pet, triggers that childish belief in magic, begins the story in your head — what if a rock actually needs love and care as much as we do? Some ingenious fucker sold millions of rocks to Americans as pets by planting that story.   Hey, nobody said we’re a nation of geniuses, but we got good hearts. 

I have a story to tell, but not here.  My story must go into a slideshow I have to get back to work on.   It’s the story of young children that society is in the inexorable process of preparing for lives of tragic outcomes, getting a chance to flourish, create and shine.  It’s a funny story, and an unlikely one, and tricky as hell to tell with the right tone.  I need people to buy the idea, and give me money to fund it.

I note in passing, in outgassing, (and since I’ve already noted it and only have to cut and paste it)  the difference between the story I need to tell and the stories we are happy to slurp down during our leisure.

The difference between giving attention to a sales pitch and a TV series is that the TV series, if it’s good, hooks you on a story that pulls you in.  A good sales pitch must do the same, but I can’t remember the last time one did that for me.  
 
I recently saw 16 episodes of an engaging TV series called Rectify.  An innocent guy spends 20 years on death row for the murder of his high school girlfriend before his determined little sister gets him out on a DNA mismatch.   We see him in solitary, flashes of his nightmare life there, his one friend in life– the condemned guy in the cell next door, a repentant and sweet guy who shot into a car as a gang initiation and killed a 3 year-old girl….they become best friends talking through the grate, as the psychopath in the other cell tries to break the sensitive protagonist’s spirit.  As I set out the bones of it I’m already feeling it’s a compelling story. 
 
And it gets much more so when he gets out, and is a mess, and the small Georgia town is divided between those who embrace him as an innocent, blessedly exonerated man and those who don’t believe in the technicality of DNA and see him as a confessed and duly convicted rapist and murderer (we know he isn’t either of those, and so our horror at injustice is engaged) and, in any case, a weird and clearly disturbed guy they want to beat the crap out of, as several in masks finally do when he goes to visit the grave of his murdered girlfriend.  
 
After the brutal, possibly deadly beating in the cemetery, the brother of the murdered girl removes his mask and makes sure the protagonist sees his face through bloody eyes before he passes out.  Then the brother pisses on his broken body.  When the protagonist finally gets out of the coma, and the hospital, he declines to press charges when the corrupt but conscience stricken sheriff runs down and arrests the ringleader.  “It wasn’t him,” he says, looking stoically at a photo the sheriff, who knows it was, holds out to him.  The sheriff leaves in disgust.  Everyone in town is confused, and it is another proof that there’s something seriously wrong with the guy.  Some of us can’t help watching this kind of story.
 
A sales pitch, on the other hand, tells a calculated story that cheerfully invites the potential buyer to envision the wonderful things the product will deliver to them.  How will this product make my shit life feel marginally better?  Unlike with a story containing enough human complexity to hook us with its narrative mysteries, and we are ready and happy to be hooked, if the hook is there, we are on guard against a sales pitch, which must also disarm us.  
 
A totally different exercise in story-telling and the reason watching five hours of an enthralling drama, if you have the time, is never a chore, and watching a sales pitch of any duration is something you are programmed to mute and go take a mental piss during.  There is great art involved in crafting a winning sales pitch, as in telling an engaging story of any kind, and there are similarities in both kinds of storytelling, but differences too.   If you get paid to make commercial pitches, well, at least you get paid.  If you do them on spec, well, hopefully you enjoy a good challenge and love the work itself, eh pardner?

Heh.  I’m sorry, what were you saying, Dusty, old boy?