Friday, May 14, 2010

Just Like Honey

“Is the world fundamentally a better place because of science and technology? We shop at home, we surf the web, at the same time, we feel emptier, lonelier and more cut off from each other than at any other time in human history.” from the novel (and film) "Contact" by Carl Sagan

Late last night, when I deleted my Facebook account, the captcha (random confirmation) words were "truffles out".  I kid you not.  If ever there were a sign from the cosmos, this was it.  I had to stare at it for a few minutes, completely amused and somewhat mystified.

I suppose I was asking for it.  I so resisted joining the "collective", only because I truly didn't miss what I didn't have.  My friends told me it would be a great way to promote my blog.  It seemed like the right thing to do; for an egotist.  As a reader of Ayn Rand, I didn't mind the "ego" part.  I had a lot to say, and I wanted to share my passion and love for all things food, wine, beer and creative thoughts alike.

But, something crept in.  Not what I expected.  It wasn't an addiction, as I know it.  It wasn't a fad.  It wasn't even vanity.  Ok- maybe a little.  But, ultimately, it was a trap.  I began to think that the only way people would listen to me, appreciate me, notice me- was through Facebook.  It makes me feel a little ashamed, now.  Posting on FB is supposed to be like stepping into a virtual town square and screaming, "HEY! Check out what I'm thinking!  'Listen' to this!  'Watch' that, 'join' us!  But, in reality, it was more like doing stand-up at an open mic, unable to see if anyone is in front of you listening, yawning or sleeping.  You long for a "like" or emoticon of approval. 
It began with the naive thinking that sooner or later we were all destined to become a part of the hive.  But, when I began to search for the people I knew had consciously avoided joining and then failed in finding them, I was silently jealous. 

Since creating an account last September, I've read some of the most interesting viewpoints on FB, and been exposed to some of the most idiotic and ignorant rants at the same time.  I met some wonderful new people and introduced some people to each other.  I've laughed my ass off at some of the most ridiculous videos and comments.  And, when there was nothing interesting going on in my real life, I surfed other peoples comments, profiles, photos- but, that's the whole point, right?  So, why then did it feel so unsavory?  When did it go from being fun to feeling dirty?  It was like being stuck in the mall, but without the fountains and Cinnabon.

It was a tremendous platform for advocacy.  And lunacy.  There were 1.7 million people who "liked" the prayer for Obama to Die, yet only 800,000 (at my last check) to petition FB to remove the page for its blatant racist and hateful bent.  My most memorable experience was watching a particular page climb in membership from 750,000 fans to just over 1 million in less than a half hour!  Each time you hit refresh, it would climb exponentially.  The page was about as harmless and vacuous as you can imagine:  "If I can get 1 million fans, my sister said she will name her baby 'Megatron'".  The site now has 1.7 million "fans".  The baby, a boy, is due in August.   

People would cut and paste "status" updates that advocated awareness for anything from special education and autism, to spousal abuse, human rights and cancer.  It was the platform for me to create my very own page condemning the anti-immigration law recently passed in Arizona.  It raised awareness for approximately 70 people who joined.  I posted information and updates daily from articles and websites both conservative and liberal, mainstream and private, ethnic, domestic and foreign.  I learned a lot on the subject and still feel strongly about my views.  But, it was a bit like preaching to the choir.  I knew the people who joined the page were intelligent, compassionate people who had a firm grasp on morality and altruism.  So, who was I hoping to convert?  The person who would rather feed their virtual guppie than discover the US Constitution being flouted daily?  Not gonna happen.

To connect with others in my field, it was about as ideal as it could get.  Chefs work a lot.  To be able to share ideas, photos, specials, inside jokes, and gripes while at work or after a shift, was the ideal.  And in many cases, I found myself visiting their establishments to say "hello" in person and eat their marvelous creations, drink their spirits.  And I'll continue to do so.

I hated high school.  It was never a secret.  So when I found so many people coming out of the creases of the internet to be FB friends, I did so with caution. Why would these people want to know about my life after all these years?  Did I really want to know about theirs?  Let's just say that the most ironic part of friending former classmates was that of the 50 or 60 I reconnected with, I found that the same 7 or 8 people I regularly hung out with and genuinely enjoyed being with in school were the same 7 or 8 I shared regular conversations, jokes, stories and photos with on Facebook.  I will miss the sarcastic and subversive posts of my friend Steve.  Picking up with our friendship in the last six months was like we had never stopped.  Yet, we've already decided to get together (with a "new" chef friend, no less!) and reminisce over some good food and cold beer.  I'll miss occasional updates from my former art teacher, though it goes without saying that we'll stay in touch through emails and possibly even visits.  My buddy and pal, Penny, and I have already met up and shot the breeze, and I've no reason to doubt we will again, after so many years, some shit is still funny!

But, despite the boundless nature of FB, the ability to connect with people from all around the world felt the same as connecting with someone I just saw an hour ago at work.  It became soulless.  The fact that most recent comments, messages or posts of interest were electronically whisked right into my pocket made it even less interesting.  Normally, I'd be bowled over to see photos of food from the former sous chef I worked for in France; but, something got lost in translation (and it wasn't the French).  At times I would sit and stare at the screen the same way Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson would look out their hotel window in the movie of the same name.  With millions of people zipping about in a city that never seems to come down from a neon buzz, it was about as exciting for them as watching a lava lamp.  Sober.

Keeping up on how the business of Facebook was evolving and how it was slowly, incrementally implementing their mission statement to make the business of information gathering profitable became a daily exercise for me.  I tried to believe that I had the right to my privacy, when at the same time there were approximately 270 people I was sharing my morning breakfast with and digital moods.  My sister sent me an email about a site called Spokeo.  She explained that just by typing in your name, email address or phone number, all the information that you thought was secure on websites like Amazon, Facebook, blogs, message boards that require sign-in or memberships- it's all available for anyone to view online.  For only $2.95 a month, you could get a membership for a year that gave you full access to the personal information of just about anyone who has ever used a computer.  And in some cases, there is information that is shared from sites that aren't even online (census).

The business model for Spokeo isn't so much to get people to buy access to other people's information.  Oh no- that's so 1990's.  When people see that someone is pimping their personal and private information online, the immediate response is not "who got it and how did they get it?", it's "how do I get it OFF this site??".  And lo and behold, what does Spokeo offer just below the memberships that legalize identity theft??  A product by Reputation Defender called MyPrivacy.
"Delete private information from Spokeo, Peoplefinders, People Search and other online databases using My Privacy."  
Talk about good cop, bad cop?!?  You can also go to the bottom of that same page and delete yourself from Spokeo for FREE.  Just carefully follow the directions.  If you still can't do it, Google "how to...".

I suppose I was really never pushed over the edge by something like Spokeo or that someone could get or would want my credit score.  I mean, really?  But, having considered deleting my account and even threatening to do so a few times on FB (an empty threat if ever there was one), it seemed the right time to end the Facebook Experiment.  It only required my FB password and typing the randomized phrase "truffles out". *delete*

And then, there was a virtual silence.  A great, glorious silence so golden, it was if all the engines of every car on the information super-highway had stalled, coming to a screeching halt and then- were silenced forever.  I stepped away from the computer in the most confident and contented way, toward the front door and walked out into the Spring night.  I stopped and took the deepest breath- and then exhaled.  And, then I smiled.

I was Bill Murray coming out of the elevator of the hotel and walking into the crowded streets of Tokyo.  Hitting "delete" was like chasing Scarlett in that last moment before he might never see her again, and in that instant- as if on cue- I could hear in my head the echoing snare drums and the impudent reverberating guitar from the opening bars of the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" as the credits rolled:

"Listen to the girl
As she takes on half the world
Moving up and so alive
In her honey dripping beehive
Beehive
It's good, so good, it's so good
So good"

6 comments:

Luciana said...

Robert, I didn´t know you had deleted your FB account because I rarely visit mine.I keep it because it´s a way to communicate with my former students, when that happens. I also have a few (considering other people´s) followers, but really don´t care. I prefer twitter. It´s faster.
Funny you mentioned Lost in Translation. It´s one of my favorite movies, and yes you can feel like that in this Tokyo/cyberspace, but sometimes it´s just an impression. People read but don´t comment because many times there was no space for that. Because our text didn´t leave anything to question, agree with or continue from. That has happened to me.Hope you´re not deleting your blog, too.
Anyway, I thought it was great to find a Lhulier in another part of the world.:-)

R said...

Luli,
You're so sweet- no, the blog stays! I'm looking forward to spending more time on here. We'll definitely stay in touch! 'brigado! Robert

Joie said...

I posted your blog to my FB page for those wondering where you went...and also so they can wonder if they were one of the 6 or 7 people you enjoyed re-connecting with...Truffle's out!

Michele said...

Hey Robear,
I also posted your blog on FB. I've been thinking about canceling account for the last week.
Excellent blog!

peter said...

Robert, you will be missed. You added something extra into our lives. But theres Fork and Cork to keep us going good work............

R said...

To my good friends of old- I appreciate the kind words. F&C has always been the better format for me to express myself. Please be sure to stay in touch via the blog, I'll be writing more frequently, and with all the various elements that make up our unique generation. R

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