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Thoughts and Hallucinations

Facebook Follies

Facebook is a strange thing, not to be trusted to the naive. The other day, someone wanted to be friends so I flew over to Facebook and it told me in no uncertain terms that I was the holder of an alien email and no longer welcome. Why? The University of Maryland, right after they picked out the new football uniforms, installed a new email system based on--gag me with a memory chip--Microsoft Exchange. As an extra added attraction, they shortened the email addresses by dropping the departmental part. This, for anyone who still doesn't believe that everything is connected to everything else, turns out to cascade into billions of things the digitally dependent have to take care of. So I logged on with the old email and went to my Facebook account to make things right. Easy to do. Then I noticed a list of questions I'd never paid attention to. The first one asked about my "relationship." Interesting that that very useful polysemous word only means one thing on Facebook, the core meaning being who you sleep with, though kind of naively Judeo-Christian in the assumption that there would only be one. The box next to the question said, "It's complicated." What complicated, I thought to myself, she is, but the relationship exists. So I looked at the other choices in the drop-down box and one of them was something like "In a relationship." Well, I thought, whatever we're doing that's sure true. So I clicked it and changed what was in the box. Then I looked at the next thing on the list. I can't remember what it was right now, something about my true inner feelings or favorite supernatural being, so I had the usual "life is short" moment and just logged off.

I don't use Facebook much. It mostly seems noisy and most of the noise isn't all that interesting, except to keep track of what my grand nieces and nephews are up to. I'm anti-social anyway, so taking part in "social media" doesn't make much sense on the face of it. But students in a workshop I ran in Amsterdam a few years ago started up a page and I signed up to keep track of what they all did. That group faded pretty quickly, yet another example of the "let's have lunch" principle, but I stayed on anyway.

After I changed the relationship box to "in a relationship," out of the blue, I start getting these messages, or blips that someone "likes" it, all about the fact that I'm now "in a relationship." I guess what happens is that whenever a person changes things like that, Facebook sends a message out to everyone they're "friended" with. And the "friend" can send a message or just tap a "like" button and blam, it appears right away as a message on my email. The many people who did this were obviously congratulating me and I appreciated that, though changing to being "in a relationship" could conceivably be a descent into a lower circle of hell, too.

Nothing wrong with any of this, but there's something weird about it all, that the university changes their technology and I have to edit something linked to it and while I'm there correct a drop-down box that doesn't make any sense and all of a sudden it's an overbooked Facebook relationship reception. The person of the relationee persuasion, who refuses to have anything to do with Facebook, when I told her the story she suggested I now change the drop down box to "relationship in the dumpster" and see what happens next.

One thing about it all, the generation gap is interesting in a very different way now that I'm on the other side of it. The general story here works anywhere, someone does something for an unusual reason, the social world interprets it as done for a normal reason that everyone usually expects, the social world reacts accordingly, which puzzles the person who did it until he figures out what happened. Occurs in everyday life to all of us and has served as a plot point in stories everywhere in the world. So what's the difference if it's Facebook or a social network in a particular geographical location?

The difference is there's no time for the plot twist to develop because it's instantaneous and viral. There's no story. It's all abstract logic, A then B. Some readers may remember the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen's movie Sleeper. You step in, close the door, throw the switch, badabing badaboom, back to the chores. But shouldn't we have dinner first? Can you imagine a soap opera starring an Orgasmatron? There's hardly even time for the dopamine to heat up.
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