The Personal and Political Politics of Taking a Facebook Fast
I just posted the following to my Facebook timeline:
Dear friends, frenemies, fellow travelers, soulmates, associates, acquaintances, rabidly counter-political old high school mates, politically attuned mates from back in the day, any NSA spook(s) monitoring Facebook, random spies, lurkers and you one or two fans.
Starting Friday, Sept. 1, I’ll be taking a Facebook Fast® for a period of no less than the month of September. Should you wish to stay in touch with whatever byways, wrong turns or peregrinations my attention undertakes, please do one (or more) of the following. Thank you and — in 6 days — goodbye. | Douglas Imbrogno
1) Follow my WestVirginiaVille blog on Twitter.
2) Subscribe to the blog’s feed.
3) If you’re a dear soul and still write letters, message me your mailing address and I will write you a postcard from the other side of the digital canyon. I will be roasting marshmallows and reading Jane Vandenburgh’s “The Architecture of the Novel” as I try to follow the directions on the box. (Yes, roast, not toast — they’re better that way).
4) ‘Like‘ the page http://facebook.com/westvirginiaville/ which features the latest posts from the blog and which I may keep updated. Or not, in case I feel I’m being pulled back into the Zuckerberg Timesuck Vortex (ZTV).
Last week, when I mentioned on Facebook I was taking another sabbatical from posting (here was the first time in March-April 2012), some revealing comments followed from friends. Here was how I put it in a Friday, Aug. 24 status update:
SEVEN DAYS AND COUNTING: Until I take a Facebook Vow of Silence (FVS) for the month of September. Join me in the international Fleeing Facebook in the Fall (FFF) program – just announced, you heard it here first – so as to get some long-form writing done slightly more ambitious than a status update.
One friend noted:
But then I’d have no social life at all!
That’s the point. What happens to us then? It’s messing with social media life as a Petri dish experiment: ABSTRACT: Is it possible anymore to feel engaged, productive, accomplished and appreciated if no one is ‘liking’ you?
We’re just joking, right? My friend answered with a joke:
No wonder I have such a bad self image.
While my friend noted in his next comment that he was joshing, he went on to say:
I am kidding, of course. I’m stuck in a world of working from the time my feet hit the floor in the morning to the time I collapse in bed at night. No balance. That’s what needs to change, but once you get on that train, it’s awfuly hard to get off (think of the Twilight Zone episode of “Willoughby”).
The truth in that exchange is that the hurly-burly, always-on aspect of Facebook interaction may be a lot more important to the connectivity of our lives — and to the sense that anyone out there gives a damn about our worldviews, bon mots and very existence — than we might like to admit. Even if the people who ‘like’ what we have to say, or comment on it, are also looking to be ‘liked,’ if not to be seen. Seen to be alive, that is, with still-functioning, occasionally witty, acerbic and spot-on brains and hearts.
In the same comment stream, another friend took me to task for seeming to sneer or act superior to the role Facebook now plays in daily life as an electronic lifeline to community. She wrote:
FB, or don’t FB. No need for a movement; no need to crowd source personal choices.
I admit, I got a little defensive at this point. But some larger and important points were lurking in the exchange between this friend and myself. I commented back at her:
[Name of friend] — geesh, just having fun with the shout out. Encouraging FB-breaks, not trying to start a movement.
This friend responded thoughtfully, I thought:
Maybe I sounded too harsh – should have at least said “please,” but I’m tired of folks starting Leave FB movements, as if it were bad. If one wants to leave, go quietly. I appreciate there are reasons for some. This election season I feel like FB has connected me with like-minded, funny, smart people around the country who also support the president and that’s been wonderful – for me. Your joke obviously struck me the wrong way. Why encourage FB breaks? I don’t get it.
I happen to agree with part of this viewpoint. In the face of the Machiavellian politics of the Concerted Big Lie Repeated Ad Nauseum — the return-to-power-paradigm of the modern Republican Party — there is warm fuzziness in communing with like-minded supporters of a president who is, in fact, a decent, thoughtful soul and not the poisonous caricature pumped out by the right-wing white noise machine.
Yet this friend pointed out something I’d not really thought about. Myself, as a daily newspaperman, blogger and performer tied electronically to other performers and writers, my digital life is routinely a cacophonous din. If I go on vacation, my newspaper e-mail address has at least 1,000 or more emails in the download avalanche the Monday of my return. Yet Facebook is a slightly different matter. As my friend notes:
Acknowledging your point – probably working at the Gazette, you are overconnected while I, living on a farm in Calhoun County, am underconnected — and that has made all the difference. Take care.
Fair point, I acknowledge back. Facebook as community-connector is certainly one of its superior positives. I am not sure, though, that the politically-themed FB posts accomplish much other than what this friend described: emboldening, supporting and strengthening one’s own worldview. Which is nothing to sniff at. This second friend went on to comment:
It bucks up & strengthens the committed. Nothing like knowing you are not alone in your views to encourage finding a way to connect them with actions on the ground.
A third friend noted that he could not — would not — get off Facebook at such a time as this, with the presidential election bearing down on the country Nov. 2. He began with a joke, riffing off my joke about launching “the international Fleeing Facebook in the Fall (FFF) program”:
It is a republican conspiracy to keep us from slam dunking Mitt during the biggest campaign month….no can do
I have my doubts Facebook political posts ever changed anyone’s deeply held political viewpoints. And said so to this third friend:
[Third friend’s name] — on the other hand, I am waiting for a sociologist to find the one person in America whose party affiliation or vote was changed because of something they read on FB. I think voter outreach and driving people to polls will have far more impact than the usual preaching to the nodding chorus on FB that we all do. But more power to the attempt.
Au contraire, says Third Friend:
I can show you a bunch…check out Rednecks for Obama, or republicans for Obama on FB.
Hmmm. If you say so. I still question whether a Facebook post or exchange ever turned a Republican vote Democratic or vice versus. I think FB emboldens and strengthens the choir to which we preach. But maybe — as my second friend above describes — that is no small thing.
As for me, I am taking a Facebook Fast® for one or two chief reasons. (And in the irony-signalling necessity of the Web, no, I have not in fact registered ‘Facebook Fast’ as a registered trademark. It’s all yours.)
It’s my fault, really, When I start revving up my Facebook posts, as I have been doing these past months, the need to check in and see who has responded, who liked what, what they said and whether I should respond, has reached a crescendo. Plus, I recently became active on a brainiac writer/literary Facebook page (The Monotonists) and you have to be quick on your feet with a Rapid Riposte Squad at the ready for that one.
So, I have been checking into FB way, way too much. And, at this age, I’ve only so many quarters of energy to spend each day. I estimate that I wake up with a stack of 50 quarters of energy. Once spent, I’m done for the day. All I can really do at that point is go to bed or watch a marathon of back-to-back episodes of “Big Bang Theory.” Facebook has been chewing through far too many of my quarters.
I now intend to spend at least a couple dollars on trying to write something a little bit longer than my last status update. We shall see. Back at you, FB, when the leaves have gone all technicolor here in the hills of WestVirginiaVille.