“While modern capitalism constantly develops new needs in order to increase consumption, people’s dissatisfaction remains the same as ever. Their lives no longer have any meaning beyond a rush to consume, and this consumption is used to justify the increasingly radical frustration of any creative activity or genuine human initiative — to the point that people no longer even see this lack of meaning as important.” - Pierre Canjuers, Socialisme ou Barbarie #27

Friday, 6 January 2017

A Week Without Facebook

It's easy to overthink Facebook.  If you're a user (and there's a 1 in 4 chance you are, there's over 1.7 billion of us) you've probably wondered more than once whether your relationship with Facebook is altogether healthy.  Are you using it too much?  How many of your "friends" are really friends?  How many times a day do you check it?  Why didn't s/he like my selfie?  Who cares?  Why am I always posting selfies?  Should I post this meme?  Is checking your phone the first thing you do when you wake up?  (Remember when we all first got phones?  We used to turn them off at night.  Imagine that).  Is there a difference between like and "like"?  Why does it feel sometimes that everyone I know on Facebook is living a more fulfilling life than me?  Who am I?  Am I real?  And so on, slippery sloping down into some void or other.  (Pick one, there's enough for all of us). 


Out of all this anxiety, narcissism, and harmless fun, Mark Zuckerberg (sugar mountain?) has accumulated a "net worth" of $48.6 billion.  Whatever that means, one of the things it could mean is that he has enough money to give $6.50 to every human.  There are a lot of humans in the world, but that's a lot of dollars.  This doesn't make him a bad person.  It doesn't make him a good person either.  It's just a fact.  Other facts include the fact that Zuckerberg claims an annual salary of only $1, practices a materialistic minimalism in his attitude to clothing, and has actually said, in public, "I've made enough money".  Which is of course easy to say when you've made as much as he has, but how many other public billionaires can you imagine actually saying that?  Imagine Donald Trump saying that.  Zuckerberg's not the only billionaire with such an apparently indifferent attitude towards material wealth, but he's in a minority among that minority.   It's more than you might expect.  I find it interesting that such a minority exists at all.

This post isn't a rant about the vices or virtues of Facebook, though.  The ontology of social media, and the internet in general, fascinates me - and the way the web is tapping into a spirit of communitarian anti-materialism, even more so - but these aren't subjects for discussion on this little blog.  It's easy to overthink it, as I said - not just for philosophers, whose job is overthinking things - but right here in the unrefined everyday.  That's the anxiety again.  Facebook is part of the furniture of mundane existence now, whether you're a user or not.  It's everywhere.  When you're not gawping at your own phone, look at the person sitting next to you on the bus gawping at theirs.  They're on Facebook.  People walking down the street, navigating through fellow gawpers with that evolving sense we're honing of being able to look where we're going without actually looking where we're going - they're on Facebook too.  Right now, all around you, everywhere.

Again I'll stress that gawping at your phone is neither intrinsically good nor bad; it's just reality.  That said, it's no wonder logging out feels like such a big deal.  Of course it's not, but last week, in the spirit of something or other, the spirit that drives me away from the daily grind of individuality, the spirit that writes this blog, I logged out.  I announced on Facebook that I would be doing so, for fear that my overuse might be turning me into a nobhead.  Which is as eloquent a way as I could put it.  So I logged out, and that was that.  The feeling was akin the one descended on a room when you turned off an old style pre-flatscreen TV.  The calm as the static dies away.  It reminded me of when my grandparents used to turn their TV off when Songs of Praise or Last of Summer Wine had finished.  They didn't just put it on standby (it didn't have a remote control, so that wasn't even an option).  They turned it right off.  Then Grandad would unplug it from the wall.  He would emphasise, for reasons I forget, how important it was to do this when you had finished watching TV.  And it felt as if the whole room had suddenly changed shape.

It was a week before I logged in again.  When I did, I had 27 notifications.  That's not a lot really: I probably get around that many on a normal day of Facebooking.  So one way of looking at it is that one week off Facebook is as long as one day on it.  Time slows down when you log off.  This is certainly a good thing.  It's also worth reflecting, in that kind of context, that online life goes on without you, that your voice is only a drop in the ocean, and various other humbling metaphors that might jumpstart some meditation on the meaning of Facebook for you.  As with so many other things, it's impossible to underestimate the restorative power of taking one step back.