Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been. You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time…- Pink Floyd
Complex codes, pages and pages of carefully arranged integers, symbols and commands conjure an artificial landscape with real world consequences accessible by billions of fingertips tap, tap, tapping on keyboards and touch screens across the planet. Most of us didn’t even pause to allow our minds to be blown, impetuously jumping head first into a new world of personal alchemy. The human race now possesses a tool with which it can recast even its most downtrodden and self-conscious specimens as happy, adventurous, well-adjusted, good-looking, talented Ubermenschen.
Rapid evolution of communication forums transformed message boards into chat rooms, giving way to Myspace whose quickly exhausted novelty inspired the creation of Facebook and Twitter. Personally, I preferred Myspace for the display of self-congratulatory content because the pathetic pursuit of praise or pity needn’t masquerade as natural human interaction. Of course, any teenager reading this would roll his or her eyes and inform me that Myspace is “so 2005” but since I can be pretty accurately described as “so 1987”, I still view it as a contemporary virtual venue.
Along came Zuckerberg with his news feeds and likes and Farmville and vacation photo albums and the world was poised to embrace its narcissism in a never ending game of hyperbolic oneupsmanship. Blech.
When Maryellen and I started this blog back in November, I sent an e-mail announcing its existence to almost every friend, family member and colleague on my Yahoo contacts list. Since my previous brief forays into Facebook left me with a profoundly bad taste in my mouth, I thought that perhaps this would be a more palatable and less self-centered way of informing those who care what’s been on my mind of late. Well, about 10% of the people who received that introductory e-mail have been reading our silly (but sometimes personally informative) posts, however, most of the people tuning in are fellow WordPress bloggers, many of whom are far more talented and entertaining than us. Granted, that’s turned out to be my favorite effect of shouting into virtual space – discovering like-minded souls half a world away and sharing ideas is an incredible and often uplifting thing. But as more and more wonderful strangers entered our orbit, my friends and family were none-the-wiser, occasionally admonishing me via text message to re-join Facebook with the rest of the civilized world because apparently, picking up a phone or sending an e-mail is just too much of a commitment in our modern world full of folks who have evolved at lightning speed into impatient sedentary creatures demanding instantaneous delivery of their moment-to-moment arrogance and frivolity.
On Friday, I decided to create a temporary Facebook page for the sole purpose of promoting Two Voices. To my chagrin, Facebook does not allow one to do this until a personal page is created bearing the user’s actual name, and then a page specific to the blog could be constructed and linked to my individual profile. Fine. I put minimal effort into creating a bare-bones display bearing my name, a thumbnail photo and a link to the page promoting the blog. From there, one can access a link that sends them here.
Within minutes, friends and family members sent messages to my personal page (which bore a single post stating in no uncertain terms that I am not on Facebook to chat or regale the world with boring photos from my last road trip, but purely to promote the blog). I was welcomed back, instant messaged, How’ve ya been’d, and generally treated as if I was a returning decorated war hero. Sounds nice, right? It wasn’t. And here’s why: long before the creation of this blog, I had a telephone and an e-mail address. Anyone with whom I’m even moderately close has that information. If any of these good people truly wanted to know how I’ve been, all it would require is a phone call or a two line message. I’ve even been known to return text messages, ruling out social anxiety and laryngitis as acceptable excuses for a complete lack of communication. So what was the problem? I wasn’t on Facebook. I now fully realize that to the great interconnected hive mind of 21st century Earth, someone who does not perpetually assert him or herself via Facebook or Twitter does not exist.
The swarm mentality that Facebook facilitates is perplexingly clannish and seems unable or unwilling to escape its own confines. A news article or well-crafted editorial that is available to all on a major news website will go largely unseen until someone posts it to their Facebook page, at which point it begins “trending”, as if an actual real-time event were capable of giving a shit about its own level of popularity. A blog, regardless of its level of sophistication, will go largely unseen until its author throws in the towel and announces its existence on Facebook or Twitter.
Since Friday, our usual average of 20 or so readers a day has exploded into almost 100 per day. This will level out when the novelty wears off, but it may have attracted a few more permanent regular readers from among the friends and family members that just two days ago viewed me as Facebook’s prodigal son. Also, I don’t intend for either of my new Facebook profiles to remain online for longer than a few more days. An innocent game of virtual telephone can cause a surprising amount of turmoil. The Loughman family is vast, and consists of many people who would be ashamed to share a last name with someone who publishes articles as offensive, vulgar, blasphemous and proudly liberal as many of mine tend to be. If a single adjective could describe the essence of my paternal relatives, it would definitely be “Catholic”, followed closely by the further classifications of “Republican” and “patriotic”. Inviting one or two of my cooler and more progressive cousins to take a look at Two Voices could potentially find me excommunicated from my own family name if they were to innocently mention its existence to one or two of my decidedly un-progressive cousins, aunts or uncles. This is why I love each of you who entered our world as strangers with a shared interest in the written word. Without pre-existing baggage, I can express myself honestly with no fear of recrimination and best of all, I have been truly inspired more times than I can possibly recount by the beautiful and vulnerable self-expression of total strangers the world over, all of whom seem less and less like strangers every day.
So to all of my friends and loved ones stuck in the swamp of likes and reposts and emojis and impressing “friends” who aren’t really friends, I reach out to you with compassion to suggest that today, in an effort to retard the progress of evolving out of your need for limbs and speech, you sign off social media, take a walk outdoors, play with your children or your pets, read a good book, and maybe – just maybe – pick up the phone and call a friend. You might be surprised how nice it is to hear a friendly voice. But don’t call me, okay? I’m not feeling very talkative today.