Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wherein I cut a pompous ass a new ass hole!

January 24, 2012
Reculer pour Mieux Sauter
Behold homo sapiens lashed on the wheel of the digital social network: held frozen over a computer which is tied by a cord to a wall wherein the fiberglass cable carries the message; (No, Chris, we CHOOSE this, and yes, the fiberglass cable doth carry the message - but unto whom does it carry the message - unto far more people than we could ever communicate with IN THE MOMENT on a one-to-one basis, unless we have the advantage of being a published opinion columnist in a large metropolitan daily newspaper, OR, perhaps, a free lancer who is sometimes published at Counterpunch. WHAT IF, we have something very important to offer, to share, this in fact happens, and it happens on FaceBook, and it happens for bloggers ... now more need we be like unto a voice crying out in the wildnerness, but we can become a voice that speaks to truths that touch people's lives, that reaffirm their existence, that lets them know that they are not alone - and in this, even in loneliness / solitude, the knowing that we share something with fellow human beings, is indeed, a GREAT comfort!) staring into the lit screen, the face pale in the unnatural light; or, with head bent in the street, the appearance sullen, running fingers across the blinking object of desire. The creature is secretly harried: Constant updates are necessary, the user must tend the machine whenever and wherever possible (utter tripe - the user CHOOSES to do this ... on an "average" day, the "average" person will speak approximately 2500 words to 7.4 people ... on face book, or, at a blog, the writer will communicate with FAR mor people, touch far more lives, and, especially when the writer, the wordsmith KNOWS that his experiences, which are being freely shared, given from the heart, impelled by some universal imperative to SPEAK (or write - in Arabic, the word for both SPEAK and WRITE is the same, interesting!) – which is all the time and everywhere – and god forbid there is too long a lapse in the slipstream. On Facebook, new friends and old are counted – may they always increase in number! Some are in fact “friends,” in the now rotting sense of the word: the person who is to be confided in, who listens, cares what to listen for, knows secrets, keeps them, knows who you are to the extent that a friend can – the friend as he or she who might look into your eyes and, with affection and even love, claim to see the windows of the soul (except that no one posts SECRETS on facebook - one may post VERY personal and intimate stuff, but that is how one purges one's self of the most pernicious of demons; that is how one forgives one's self, and in the process, that is how one shows the way unto others how to forgive themselves, and how to share their worst experiences, and by sharing, unburdening one's self, we become purified, we become more involved in our community - we help others to help themselves).

As we know, however, many Facebook “friends” bear no relation to how we want to understand the term. (What chew mean "we" and "bear no relation to how we want to understand the term? Christ almighty, shortly after my mother's fatal stroke, but before the decision was made to pull the life supports, I must have received FIVE HUNDRED (if not more) well wishes and prayers from my face book community, and from my e-mailing friends, all of whom I kept advised; THE POWER OF PRAYER group (of which I am a member) is an intercessory Prayer group that was praying their hardest and damndest both for my mother, and for all of those who loved her, and were so invested in her condition ... and so afraid that she might be forever gone ... I PROMISE you, this was by far a greater outpouring for friendship and support than any I got from church or any of the community groups in which I participate face to face ... it was very much a comfort to know all the people that were praying for mom, and that were praying for us ... because THEY WERE DOING WHAT THEY COULD, and, in that situation, all you CAN do is pray!) Perhaps known to the user at work or at school in the flesh, yet they cannot be counted as real friends. Some are strangers, known only via the interface of the machine, attracted to the user by an algorithm calculating the databit “likes” and “dislikes.”

Let’s forget for a moment that Facebook is probably (why "probably"? It either is or it isn't; why don't you take the time to get an expert's opinion, or, better yet, the opinions of several experts - you see, when it comes to tapping telephones and breaking into e-mails - well, that is stuff we normally ASSUME to be private - FB, Jeez Lew Ease, for Chrissakes, it is a fucking PUBLIC WEB SITE ... everything we post there is fair game for just about anybody to see -- we post at our own risk, and if we don't realize this, we should not be permitted to drive an automobile, cash a check, or procreate) the most ingenious info-aggregator yet invented for governments to spy on citizens (FB was NOT invented for this reason; if in fact it can be used to do so, so be it; FIRE burns and destroys, and yet fire taught human kind how to tame and control fire). Forget that the citizens are willingly doing the work for the intelligence agencies in building the database (THE DATA BASE - there are dozens, scores, maybe even 100's or more data bases - there is so much fucking data out there that it is incomprhensible to human kind; literally.). I worry about the matter of efficiency in friendship. Facebook makes friendship efficient, in the manner of the assembly line, which is exactly what friendship should not be – if it is to remain human, if the friend as person is not to be degraded. Friendship is dirty. It’s difficult. It smells – it sometimes has bad breath. It’s unpredictable, and sometimes hazardous. (Jesus Christ, asshole, you're talking about FAMILY, not friends. MY friends are quite easy to take - virtually all of them are non-judgmental (this goes a long way toward making a person very attractive to me as a friend) virtually all of them willing to give a shirt off their back, who routinely perforam random acts of kindnesses, the list is endless -- if your friends are doing all this rotten stuff, I think it is safe to say, "they ain't really your friends; they are just acquaintances who get off on making you feel rotten -- dump 'em all and go live as a hermit, better yet, go live in Chicago, homeless, with NO cash for a month, or Harvard, Illinois, and then you will find out who your true friends are ... to me, it's the Mexican that picks me up while I'm walking along a very busy highway (not hitch-hiking, because it's too damn dangerous, but it's also 20 degrees out, and sleet is coming down; NOT only does he pick me up, and asks where I'm going to, he takes me to a bus stop, asks if I have enough money, and then gives me a buck to make sure I do ... now THAT is a god-damned friend and I might NEVER EVEN SEE HIM AGAIN!) The issue is about persons and about friendship defined, for if we are to take Facebook seriously, then we must recognize that the form of friendship it is promulgating will by technologic necessity reduce the nature and meaning of the friend (Christ, YOU have reduced the nature and meaning of "friend" to someone you know who fucks you over and pisses you off - if that's what ticks your clock, so be it - but that does not work for me, and I continue to make new friends DAILY, because I am unafraid to chat with a stranger - it's surprising how many of them are honored that you would speak with them, and invariably, they are VERY interesting. You see, MOST of my friends (in the sense of having known them for a long time, having shared joys and triumphs, defeats and disappointnments with, having shared meals with, having had long and intimate personal talks with -- well, MOST of these friends have LIVES, loved ones, commitments, and they DO NOT HAVE THE KIND OF TIME for me that I have for them). Personhood on the Facebook page can only go so far. It is a managed self. It is degraded personhood.

I watched my daughter in Christmas of 2010 using Facebook. I had never seen the social network machine in action. (So, from random sample, size one, you take the flying leap from the specific to the generality in a heart beat - you are a fucking RETARD, ass hole, and you should NOT be permitted to have your tripe posted on an otherwise pretty useful sight, such as Counterpunch!) Lea is 15, lives in a suburb of Paris with her mother, bored to tears like all suburban kids, and of course has perfected a Facebook personality. Many pictures of herself, and friends, at parties and events attended, and much else: commentary on this or that pop culture item of interest – musical acts for the most part, but also the usual amalgam of commodities sought after. I watched for a moment and then, abruptly, she shut it down, want me to see no more of the Facebook self. I wondered how many “friends” she had, but she wasn’t talking. (WELL, fer Chrissakes, you're an absolute judgmental ass hole who doesn't deserve to be her father, why SHOULD she answer any of your questions or let you into her world; you don't really give a fuck about her anyway, and she sure as hell does not trust you with any of this information - damn good thing you live so far apart.)

A few months later, in the springtime, she was in Utah, in the town of Moab, where I used to live and where I return every few months or so to hide out and write in a cabin I rent from a friend. Moab was once a lost little place in the desert. Today it is invaded by people like me, who want to be in a lost little place and who thereby nullify each other’s desire for solitude. (NO, ass hole, you don't want to be in a lost little place, if you did, you'd find some place other than Moab - let me suggest Union, Illinois, for example) Lea had a Blackberry, courtesy of complaining to her mother or grandmother – I never got a straight story as to who gave her the gift – but of course it had no signal at our cabin. Disconnection today is a wondrous event; it’s almost like being punched in the face. Bull shit - being punched in the face ain't NUTHIN' like being w/o connectivity. To be shut off from the global chatter, to not have to field the unending course and scrum of digital information, to be human in the primary sense of being merely person to person You're so bad at fucking person to person that your own now 16-year old daughter won't even talk with you; would rather do the ether thing with people she can't see than to attempt to have a rational "person to person" chat – this is what cabins in Utah are now apparently made for. Lea and I sat in this informational darkness and ate big American breakfasts in the morning and lazed about in the afternoon sun and read books – she with “Lord of the Flies” – and went on hikes in the long spring light, carrying extra water but no cell phones.

Still, the connection was sought, and we were both sad little addicts. (I hardly see Lisa as a sad little addict - she was willing to forgo her cell to be with you, to give you (yet) another chance at connecting on a human level - and, p.s., your job is to be FATHER, not friend, and that your daughter won't talk with you ought to be a very clear signal that you ahve FAILED her and greatly) Wherever there was wifi – at the neighbor’s house nearby the cabin, at the library in town, at the restaurants – I wanted my e-mail. And Lea looked to connect and find the latest news on Facebook. Being a hypocrite – having gathered up my own email and touched on my “friends” via the simpler (Lea would say archaic) interface – I chided her about Facebook. She didn’t laugh. This is a 15-year-old. Social connection is tragically important. (Yes, whether it be social connection in the face-to-face way, by telephone, by cell phone, by letter-writing, by blogging, by posting on face book ... these are ALL VERY VALID social connections)

Yet she admitted there was something not quite right in what Facebook asked of her. “Facebook is good,” she said, “but it’s weird too. You have to be constantly social,” she said. “But with people – with friends – you should also have” – she’s bilingual in French and English but here searched for the right word – “some kind of recule.” Recule meaning a stepping back, a moving away. (Here's a clue - you CAN step back from face book - you don't have to respond to any one, you can go invisible, you can only let certain friends know you are there .. in other words, you CAN recule!)

“Okay, recule,” I said.

“You’re not always there, you’re not always connected. You have your own experience. That’s what vacation is for. You’re apart. And then you come together and you talk, you know, face to face, and you tell everybody what happened on the vacation.” Weird indeed, Lea. You sound like a Luddite.

Would that there were more like her among the adults. Not a week goes by that people who I’d otherwise consider mindful and intelligent fail to invite me on to Facebook. Which prompts the immediate question: Why would any mindful and intelligent person be on Facebook? I have a friend in Brooklyn, admittedly a vulgarian and not much in tune with the melodies of political correctness, who considers Facebook the province of “people standing in mirrors tarting themselves up and bullshitting and mincing around. Facebook is the biggest waste of time since television.” (My question is, does this vulgarian come to his conclusions from having been on face book, or from merely having held an opinion about something he has not experienced) The man has a point. Facebook is the ideal venue of expression for a society in which narcissism, as Christopher Lasch long ago pointed out, has become the rampant personality disorder. Facebook as sociopathology, as a symptom of social disorder and disease? Perhaps.

Back in New York City, after three months of marginal grace in the cabin, I am confronted again with the mass of my fellow humanity carrying Blackberrys, SmartPhones, i-Phones, i-Pads, i-Pods – these electroplastic appendages without which modern survival is apparently impossible. (I'm on facebook, but I don't carry those other things. I might, but I'm totally disabled and have no money. Maybe I'm just lucky?) The urge is grab the things, with banzai scream, and smash them under my boot. (This indeed would be socio pathic, AND quite criminal wheter or not a symptom of disorder or disease, AND, it would be very rude and intolerant) An intolerant, and intolerable, attitude, and certainly anti-social. Still, there is something at once pitiful and repulsive – nauseating – in so many fellow human beings doing the same thing with the same electroplastic appendage hooked up to the same global network: the hand outstretched with device cupped, the eyes locked on the singular object, hooked into the Singularity. The appendage, always making some sort of rude noise demanding attention, appears to be doing the living, the leading, the looking, and the human holding it is afterthought, necessary only to point it like a divining rod to determine the next step forward. A savage dropped from the sky into the city would say it looks as if the user is servicing the machine.

I read an essay by one Damon Darlin, a “technology editor” at the New York Times, who makes the classic argument of the technocrat, the scientific manager, that the benefits of efficiency trump whatever cost to humanness imposed by new technologies. Probably a perfectly decent person, Darlin has at the same time clearly replaced his mind with a microchip. He writes how he “learned to stop worrying by loving the Smartphone.” “For most people,” he writes, “a smartphone will change their lives and most likely for the better.” And what are these “improvements”? Poor Damon is “never lost” anymore in New York, or, presumably, anywhere that he can get a signal – the machine tells him where he is. He is “never bored” – the machine entertains him. He is “never without an answer” – the machine provides the answers. He “never forgets anything” – the machine remembers. “Google,” he writes, “begins to substitute for my memory.” He writes that the Smartphone “can help us recall events in our own lives.” The machine, says Darlin, becomes “an auxiliary memory of everything I do.”

To never be lost or bored or forgetful or without answers is to be something less than human. (I spend a lot of time on facebook, but even when I'm not on facebook {"truth be told, I sometimes fall asleep on face book, so, after a while, FACEBOOK can become boring ... but, when I am out and about and traveling, to places I've never been before (or places that I've been before) .. I LOVE to ride the weekend rails, for $7.00 one can ride all seven train lines out of Chicago; one can get 60+ miles from the loop usually in less than 2 hours; one can end up in one of three different states ... and on these trains, my rail riding, I INVARIABLY strike up a conversation or two (or three or four or five) with strangers - most frequently people of color or women, or high school or college students - and maybe exactly ONE TIME did any one ever tell me to mind my own business - you see, the thing about saying something nice to someone as a conversation starter (in Chicago, there's ALWAYS the weather, and always one of the sports teams of the other to start off a conversation) is that you have a priori given that person a measure of respect, informed them that you find them worthy of your time, that you find them interesting, with something to teach you.That Darlin’s article was not satire, indeed was grimly serious, is an indicator of how far along we’ve come in the degradation of personhood to make the machine look useful. Yet his thinking is the gospel of the age. It is a demented vision of human life, a form of technology-induced insanity – accepted almost totally as the norm. (Chris, you simply gotta be one of the saddest human-looking critters I've ever read in my fucking life!)
CHRISTOPHER KETCHAM writes for Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s and many other magazines (oh, I see, a very serious published author person, with opinions people are willing to pay money for ... must know about what he's talking? Yes? Know? NO!, and is currently working on a book, “The United States Must End,” which advocates the dissolution of the US. (You think you're gonna end the United States by writing a book advocating just that? You ARE a friggin moron!) He can be reached at