Penman for Monday, May 11, 2015
FOR THE umpteenth time, last week, another person asked me, with profound astonishment, why I wasn’t on Facebook. I told him that, in my seniorhood, I wanted to lead a quiet and peaceful life, and that Facebook was antithetical to that ambition.
From what I hear, Facebook is this century’s Colosseum, and that a fracas on Facebook can be far more entertaining than the event in real life. I knew that it had been a busy week, to say the least, on that website (or, I should say, in those millions of websites). There was that “literary tempest” that my fellow STAR columnist Scott Garceau adverted to in a recent piece, the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, and the Save-Mary-Jane-Veloso movement, among other contentious causes.
I learned about these things not because I’m on Facebook, but because my wife Beng is. She’s up in bed before me every morning, pecking away at her iPhone in the gathering light, responding to the planetary call for “likes” and “tags” and “status updates” and whatever else goes on in the FB universe. When she senses me stirring awake, she gives me the lowdown on the state of the world, leaving the less interesting and less important matters to CNN and the BBC.
That world would be much happier and more peaceful if more of humanity were like my bedmate, but it’s not. “Avoid loud and aggressive persons, for they are vexatious to the spirit,” counsels the albeit apocryphally attributed Desiderata—which is as good as saying, avoid Facebook, for it is the Republic of Vexation, the domain of loud and aggressive persons who would like nothing better than to get a rise out of you and spoil your day.
Of course I’m told it also exists for friendship and global harmony—the spirit in which Beng and some of her friends upload quotations from the Dalai Lama and such peaceable people—but I’m convinced that they’re in the distinct minority, for which a separate Facebook might as well exist. While we’re at it, let’s do a bit of taxonomy and map out the possible sub-Facebook realms out there, the establishment of which could lead to a more tolerable era of co-existence all around.
Facebook Lambs (or should that be Facebook Koi, for a more Asian touch?) could include everyone like Beng—the tree-huggers, the lifesavers, the Kumbaya singers, the people who will find goodness in the worst of places. Easy to please, they’re also easy to hurt, and when they hurt, they bleed.
Facebook Monkeys do what monkeys do: screech and thump their chests a lot, to say: “Look at me and at what I’m doing! Am having XXX brand of cornflakes and YYY brand of yogurt for breakfast, folks, and here’s five pics to prove it! Isn’t that interesting???”
Facebook Vipers do what vipers do: strike and bite at anything that moves, especially anything that gets within a whisker of their precious scales. Some days I imagine Facebook brimming with reptilian malice, filling me as well with illiquid emotions, until Beng pulls me over to show a child singing a heavenly carol on her FB page.
So why do I shun FB? (I’ve been told, by the way, that there’s a “Butch Dalisay” FB page, but I have nothing to do with it, and have no idea what it contains.) I’ve been asked this question many times before, and my serious and rather ironic answer has always been that I can’t abide using the word “friend” for people who really aren’t that. I do believe that one of the worst things that Facebook has done to language and to human relationships has been to cheapen the meaning of “friend” and, corollarily, introducing the notion of “unfriending” someone with a keypress, just like that.
I still prefer to make my friends over coffee, on a bus or a boat trip, laughing at the same silly movie, pulling for the same desperate cause, arguing the merits and demerits of some poem or passage of prose. And when you stop being my friend, I won’t even waste a sliver of bandwidth on it; a cosmic silence is all you’ll get (although my deepest friendships can endure years of stasis).
I said “ironic,” because it’s a bit odd that I find myself arguing for more human contact when, at this stage of my life, I actually want and seek less of it for myself. I’m not misanthropic, but I feel happy to keep company with just a very few people I can trust and relax with, mainly family. I hardly attend parties or big social events unless required to do so by work or inescapable obligation. I dread making and taking phone calls, especially any call beyond three minutes. (You’ll best get a response from me by email.)
But never mind me; I do recognize Facebook’s matchless utility for most people. I know that serendipitous connections can be made online that would have been impossible otherwise, and if you’re tracking down that crush you last saw in the 1970s—or 50 pounds in the blissful past—there’s nothing like FB to make that happen. Like a loaded gun, Facebook all by itself isn’t evil; it’s people who are, or can be, and FB is just another enabler of the dark side, as well as of its sunnier converse.
So it’s not even the malice I’m evading, because you’ll find that elsewhere anyway, or perhaps I should say, it’ll find you. It’s more likely the way Facebook—in all its goodness and badness, for better or for worse—can take over people’s lives, basically by engrossing them in the issues of the day (as in this hour, this minute) rather than troubling them with historical hindsight and such corn. (And who needs a lengthy editorial and well-considered opinion when you can offer up your precious gut feelings, along with your barangay’s, as a workable and certainly more credible substitute?)
There’s a facebookhaters.com, but I don’t see myself signing up with those folks. Facebookhaters.com is completely serious but unironic—I can just see it devising and promoting a 12-step withdrawal program—which isn’t the way to grapple with a hyper-sophisticated Hydra like FB.
I can’t and don’t actively hate Facebook, knowing how vital it is to the lives of millions; what would I do with Beng all those hours she won’t be on FB? As it is, I can play poker all night, knowing she’ll never be alone and idle, as long as she has her phone (a tip for spouses—get your mate an unlimited data connection, and you’ll never have to babysit them again). That’s one thing to thank FB for.