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August 13, 2014


Beth, thanks for writing this. I'm keenly aware of the FB effect everytime I spend any time looking down the list of "news" bits and people's postings. Rarely is there any actual writing by any of the people who post there, and so the interest wanes quickly. That in itself tells me it's not really nourishment; it's artificial sweetener. Also, FaceBook is a business. It sells, and others buy. What they sell is us, our "information", our "likes", our connections and our photographs. It is there to make money, and making us feel like we are connected to others is how they get us to cough up the bits of data they sell.

That said, I do love that I can see other people's own photographs (of places, artwork, people) on there, and they mine.


Social networks can meet a huge social need for people who, for one reason or another, can't get out of their homes much. They do provide a sense of community that might in other ways be hard to come by.

I thought that a lot of the articles about depression were helpful, because they provide an opportunity to maybe help one person who might not otherwise have looked for or seen them. That said, it's difficult across the bytes. I have an online acquaintance who just lost a friend to suicide and is herself suicidal. She has been in treatment, but money is tight, and I don't know what her treatment options are, really. And from a distance, there's only so much encouragement I can give. But if she has no one in "real life," maybe online friends can make her feel less alone.

I am feeling a need, though, to pull away from social networking a bit, from the one-two punch of the mass group grief lately and just a need to attend more closely to stuff and people in 3D.

Online friends are real people, too--but all relationships must be balanced, and I'm finding a need to sort through maintaining relationships vs. just seeing what a friend ate for lunch. Thinking....

Thanks for this posting.

I have such mixed feelings about the way FB and Twitter and social media in general do and don't work -- for me personally and for the world at large. I have found this summer that I'm avoiding FB especially, and also sometimes Twitter, because my heart has been too tender and I haven't always been able to face the outpouring of indignation and fury. And you're right that there's something odd about the way people in these spaces respond to the crisis of the day, be it Robin Williams' suicide or another bombing somewhere in the world, and then let that issue fall off their/our radar when the next thing comes along.

I've also seen some really beautiful things arise in these spaces. One of my friends posted a heartfelt and powerful essay about her own period of suicidal ideation and what helped her through it, and at the end of the essay, offered to connect with anyone reading who might be in that place now. That kind of thing feels right and true and valuable to me. But as you say -- so do our in-person interactions, in our grocery stores and neighborhoods and congregations.

Speaking of congregations, a pair of my congregants were just in Montreal for a week and it turns out they were staying right near you! I wish I'd known that; I might have tried to introduce y'all. I think you would find them quite simpatico (and vice versa.)

A beautifully written, thoughtful offering, Beth. Except for my blogging activity and responding to others blogs, I steer clear of Twitter and Facebook, basically because I have no wish to be swamped by the world, to have my life filled with clutter and noise about which I can do nothing but uselessly expend energy. And television also plays its cynical part in so-called objective reporting, which is a twisted excuse for maintaining and raising readership (or listener-ship) by appealing to people's vulnerabilities, gullibilities, predispositions, fears and uncertainties, as well as genuine concerns.

Did you see the article in Wired the other day by the guy who Liked everything he saw in his Facebook feed for two days? Quite quickly, he was seeing nothing but viral click-bait and brands. Sobering stuff. I especially liked how he set it up with an Andy Warhol quote: http://www.cassandrapages.com/the_cassandra_pages/2014/08/the-medium-is-the-message.html

Oops, wrong URL! Here: http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/

I have such mixed feelings about Facebook these days. On the one hand, it's a horrible time suck, and I feel this pressure to keep on track of everything and everyone I'm following, lest I miss something important (this is particularly true for news relating to friends - things like deaths, and job changes, and even what they had for breakfast).

On the other, without it, my life would be so much less rich on the social front - although my long-distance friends are not here for coffee and chats (and oh how I wish they could be) they are at least *present* in my life in a way that distant friends who are not on FB are not. Given that I don't do well with phone communication, that text-based connection feels so, so vital some days.

And on the other, other hand, I can never decide whether my focus on maintaining those relationships comes at the expense of forming new, local ones... or whether it's a necessary nourishing of a social network that is real and important to me. For all that I prefer the informality of spontaneous get-togethers with local friends, the reality is that I have few such friends (and this was the case well before social media, so I think that's more a "me" thing than a Facebook thing) and the ones I do have or am trying to have are busy and have their own priorities, and so I interact with them far more rarely than I do with my friends online. So if I went entirely local and offline, I'd be hideously lonely.

What I *want* is to live in a village with my friends and see them when I'm buying groceries, eating out, having a picnic, dancing in the village festival, slogging home in the snow, working in the library, and so on, and not just on pre-arranged "dates". But that's not an option, either. So I make do with the kludges available to me, and it's just a matter of which kludge is least aggravating.

Unfortunately it seems impossible to totally ignore the media, but I try. It used to be I could rely on Harper's and Atlantic Monthly to offer some perspective on events, but now I find myself having to rely on Colbert or the Daily Show to do that when I can bring myself to listen to them.

No doubt life is essentially tragic, but I really question whether Robin William's unfortunate suicide is more important that what is happening in Syria, Israel-Gaza, Iraq, or than American police violence. The media would seem to think otherwise, though I doubt they really have the patience to explore the devastating and wide-spread effects of Depression in enough depth to make a difference.

I'll have to admit that blogging is still the only part of the internet that has ever had much appeal to me; it has helped to replace the intellectual community I had while teaching high school. It's one of the few places where it's relatively easy to find people of a like mind to share ideas with.

As I was reading the comments and at the same time thinking about how to formulate what I want to say, I came to read the one comment that fit my thoughts best.
I did not read any further. "As Tom says".

You have described my own approach/avoidance (mostly the latter) with social networks, too. I spend zero time on FB, I'm just there so old friends can find me.

Could you be, in your thoughtful remarks, conflating "sympathy" with "empathy"? Relatively few people (in the admittedly little I've read) seem to be trying to understand how the world looks to someone in Williams' state at the end. Most messages express condolences, sadness at the loss of a respected and even beloved figure, or generalities like "We need to understand and treat depression more effectively." Maybe there is a hidden gift in the buzz generated by a high-profile person's suicide in that it brings an act often submerged by shame and secrecy to the surface.

On another note: The New Yorker has put the magazine online for free all summer, at least through the end of August, to promote its new site. Nice freebie, and one of the few magazine still publishing long essays.

Robin Williams was never important to me. He always seemed like a play it safe kind of entertainer. He was far from being the funniest comedian around. And all that sentimentality and sad clown stuff is to me very boring. But he was creepy and fascinating in "One Hour Photo."
As to Facebook, Twitter and even my blog: The matters of greatest importance to me remain private, and I can't understand people who profess their deepest joys and sorrows on social media. It confuses me. I can't tell whether real feelings are behind all this emotional carrying on or whether it isn't just a bid for attention. Why are people telling (potentially) the whole world about intimate matters? Don't they have any pride?

I am on FB but I went through and deleted everyone I didn't actually know or want to know (I had acquired a number of my mother's "friends" through an online game which I gave up). Yes, mom is on FB.
I use it because my family all post on it but I have less than 50 people. And some people I didn't delete but I made their posts not show up.
What really creeps me out is if I search for something online (like I just looked for a certain belt) and then ads for that exact item show up on everything I am reading on line.
I don't do Twitter or Instagram. FB has its uses.

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