Now… What Was I Doing?

Everyone in my office has Facebook.  Everyone in my immediate family has it, as do my brother, my sisters, and all my nieces and nephews, and even my mother.  Just about everyone I know at work and in the world has Facebook.  I have Facebook too, though I’m not sure why.

My children joke that if I’m carrying my cell phone, it isn’t on, and, if it’s on, I don’t have it.  The rest of the time it is neither with me nor on. They chuckle over my glacial texting.  They say, “Are you still working on that?  Is it a novel?”  Then they shake their heads with a smirk that says, “Silly Daddy.”  To them, I’m an old dog incapable of chasing these tricky, new-fangled devices… and any modern means of communication.

Naturally, I see it differently.

Okay, I’m absent-minded and haven’t developed a habit of using a mo-bile phone, but I’m learning.  I’m not an ossified coot or a Luddite or a sand-hooded ostrich. My youngers may see me as such, a fossil from a non-digitized stone age, but I don’t pine for any good old days of phone booths and landline isolation. I simply remember we once had different modern conveniences… and felt as fortunate.  We didn’t know we might have more.

We do have more, don’t we?

The advantages of Facebook are plain to me—I’ve heard from and about people I might otherwise have lost, followed friends’ links to funny and interesting videos or articles, communicated social plans, and shared in the small and large triumphs and tragedies of friends’ lives.  I also know which Twin Peaks character I’m most like… Agent Cooper.

But pesky balance sheets pop up in my imagination—what I’ve gained that I like versus what I’ve gained that I don’t. Because convenience has no master, distraction is as convenient as productivity, and intrusion is as convenient as accessibility.  Before email, I couldn’t spend time avoiding work and calling it work.  Before Facebook, I could write three or four paragraphs in a row.

Now my breaks have breaks. I avoid projects—like doing my job or helping out around the house—by answering dubiously necessary messages. But that’s hard too, so I turn to check Facebook or another email account or an information site I just checked a few minutes ago (and which might possibly have something slightly new to share) or I look something up on Dictionary.com or Wikipedia or I Stumble for a minute (going on half an hour) or I visit my blog to see if I might have received one of my semi-weekly comments.

Then I wonder if not learning to use my phone—I AM learning—is such a bad thing.  At least my atomized attention doesn’t suffer from the additional distraction of receiving the relentless texts my kids do.

My iPod is broken, thank God.

A life of distraction makes me more distractible, and all those mental channels that used to take me from conception to execution seem to have filled with silt and cattails and become one huge undifferentiated swamp.  Perhaps people born to this world see landmarks I don’t and navigate that swamp, but I’m lost.

When I said before that everyone in my family had Facebook, I made an easy and convenient generalization. Actually, my younger brother is holding out.  Somehow he refuses to believe he’s missing something.

He’s my hero.  I hope to find the courage to quit Facebook. I want to let go of some of the electric diversions coursing through my life.

I want to tie myself to the mast and sail straight again.

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2 Comments

Filed under Aging, Blogging, Doubt, Essays, Facebook, Gesellschaft, Home Life, Jeremiads, Laments, life, Memory, Parenting, Sturm und Drang, Thoreau, Thoughts, Work, Writing

2 responses to “Now… What Was I Doing?

  1. David – about a month ago, after years of nagging by close friends i have opened a Facebook account, but have yet to post any messages. I figure anyone who wants to communicate with me will ring my phone, drop by, better yet. Also, I do not have a cell phone, although when I am out in the broad world I have found it impossible to call home because there are no public phone booths available. Naturally I am a fearless asker of permission to use the phones of businesses I frequent. That’s not such a big deal, although people shrug and look at me funny. But, so what?

    My facebook account can sit there in the ether and languish, for all I care. If these attitudes make me a fossil, what the hell! I am one. G

    Your experience with Facebook sounds similar to mine. Though I don’t remember anyone nagging me to get a page, people said it could reconnect me with old students, former classmates, and dispersed colleagues. It has, in a superficial way. I know what they share on FB, usually witty minutiae. I know when they travel and where they ate and what TV they watched, and what sort of day they are having. I guess that’s better than nothing, but it’s no substitute for really reconnecting. I wish I could magically have dinner with them, but that’s not the way our world works. An overabundance of watered down stuff has taken the place of pure and strong spirit.

    Thanks for commenting.

  2. Peter Newton

    David,
    So, it’s been awhile since I checked in to Signals. It’s heartening to find a post after my own heart, so to speak. I wrote a one line poem (haiku) awhile back, it goes:

    “not a Luddite I say your personal interrupter’s ringing”

    I was trying to express both my appreciation for technology and my frustration with the people in my life who seem to be crippled without their techno fix. Be it Facebook, cell phone, i-thing. My own mother, a youthful 80, urges me every so often “to get with it.”
    I don’t own a cell phone and I remain woefully low-tech. I do, however, enjoy the collaboration of ideas shared through various blogs, such as this one. A sort of strangers’ round table.

    Reading the New York Times Book Review this morning, an author was suggesting in his recent book on the subject of technology that humans have evolved to respond quickly to new information, whether it’s a twig that snaps under the weight of a predator or the ping of an in-coming instant message. This may be true but common sense tells me when to step away from the laptop and go take a hike somewhere. Anywhere. Was it George Herbert who once said: “By all means, spend some time alone. See what Thy soul doth wear.”

    Wise advice. I think I’ll tweet it.

    Best to you,

    Peter

    I’m actually deactivating my FB page today. My son says, “Why? You don’t have to. Just pay attention to it when you like.” I don’t know, perhaps it’s the principle. I’d love to cut some of the chaos out of my life, and my divided attention seems a big part of that chaos.

    Thanks for visiting and responding. It’s always great to hear from you in our strangers’ round table.

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