Friday, March 23, 2012

Dear Imprudence

There's a girl that my kids went to school with about five years ago. She moved away and they've forgotten her but when she was in L.A. she'd hang around a lot and her living situation was so grim that I'll always remember her. She's nineteen now and she moved out of state a couple years ago. Her father died in pathetic circumstances last year and her mother has never much been in the picture. She friended the kids on Facebook and while they are of the out of sight, out of mind persuasion they ascribe to a quantity over quality philosophy with regard to amassing Facebook friends. When her name came up I sent her a note and we had an emotional exchange and she told me that my interest and affection meant a lot to her. She posts regularly, often fragments of poignant poetry which may be original or for all I know, hip-hop lyrics. There are photos of her with her friends and sometimes reports of activities which I presume are just as illegal in her current state of residence as they are in California. Recently, she posted a photo of the first spliff she'd rolled. It was indeed workmanlike. My own kids nearly wet themselves in hilarity at my pronunciation of “spliff,” slang for what I have always referred to as a joint. Alas, they have never witnessed their own mother's rolling abilities, which, back in the day, would have given their former friend a run for the money.

This imprudent girl is just a Facebook friend and not my kid although given her lack of an anchor, I am sometimes tempted to parent her a little and counsel her not to burn any bridges by posting incriminating stuff on Facebook. I chew this around but finally accept that it's not my place. I get enough guff telling my own kids what to do. About a year ago a picture of our eldest puffing on a cigarette surfaced. Himself and I went ballistic but were chastened when the boy pointed out that the photo was taken at a children's theater event and that the glowing cancer stick was actually a prop. This week a friend posted a photo of our boy glowering at the camera and flipping the bird. Here in hipsterland a dad arrived at a nursery school birthday party wearing a t-shirt with an image of Johnny Cash sporting a single finger salute but we try to tell our boy he's not in Silver Lake anymore.

We remind the lad about the case of Stacey Snyder who was in a Pennsylvania teacher training program. She posted a picture of herself on MySpace holding a paper cup and wearing a pirate hat. The caption was “drunken pirate” and based on this she was dismissed from the teaching college and is ineligible to ever apply for a teaching credential in the state of Pennsylvania. The boy says he doesn't want to teach anyway and wouldn't apply for any job that would entail scrutinizing his Facebook postings. You can afford this lofty moral stance when you're a nineteen year old college student but Himself reports that his students, most of whom have enormous college loan debt, in addition to families, are often asked to open their Facebook page or even provide the password as part of the job interview process. They don't have the luxury of our own kid's highfalutin' righteousness.

Mr. College often castigates his parents for being unable to get through a meal without mentioning Facebook. I defend our slavishness to the social network and point out that we don't have a slew of dormitory pals to chill with when we need to take a break and refresh with a bit of social interaction. He points out, pathetically naïve with regard to the dynamics of a twenty year marriage, that we have each other. I admit, just like my mother stressed out about reciprocating dinner invitations and keeping careful lists of gifts given and received, lest she regift back to the original giver, that lately Facebook sometimes feels more like an obligation than a pleasure. I strive not to miss a birthday or fail to recognize a milestone. I like wishing people a happy birthday because it's easy plus for me it softens the blow, when people from all different eras of my life give me a nod, that each birthday signifies my closer proximately to death. I've never defriended anyone but I admit I have opted out of the feeds for some of the most egregious cute kitten and child braggart posters. But even some of the content that isn't particularly banal or self promoting, just doesn't interest me.

I try to post things that raise the level of discourse but get the most attention it seems with cute pets and puerile humor. I have friended a number of writers I admire and marvel at how self involved and trivial many of them are. I have about 200 friends and there about a dozen I can depend on to post things that are consistently interesting and provocative. This means I usually have to mine through about a hundred status reports I don't give a rat's ass about to get to the one posting that makes it all worthwhile.

In the “research I would not have funded” category, several recent studies reveal that narcissistic personality disorder is prevalent in Facebook users who make frequent self congratulatory postings and cultivate long lists of friends. It took me about a nanosecond to realize that people pretty much behave the same way on a social network as they do in real life. I'm not saying that my participation in Facebook isn't ego driven. There are photos on me braless and in a schmatta on the couch next to the most hilarious of dogs that I have forbidden my children to post. I think that most people like to be perceived of as smart and attractive and I cultivate this myself but, and maybe I'm self-delusional, the greatest satisfaction comes not from the “You like me. You really like me,” aspect. I've been out of college for decades and work in a small office. It is nice to feel a part of something bigger and, in addition to the cute pet stuff, I've been exposed to things that I am better for having seen or pondered and like to think also that I've raised the consciousness of a handful of kindred spirits with regard to things that have touched me.

I am aware that the warm fuzzy Facebook obfuscates a darkness that merits concern. I've been called a Pollyanna and I've accused certain loved ones of being conspiracy theory nut cases. Since government disregard for the Constitution was so exposed and discredited in the aftermath of the McCarthy era and the turbulence of 1960s it seemed to me that no one in the government would have the balls again to encroach on citizens' rights by resorting to illegal surveillance. The ginormous shift to the right, which I believe is largely fueled by racism in the wake of Obama's election, makes even Pollyanna a wee bit paranoid. Now that it's been so co-opted by their parents, one of my sons has signed off of Facebook and the other only looks at it a couple times a week and sneers every time his parents mention it. Perhaps the novelty of on-line networking has worn off for the teenage crowd and Facebook will be primarily habituated by the my own less ambulatory demographic, less vulnerable to having lapses of judgment come back to bite us in the ass. I will probably never have to apply for another job, but you never know so it is better to boast here in the last paragraph of a blog no one reads that I still can roll a joint more dextrously than any Johnny-Come-Lately teen wannabee.


Fionnchú said...

I talk often about FB in more than one course, as it's one medium I still have in common with twenty-year-olds (whereas those students closer or exceeding my own age feel far less wired in to its shiny allure). I note another "study" finding how women of a certain age (not that advanced but not teenyboppers either) had a particularly visceral reaction to seeing other gal pals of yore flaunting their bling, their men, their cruises, their surgeries (as in cosmetic and not plastic if that distinction survives), and their conspicuous consumption. As with "reality" t.v., the transmission by which profs and pundits once hoped we'd get smarter proves our regression to hunting and gathering.

Speaking of return to the "savage," I always thought flippin' the bird childish. I'm not impressed when M.I.A. does it at the Super Bowl or elder son at a shindig. Like most people around earshot or on screen who appear to have to resort to the usual two or three curses, I tire of such expletives, wishing we had Shakespeare or Webster around to enlarge our demotic vocabulary of disdain. One more reason to teach the Dead White Males in our schools.

I note what our sons shrug off as they and their peers flaunt their supposed bravado, and "friends" far older online. Still, it seems that for now (cautionary tale: AOL) that FB dominates our communication. I agree that it has many advantages. I teach among students and faculty who fear FB and Wikipedia; I welcome ther information shared and knowledge obtained in seconds rather than the trips to the library stacks and driving across town for a xerox of an obscure journal article. But now, said journal is not in any open stacks, but via JSTOR and if your institution doesn't subscribe, well...

In such daily surrenders to tech and capital, we capitulate to the Man or Ms, CEO or CFO. Unlike Google's IPO, FB's "wealth" accrues, after all, from our effort far more than FB's. I wonder how we will evolve as our blogs fade and our statuses stumble. Posting from the deathbed or nursing home, until the end: my generation, The Who's warning intact as I type the end of this line. xxx me

Mike Maginot said...

Being in classes with students just out of high school has taught me a lesson that FB isn't cool anymore. The FB movie may have bumped up interest, for awhile, but most young people don't want their parents all up in their business. FB hasn't reached the My Space level of uncool, but it's getting there. Hence the "I don't wanna hear 'bout it" attitude you are experiencing. Too many "old folks" have taken over their space. With so many apps offering the ability to post to multiple websites and other apps that can be accessed with only a cell phone, Facebook isn't as much a place to go online, as an alternate place to post and reach the slackers who haven't pulled up stakes and moved on to the next big thing. Like you, I try to keep up with birthdays and pop in with a comment here and there, but I don't have the time to "go deep". When it comes down to it, keeping up with people from every decade of our life, is a big responsibility. Add to that people you meet on the Net, whoa. Facebook fear, Google fear, and just plain fear of The Net is at an all time high. The price to play anywhere on the World Wide Web is a loss of your privacy. It isn't free and there are consequences when you reveal yourself to the world. Even if you decide not to play, or hide behind phony profiles and misinformation, you're still going to be seen and heard by satellites, cell phones,and hundreds video cameras wherever you go. Forget about the pics you post, your best friend just tagged you doing something (somewhere/sometime) and there is someone who will disapprove.