When Kurt Andersen (one of the founders of Spy Magazine, cultural editor of Newsweek, editor of New York Magazine, etc.) asked me to be his Facebook friend three years ago, I was flattered. I had heard of Facebook but never even thought about going on, so upon Kurt’s invitation I created a page and became his third friend. For the first month or so, there were about 100 of us and they ranged from US Senators to giant corporate moguls. I communicated with no one but looked at their Facebook pages with awe. Soon, Kurt had thousands of friends and I crept up to one or two hundred.
When the New Haven Register asked me to write for their blog, I was flattered. They had three or four other bloggers who were well known journalists and local luminaries and I took it pretty seriously even to the point of getting a wonderful sponsor (Fair Haven Furniture) who allowed me to advertise the blog in the Register to get people directed to it. Now there are dozens of blogs on the Register’s site as well as my own ranging on a wide variety of topics such as school lunches, politics, animal rescue and health issues.
When the magazine Architecture Boston asked me to blog for them and offered to actually pay me I was flattered. I’ve only written my second blog posting for them but the first has had international responses.
When the Register asked me to write for their Op Ed page I was flattered. I write about things that I think have universal appeal and interest. But every once in awhile a web post response firestorm ensues where my support for a local Madison issue or two brings out people who make the extreme extrapolation to my musings about some aesthetic architectural or cultural aspect and turn it into a bizarre ad homonym attack based on my support of some local effort or other.
Since I am always writing something for someone (magazines, books, etc), writing on these bizarre non-paper based platforms is both empowering and instantaneous but also quite dangerous. People who know my writing all too well note that at times it becomes pretty over the top when unedited (as virtually all of these web pieces are). That is all too true. When I write things that have obvious typos or are simply inarticulate, I wince.
But secondary collateral unintended and often disquieting realities of web-based communication seem to be just evidencing themselves to me.
A post that I wrote that mentioned faith as a double-edged sword in perhaps 10% of its overall content set off a firestorm of back and forth. Within a week, forty entries by a dozen people took over the blog (I am led to believe that this is one of the core purposes of things like this blog). But the tone was fairly stark and often, well, rude.
As my “friends” grow on Facebook and I post things regularly about this blog, writings and other things that I think are important, it is quite clear that there are people who are not my “friends” who are paying attention and leaving comments. This is beyond the loop of my expectation. I had thought that in some way only “friends” could look at what I had written on my Wall but evidently, that’s not true….
Secondly, it is very clear that my other Baby Boomer friends that are now empty-nesting and rattling around the house, thinking of things to do, go on Facebook because there are no T-ball games left to attend. The effort seems to have about the same level of importance and depth but has an added quality which I do find disquieting – stalking.
Clearly when Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, it was an infrastructure through which people who might not otherwise be able to contact each other could reconnect, stay connected and actually touch base from time to time. This is actually on one level very heartening and an unalloyed good thing.
But just like those who build roads for people to drive to/from work, visit friends and get groceries, those roads can also allow people to sit in their cars outside of your house and look into your windows.
You can’t blame the roads for Peeping Toms so you can’t really blame Facebook for stalkers. But stalkers there are and there are many. I’m sure you know some. Your friend’s Wall is a place where your friend expects you to visit to see where he or she is at. But where he or she is at does not include where all of his or her friends are and their friends and their friends. The bizarre Peeping Tom aspect of Facebook is right up there with indirect cowardly rage that so many people express in response to what other people express on internet based communications.
The jury is out as to whether the scores of millions of smart phones and hundreds of millions of laptops that have enabled almost every American to be in touch with every other American on dozens of different platforms 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, is actually a net positive or a potentially devastating negative.
It allows people to sit alone and feel connected. It allows people to vent anger but also stoke it and send it into a hyperbolic reality which feeds on itself and could actually cause harm to the person or the focus of that anger.
You can’t blame the road for the car accident. You can’t blame the internet for stalking nor can you blame it for its natural progression – harassment and abuse.
As technology helps reveal what the universe is (and isn’t), as more and more veils are lifted off of where we have come from and where we might be headed, perhaps the more intimate mirror of that is the very screen you are looking at right now as you read this. It may be a screen that allows the projection from any one of us into the face of somebody else but in fact it is millions and perhaps billions of mirrors as to who we are as human beings and where we might be going. And I’m not sure I am very happy about all of the implication of what I see when I bask in the reflective glow.