Tuesday, March 22, 2011


For two or three years, when our children were in junior and senior high, our family gave up TV for Lent.* Although it wasn’t their idea, our daughters went along with Dad’s scheme without too much persuasion. We put the television set in a closet, so there was no evidence of the bug-eyed monster in the house. My memory of that experience is that, after adjusting to the change for about a day, we really didn’t miss it. I can’t say that it resulted in idyllic sessions of Monopoly games or family readings in front of the fire, but we really didn’t miss it. I recommend it. Five weeks is a good amount of time to adjust to the change and then get on with a TV-less life. (A predictable question is, “Why did you turn it on again?” A good question.)

Now (at the time of this writing) I’m about half-way into doing without Facebook for Lent, and the result is much the same, with some variations. It was not the social connections I wanted to give up (certainly not you, dear friend!), but the process and screen-time of Facebook; and to evaluate how I use it. I don’t think I am any more a compulsive Facebook user than the next guy, which is to say that there is a bit of compulsion to it, and that’s what I’m temporarily weaning myself from, and quite happily.

I haven’t given up e-mail, and I have come to appreciate that digital niche more and more as a way of staying in touch with close friends and family. (I say “niche” because among the various e-communication media available to us: telephone, cell phone, texting, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, etc., I actually find e-mail to be uniquely “intimate.”) But I have come to enjoy some of those old-friend-Facebook-reconnections – the kind of communication that only happens on Facebook (these folks and I will most likely not exchange e-mails during my dry spell) – and these connections are one of the reasons that I will reactivate my account at the end of Lent.

When I do think of Facebook, it is to analyze what I’m missing, if anything, and to get a sense of if (or how badly) I want to go back to it. And I find that the thought of re-activating causes me more cold sweats than did the prospect of shutting down. It’s not just that I once again open myself up to the reports of what my friend’s cousin’s roommate fed her cat, or having to decide if I’m going to accept a friend request from my friend’s cousins’ roommate. And it’s not just re-opening that struggle with the near-compulsion of the lure of the Facebook screen…

It’s limiting myself once again to the narrow slice of myself that I present on Facebook. Oh, it’s not a phony presentation, or somebody I’m not, but it’s a narrow part of myself: The goof-off. With a few honorable exceptions, I’m basically just horsing around on Facebook.  In her new book, Alone Together, author Sherry Turkle proposes that on Facebook we’re all “performing” for each other. Although it may be a fine line of difference, I would say, rather, that (speaking for myself), I’m just goofing-off, both in the old-fashioned sense of wasting time, and in the other sense of being a wise guy.

I have no doubt exaggerated in that last paragraph. (And the reader will note that I’m only speaking for myself.) But I still seek a nobler cause for Facebook; and whether or not it is a trivial or an important part of my life is still an open question for me. FB is in its infancy – it’s still the crank-telephone on the wall into which we shout for the operator. It’s about twenty per-cent pure silliness, seventy per-cent idle chatter, and maybe ten per-cent meaningful discourse. That’s what it is now; who knows what it will become. But I’ll be there. Right after Easter. I’ll try to be noble.


*Lent is a six-week penitential season in the Christian calendar leading up to Easter. The rationale for giving up anything for Lent is a subject for another post for another time.

1 comment:

Jeffrey Dean said...

One more footnote:
* The Crank-telephone on the wall is the way people used to call each other, not by dialing a number but by turning a crank, after which a live person, the Operator, would come on. You would simply tell the Operator who you were trying to call (in a small town) or give her (it was always "her") a number and she would connect you. One other thing. She would connect you, but (when things were slow) wouldn't always disconnect herself. Instead she would often listen in on your conversation. Imagine that, strangers listening in on your conversation. Sort of like Facebook.