Who’s Jill Stein?

So…what’s the Oracle been up to lately? This week I checked out the first three episodes of the Roseanne reboot.

For anyone who either lives in a cave or is reading this blog in the distant future, Roseanne is a network television comedy about a working-class American family living in the fictional town of Lanford, Illinois. The series ran on ABC from 1988 to 1997 and has been revived in the spring of 2018. Roseanne Barr plays the central character, Roseanne Conner.

Roseanne’s character is revealed to be a supporter of the current US President in the first episode of the revived series. Politics as an issue dividing families and society appears to be one of the motivations in bringing the series into the modern day.

If your family is anything like Roseanne’s or mine, you’ve experienced hard feelings or worse with your relatives since the 2016 US election. The series has taken a bold step in attempting to talk about something that has caused a lot of us to stop talking to one another. Some of the stuff I’d seen written and said made me leery of watching the show. Some people hated it. Some people hated her.

I watched it anyway and it made me laugh. Repeatedly.

The Roseanne of 2018 instantly reminded me of the best aspects of its earlier incarnation. The characters are likeable. They are funny. They are flawed but fabulous.

I stopped watching the original series on a regular basis, long before it ended, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, the show just became tiresome. It got too weird, too preachy, too much of a downer. It started taking itself too seriously.

This one doesn’t do that.

The joy of the new series is that it pokes fun at things we all tend to take too seriously, starting with ourselves. Does anybody really care that much about our opinions on any single politician or policy? It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter; it matters a lot. But if we just draw battle lines and stop talking, what have we accomplished? What CAN we accomplish in that scenario?

Roseanne is going to touch on issues and express opinions that upset people. This is the nature of topical humor and social commentary, especially humor dealing with anything controversial. Roseanne deals with controversial topics.

One of the things that’s important to remember is that this is just TV, it’s not real. The series is about a fictional family in a fictional town. Roseanne is not a documentary or the news, and it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s also not Leave It To Beaver. Think more along the lines of All In The Family or South Park. The humor is modern and edgy, but it’s still just fiction. These aren’t real people.

It’s also important to distinguish between the actor and the role. Most people are clear on the fact that Carroll O’Connor only played Archie Bunker on television and Eric Cartman is only a cartoon character. Yet many people seem to have trouble differentiating Roseanne Barr from the character she’s playing.

Barr has been outspoken and politically active in real life, but it would be a mistake to view the show based on one’s take on Barr’s politics. The show is not exclusively, or even primarily, political. Politics is just one aspect of life in Lanford.

As an example, Roseanne and her sister Jackie finally talk about their differing views of Hillary Clinton:

Jackie: “You kept saying what a disaster it would be if she got elected and how I wasn’t seeing the big picture and how everything was rigged, and then I go into the booth and I voted for Jill Stein!”

Roseanne: “Who’s Jill Stein?”

Jackie: “Some doctor. You did such a good job of making me doubt myself and feel so stupid that I choked, which helped get him elected.”

Is that scene about politics or about someone feeling bullied by a sibling?

Roseanne Barr certainly knows who Jill Stein is, having run against her as a Green Party candidate. As for Barr’s politics, she recently said, “It’s up to us… Get out there and vote. Change it if you don’t like it.” Tough to argue with that one.

I don’t watch much television of any kind these days, but I make an exception now and then. Roseanne is worthwhile. It made me laugh and it made me think. I didn’t agree with all the opinions that were expressed, but that’s OK.

In an age of cable news and social media echo chambers where we choose our news and exclude people and opinions we don’t like, I think we need to hear other viewpoints. It’s even better to be able to laugh at some of the things we’re fighting about. In fact, it may be a big step toward a more constructive dialog.

Better Angels

“The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

With those words Abraham Lincoln concluded his first inaugual address as the 16th President of the United States. Lincoln, as almost everyone knows, was the first Republican to be elected president, and by inauguration day, it seemed that he might be the last — not the last Republican president, but the last President of the United States. Seven states had already seceded, four more would soon join them, and the future of the country was very much in doubt.

Yet here was Lincoln speaking hopefully and confidently about something no one could see and few likely believed: Americans would be reunited when their memories were touched by their better angels.

Republicans are still referred to as the party of Lincoln, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of Lincoln in the Republican Party these days. The 45th President of the United States, nominally a Republican, seems as determined to divide the country as the 16th was to hold it together. Not long ago a Republican US senator announced that he’d had enough of what his party had become and announced that he would not seek reelection in 2018. In his closing, he too cited Lincoln’s better angels.

Elected on the slogan “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” (it’s in all caps like that on the hats), Donald J. Trump left a lot to the imagination as to what his slogan might possibly mean. His supporters quickly filled the void.

Apparently slogans are in the eye of the beholder.

For a lot of voters — though not a majority; the Democratic Party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton, won the nationwide popular vote by nearly 2.9 million — making American great again was a compelling idea.

There’s an old joke about country music that poses the question “What do you get when you play a country song backwards?” You get your job back, your truck back, your wife, your dog, your sobriety…

A lot of Trumps’s base of support is hurting. Unemployment is up, wages are down. Substance abuse is up. Suicides are up. And life expectancy for younger and middle aged white Americans is down. Trump won white voters without a college degree by 39 points. Things are not great for whites without a college degree.

But things once were great for whites without a college degree. It once was possible for someone without a college education, without even a high school education, to work his way into the middle class and to support a family on one income. When did this mythical white male utopia exist? About 50 years ago. I happen to know this because my dad did it. Worked hard, made decent money, drove a new car, joined a country club… Great, no?

Not so great was the African American or Hispanic experience of 50 years ago. It also wasn’t too great for women of any description, who despite having the vote since 1920 had (and still have) no equality with men. And it wasn’t great for LGBT persons or people with disabilities or a bunch of others who weren’t straight, white, able-bodied, English-speaking males.

Thus, making America great AGAIN meant making it great for people who’d had it great in the past. And they knew who they were.

Facebook has a feature that brings up items posted on the current date in previous years. Five years ago I posted a link to an article about Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed “bombshell” revelation about President Barack Obama turning out to be a dud. No problem for Trump, who seized the attention to rant about Obama being the “worst” and “least transparent” president ever and to bait him to release college and foreign travel records in return for a promised $5 million donation to the charity of Obama’s choosing. Obama ignored Trump and went on to win reelection. We don’t know what happened to the five million bucks.

Unfortunately, failure in any conventional sense is no discouragement to Donald Trump. He built his brand, fame and fortune largely on an amazing ability to say ridiculous things and garner lots of publicity for it. Trump’s long promotion of phony claims and conspiracy theories about Obama’s birthplace and citizenship were a GOLD MINE for Trump. And mine it he did. For years. Trump got all sorts of media coverage for free, along with the admiration of a lot of people who wanted justification for hating someone as smart, well educated and successful as Barack Obama (who just happened to be black).

The success of Trump’s Obama bashing was a model for personal attacks and bogus charges that he would use again and again during the 2016 presidential campaign, first against Republican rivals, then unceasingly against the Democratic nominee, who was smarter, better educated and vastly more experienced (and who just happened to be female).

Seeing a pattern here? Trump’s modus operandi is to attack, call names, threaten, bully, and lie about anyone who stands in his way, using any tool or proxy at his disposal. It has not gone unnoticed by Trump’s core supporters that his targets are generally NOT white guys. Haters of various stripes now feel they own the White House. By selecting Mike Pence as his running mate and cozying up to the religious right, people who say they are pro-life Christians now believe they have a friend in Jesus AND in the White House. Fossil fuel lobby? You bet. “Second Amendment people”? Absolutely. Sarah Palin and Ted Nugent? Photo op! Russian ambassador? Da! (Sorry, no American press allowed)

It’s a game of endless division, not unity. Trump has assembled a coalition of shamelessly self-interested supporters who seem perfectly willing to knock anyone else down to take what they want. America is one continuous Black Friday door rush at Walmart.

Our better angels aren’t throwing elbows. They aren’t spewing venomous, personal attacks. They don’t engage in name calling, character assassination, or scapegoating. They aren’t in it for themselves, damning all others and the consequences. Our better angels aren’t spreading rumors, falsehoods and outright lies. They aren’t boasting about sexual assault, nor are they complicit in it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. noted that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” King was not the first to make such a statement, it goes back at least as far as a mid-nineteenth century minister and abolishionist. Theodore Parker said also “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. …Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just.”

No one is saying that the path to justice is a straight line, but that right will ultimately prevail. Our better angels are around, we just need to start listening to them again.

Objects in the Mirror

Reflections on my experiences leaving Facebook

Day One:

Monday April 2nd was a day off work for me, thus a pretty good time to make the break. In recent days I’d seen a friend’s link to a video comparing leaving Facebook to leaving a party. Whatever. On Sunday I posted a farewell. Early Monday morning I unfriended everybody, backed up my data, cleared out my page, and sent the request to shut it down. Facebook says essentially that I have up to two weeks to change my mind. I read and wrote, ran some errands with the missus, did a little volunteer work and got a nap.

Rediscovered an excellent discussion of social media, what’s wrong with it, and the possibility of a subscription-based alternative to Facebook:


Day Two:

Stayed up much of my night off, which is not unusual considering my work schedule (I work nights). Got about six hours sleep. Spent less time than usual on my smartphone in the past 24 hours. Removed Facebook and Messenger apps from a couple older devices. Googled myself and found a bunch of Facebook profiles of people sharing my name, but not my own. This is encouraging.

I read that Facebook was retaining draft video uploads for reasons no one can explain. Considering that such videos may have consumed a lot of storage space, one wonders how they could escape attention. Is Facebook really that out of control?

Day Three:

Spent a little time weeding email during a break at work overnight. Over time, my email has become choked with crap and I have started opting out of distribution lists.

Found myself wanting to click “Like” on an actual email message written by an actual person I know and like (a cousin). Ever do that? I’ve wanted to click “Like” on text messages, too. It reminds me of a time after buying a car with a remote unlock button when I consciously found myself wanting to unlock my mailbox and apartment door with the remote.

Clicking “Like” on a Facebook post is an easy, almost passive, way of expressing approval. It requires nearly no effort whatsoever. Thus, much of what happens on Facebook isn’t participation so much as observation — we observe and we are being observed.

Facebook users become stars of their own reality show and viewers of a bunch of others. The news feed is like channel surfing, with someone else choosing the stations, controlled by some inscrutable algorithm. We get posts by our “friends” and ads in an endless stream and we provide feedback constantly. We tell Facebook what we like and by extension what we don’t, because they know what we have been presented; Facebook is watching all the channels, all the time, and recording… well, we really don’t know what they’re recording.

And you thought you were just clicking “ha ha” on a cat video.

NBC News reported that Facebook is now saying that not 50 but 87 million user profiles, mostly those of Americans, may have been “improperly shared” with Cambridge Analytica.


Day 4:

Early Thursday the Washington Post’s lead headline read “Facebook: ‘Malicious actors’ used its tools to discover identities and collect data on a massive global scale”. It seems that personal data belonging to most of Facebook’s two-billion-odd users had been “scraped” and shared with outsiders.

Thursday evening NBC News was promoting an interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, scheduled to air during Friday’s Today Show. Sandberg says that users would have to pay to opt out of ads while also stating that user data is the lifeblood of Facebook’s service. First, I will pay, but not to Facebook. Second, if our data is Facebook’s lifeblood, why aren’t we the ones getting paid?

Day Five:

Today we learned that Facebook has deleted certain messages sent by Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives via Facebook Messenger. The messages were removed from recipients’ inboxes. This option, of course, was not available to ordinary Facebook users, though the company now says it will be.

What was in those messages and why were they deleted?

“Unsending” a message is not a new idea, but it’s one that has largely been wishful thinking for most people, most of the time. Microsoft Outlook running within an organization on Microsoft Exchange, for example, allowed users to unsend messages which had not been read.

Once I worked for a large company where a disgruntled IT worker gained access to a high level user’s computer and aired his grievances with the entire organization. The message was especially critical of the chief information officer. The IT department scrambled to try to retrieve the mass mail. It was a spectacular disaster. While some unread copies of the message were deleted, if I recall correctly, the email system notified recipients that the sender wanted to recall the message. Nothing screams “Read this now!” quite like somebody important saying they don’t want you to read something they sent. The more the organization tried to limit the spread of the rogue message, the more widely it was shared.

Message to Mark Zuckerberg and his crew: what’s done is done. You can’t unsend or unsay. Yes, you can delete postings and messages and entire files and profiles, but you can’t turn back time.

It’s after 5 PM on Friday. Facebook has been in the headlines every day during a week when there was a lot of other stuff going on. Mark Zuckerberg said this week that the data scandal had no “meaningful impact” on the company.

It’s had a meaningful impact on me. I am happy to be off the platform. I don’t need to have every click recorded and analyzed for the sake of posting some thoughts online. I don’t need to be subjected to a barrage of ads intermingled with the random musings of hundreds of online acquaintances. I don’t need to be wired-in, 24 by 7, living on the Internet. I definitely don’t need to do business with a company I don’t trust. It had become a bad relationship and it needed to end.

It’s been refreshing to spend some quality time with my own thoughts and get some of them into words. I like the prospects for more of that.

There IS life after Facebook.

Blundering What?

Some of you may be wondering why this blog is named “Blundering Oracle” and what’s up with the subtitle “Challenging Blind Obedience.”

Both phrases are derived from a single sentence in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden”:

“So much for blind obedience to a blundering oracle, throwing the stones over their heads behind them and not knowing where they fell.”

I had remembered the phrase “blind obedience to a blundering oracle” from prior readings and thought it had potential. So what does it mean? Merriam-Webster’s two main definitions of an oracle are “a person (such as a priestess of ancient Greece) through whom a deity is believed to speak” and “a person giving wise or authoritative decisions or opinions.”

Minor definitions include “a shrine in which a deity reveals hidden knowledge or the divine purpose through such a person,” “an answer or decision given by an oracle,” and an authoritative or wise expression or answer.”

Up until now I hadn’t thought too much about the oracle Thoreau was talking about, but knowing about it helps make sense of his comment. Google and Wikipedia helped a lot here. Thoreau referenced a Greek myth about the deluge. In it, Deucalion consulted an oracle about how to repopulate the world after the flood. The oracle told him “cover your head and throw the bones of your mother behind your shoulder.” Substitute rocks for bones and Gaia (Mother Earth) for mother, and you have it: Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha repopulated the world by being blindly obedient to an oracle, throwing stones — bones of Mother Earth — and not knowing where they landed. The stones turned into people. It seems that Thoreau didn’t have a very high opinion of the oracle.

Was there really a time when we read this stuff in American public high schools?

At any rate, “Blundering Oracle” felt like a perfect bit for someone offering opinions on an obscure blog. It is pretentious and self-deprecating at the same time. The world is full of people claiming to have some kind of authority and demonstrating little humility while being utterly (or at least arguably) wrong.

As to “Challenging Blind Obedience” part, I have a problem with authority. No, it’s not that I cannot acknowledge or respect credentials and qualifications. I have a problem with people who think or assert they can tell me what to do while lacking credentials and qualifications. You could say that I have a problem with self-appointed or sketchy “authorities”.

Really, I have a problem with authoritarianism.

I used to think that liberty was an American core value. We claim it is. We have a Statue of Liberty, the motto “Liberty” on our coins, and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in our Declaration of Independence.

What I’ve learned (and what the last presidential election demonstrates to me), is that some portion of Americans can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who promises — threatens, really — to impose his will on others. Essentially, we threw liberty under the bus for a populist authoritarian. Authoritarianism is one of the defining characteristics of the current American administration, in my opinion, and they’re not shy about it. It obviously resonates with somebody.

We also claim to have a high regard for facts and fairness. What was Superman fighting for? “Truth, justice, and the American way.” Yet our discourse is often untrue and unjust. Truth is labeled as “fake news” by people who hold opposing opinions, beliefs or interests. Fake is anything they don’t like. Justice is getting their way.

Blind obedience deserves to be challenged, not for the sake of being contrary, but for the sake of doing the right thing — speaking truth to power. Authority needs to be challenged and limited or there is no making America great for anybody other than the powers that be.

Know yourself. If you need help…

Ever hear of “Deteriorata”? It was a bit of pop culture in the 70’s — a parody of a spoken word recording of Desiderata. Those of us of a certain age will probably remember the poem, the recording, and the send-up. Posters of the parody text were a big seller for National Lampoon (particularly in 70’s head shops, as I recall). For a refresher, including a link to the text, go to the Wikipedia article here: Deteriorata.

One of the lines in Deteriorata reads “Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.” In 1972, you’d call the FBI. In 2018, there are a lot of people you can call.

Today marks my departure from Facebook. For nearly nine years I’ve used the social network, posting pictures, links and comments, joining groups, clicking on ads, clicking the Like button, finding and losing online friends… I spent countless hours expressing myself, and the social network dutifully recorded what I saw, did and said. All for free.

Except, of course, it wasn’t really free. Facebook got all that information and I lost control of it. Not only that, Facebook sold the information so it could be used to try to sell me stuff.

Ever look at your Facebook account data? You should. You can download a copy from the Settings page. The “Ads” section was particularly jarring. There were 223 separate Facebook advertisers who have my contact informaton. Advertisers are not supposed to resell data but there is no way for anybody to make sure they’re not doing it. Thus Facebook also lost control of my information.

It was recently revealed that Facebook Messenger has been collecting call data from Android smartphone users. Why? Allegedly it was to improve the user experience (Facebook has not explained how grabbing a lot of cell phone data made anyone’s Facebook experience better).  Messenger also wants to continuously update contact information.

If you allow Facebook to access location services on your phone, it keeps track of your movements while the smartphone app is running. Undoubtedly there are other apps that have access to your Facebook data. Don’t believe me? Go take a look.

Social media itself is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to modern day privacy issues.

Just two days ago, BBC reported that the US is proposing to require virtually all visa applicants to give up their social media handles used during the previous five years. Don’t ask me how the government will know whether people are telling the truth.

However, privacy has been getting eroded for a long time.

Millions of Americans are subject to pre-employment drug tests and/or random drug testing after employment.

Employers and insurance companies require medical screening, which can include testing to determine substance use and even genetic predisposition to disease.

Think the government is on the side of privacy? Think again. FISA and PATRIOT acts are surveillance super powers that the government has bestowed upon itself, all in the name of security and counterterrorism.

Law enforcement wants DNA tests on people who get arrested, even if the subjects haven’t been charged with a crime where DNA evidence would be relevant.

Advancing technology enables ever greater data collection and analysis. Cameras are everywhere. We can record full-motion, high-definition video using our smartphones and share those images in real time. Facial recognition is being used to identify and track people. Our smartphones know our fingerprints, our travels and our contacts. Health and fitness devices know all sorts of stuff about exercise, sleep, and any number of biometrics. Businesses know our buying patterns.

We’re now embracing artificial intelligence applications and devices, which are getting to know us in ever more intimate ways.

Sounds overwhelming, right? For some people, it is. I know a lot of folks who scoff at the idea of leaving a social network over privacy concerns because it seems futile. What can we do when our information is already out there?

What we can do is start fighting back. We can let companies know that we’re not going to take this lying down. We can let them know that there is a penalty for mining our private information and selling it to all comers. We can remind the government that we have a constitutional right to be left alone and that they work for us, not the other way around.

New technology poses new challenges, but this problem did not just arrive. People were spilling their secrets on television and radio long before the Internet, smartphones and Facebook. They were talking on the phone, sending telegrams, writing letters, publishing. They were talking face to face. All along the way, there have been other people watching, listening and generally sticking their noses into things that were none of their business.

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the founders’ answer to the question of privacy in the face of a nosy government: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”

In 2018, it’s not just the government that wants to know all about us; everybody with a product, service or viewpoint to sell wants our data.

You are not a fluke of the universe and you should not give up. Know yourself. Stand up for yourself. Fight back.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Now before you get any crazy ideas, no, I am not contemplating a final farewell. “To be or not to be?” That is not the question.

The question is whether to continue on Facebook. This question arises once again in light of news this weekend that about 50 million Facebook users’ data was used surreptitiously to predict and influence voting behavior in the 2016 US presidential election. There are claims and counterclaims and calls for investigations. Facebook, as usual, is doing damage control.

Just as I had come to terms with staying on Facebook, along came another reason to drop it, as it were, like a bad habit.

I’m mad that information about millions of people was used largely without their knowledge as an experiment in psychological profiling and micro targeting, but I’m not surprised.

Is anyone really surprised? Are we surprised that a third-party application was used to coax people to answer a bunch of probing questions, to allow access to their Facebook data, and oh by the way, to throw in the data of friends who hadn’t locked down their own accounts? Is anyone surprised that academics, billionaires and ideologues worked together to try to install a president and wage a culture war? Anyone?

Is anybody surprised that Facebook made it so easy to do all that? Are we surprised that Facebook didn’t do more to secure user profiles? We shouldn’t be. Getting people to give up their own data is Facebook’s specialty — kind of a black art. Past and present insiders have admitted that they knew what they were doing. By giving people a little validation every time they shared something popular, people were encouraged to share more. With more people. They (we) were hooked.

What does one do with tons of data about a gazillion people? One sells it.

Last time I considered the stay or go question, I concluded that a lot of what was wrong with my Facebook experience wasn’t necessarily Facebook itself. I also identified a bunch of annoying tendencies of others that made it difficult to stay friends with people online.

Well guess what? It’s hard to stay friends with people in the real world, too. And people do a lot of egregious stuff online that we would never do in face-to-face interaction. Do you like hurting people’s feelings? If you do, then you have a personality disorder and need to get help. And for heaven’s sake, get off of social media!

But at some point everybody you know is going to do or say something that makes it hard to stay friends. I think that’s one of the reasons that most of us have a pretty small number of actual, close, trusted friends.

It would be nice to think that we’re going to change people. That seems to drive a lot of behavior on social media. Unfortunately, it’s not realistic. My wife is an ordained minister. She recently reminded me of some episodes of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom in which the central character, news anchor Will McAvoy, set out on his “mission to civilize.” It didn’t end well. Let’s just say our man on a mission got a lot of drinks thrown in his face.

So, if I’m not going to change human nature (I’m not and neither are you), then I’m back to the recurring thought that the biggest problem I have with Facebook is the way I use it.

But wait. We’re talking about a product that was designed to take as much of our time and attention as possible by rewarding interaction. It was designed to be addictive. Changing the way I use Facebook is like asking an opioid addict, an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler to change the way they use, drink or gamble.

I smoked cigarettes for a long time. Cutting down never worked. Using nicotine gum or patches didn’t work. Resolutions didn’t work. What ultimately worked was getting a short-term prescription for a smoking cessation drug (bupropion, in my case) and reading a book on cognitive behavioral therapy called The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. That worked.

Remember also that Facebook, like a lot of other addictions, has some risk even if one if not a hardcore addict. To borrow some wording from old school over-the-counter sleep medication ads, Facebook may NOT be “safe and effective when used as directed.”

I have a job in the real world. For years (decades, actually) I worked as a computer technician for companies large and small. I handled confidential information and I was usually working under nondisclosure agreements. In recent years I’ve worked in some other fields — more about that some other time, perhaps — but still under NDA’s. Since the rise of the Internet and social media, there have also been acceptable use policies.

I don’t even mention the name of my employer on Facebook. I don’t talk about work on social media.  And I’m mentioning this now only to highlight one of the other hazards of Facebook: the risk of losing your job and/or getting sued for talking about something you’re not supposed to talk about online (or at all).

This product steals our time and attention. It leads us to overshare our personal information. It tends to push us into opposing camps. We become clannish.  We obsess. Disagreements are often harsh, uncivil and unrestrained. On Facebook we’re always ready to rumble. We gang up on people. I’ve seen it all happen again and again. I’ve been a party to it more times than I’d like to admit. And for what? So somebody will click “like” on something I post?

Not everybody has trouble with Facebook, but I do.

I wish it were otherwise, because I often enjoy interacting with people online. I used to enjoy smoking, too. But it was bad for me and I couldn’t control it. I can have a beer or two, or none, and be fine either way. I don’t gamble anymore at all.

I am under no illusions that Facebook influenced my vote in 2016. It didn’t. I supported Hillary Clinton from caucus through the election. I was very outspoken online for a very long time about why I could never support Donald Trump and why I thought no one else should either. But I did lose friends who held other views. Family relationships were strained or interrupted. Facebook definitely played a role in that.

I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about a lot of things I posted over the years. I just don’t know if I changed any minds, which was one of the main reasons I got on Facebook in the first place.

It’s looking more and more like my days on Facebook are numbered. I’ll need to find creative and social outlets. Hopefully I’ll get more sleep.

Is there life after Facebook? For me there is.

Why Can’t We Be (Facebook) Friends?

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. Not long ago I seriously considered leaving the social network completely. I was fed up with its incessant nosiness. I was concerned about its vulnerability to being abused. Facebook allegedly arose after Mark Zuckerberg’s adolescent tech savant misuse of technology to compare the hotness of collegiate coeds to take his mind off being dumped by one. It has become a money machine because it is addictive and it contains tons of data about zillions of people. The potential for abuse is staggering.

I was spending more time and enjoying it less, wondering if anything positive was coming out of it. I was hooked and miserable.

I backed up my data. And instead of just deactivating my account, I set about deleting my individual posts. Thousands of them. Status updates, pictures, links. And I actually re-read a lot of that stuff. Some of it was good, like “Wow, did I actually write that?” Some of it was bad. A lot of it was redundant and tiresome.

And I learned a few things. One of them is that repeating something over and over in a variety of ways is not necessarily persuasive. Another is that hammering the negative aspects of various candidates might be effective campaigning — I’m not actually convinced that it is — but it’s certainly not something that inspires me to go out and make the world a better place.

Something else I learned is that links have an unknown shelf life in our digital age. A lot of links were dead. Oftentimes an article’s headline (and sometimes an image) might be embedded, but the article itself had vanished. Even the White House website is not maintained from one administration to the next, but rather the old site is archived and frozen in time. A lot of media sites have simply gone out of business, such as the late, beloved Rocky Mountain News.

Perhaps the most significant thing I learned is that my frustration with Facebook had a lot to do with me and how I was using it. I had clicked “like” on too many pages. I had joined too many groups. I had shared too much information. I was following, liking and commenting on too much negative crap in my news feed, especially relating to the current administration and its supporters.

I decided that I had met the enemy, and it really was us. You and me, dear reader.

After cleaning out almost all of my old profile content and changing some important security settings, I decided that for my sake and yours, I was going to lead by example in one very specific way. On Presidents Day I declared my Facebook page as a Trump free zone (TFZ). I’m not giving any more virtual ink to that individual. And to encourage others to do likewise, I’ve stopped responding to many things that I wouldn’t post myself, starting with anything that would violate the TFZ.

I’ve never been one to accumulate Facebook friends like some folks I know, famous and otherwise. For a few years my friend list has hovered somewhere around 600. Some folks have been friends, then got unfriended. Some have been re-friended. Some refused a new friend request (fair enough). And believe it or not, some have been unfriended for a second time.

Facebook friendship is a strange thing. It’s possible to become friends with people you’ve never met, including people who live thousands of miles away, based on some common interest or contact. This is one of the actual benefits of social media, in my view. However, as we’ve learned from disclosures about foreign efforts to agitate American society and manipulate American politics, it’s also possible to become friends with people who have hidden agendas or might not be real people at all.

What’s definitely not possible, for me anyway, is to be friends with everybody. If friendship, even online friendship, means anything, it means that not everybody is your friend. It’s enough for me to have a bunch of people I find interesting. It’s nice when something I share resonates with someone and that individual shares my work with their friends. It’s especially gratifying when that someone is a respected or admired individual who doesn’t share everything they see.

It would be great to create something that is shared and read widely. Whether it’s on Facebook or this blog or some other medium is hardly the point. The point is saying something worth the time it takes to read.

Changing my own behavior on Facebook is half of the equation. The other half is dealing with what my “friends” are throwing at me. At some point this becomes a question of whether we should be online friends at all.

So, why can’t we be Facebook friends? Here are some definite turnoffs for me:

  • You share 30 or 40 links and memes a day. Or an hour. I really don’t have time for that crap, do you?
  • You repeat yourself, sometimes re-sharing the same meme several times.
  • You quote yourself. If you’re an ordinary person, come on, who are we kidding?
  • You are dogmatic to a fault. Example: one former friend keeps saying that organized religion is a cancer. No, there are good religious organizations and bad ones, but there are no good cancers. It’s a bad, overly broad assertion. Figure out what you’re really upset about.
  • You are relentlessly negative. Ditto for outraged, hopeless, dramatic or sarcastic.
  • You refuse to be civil. Example: name calling, all the bloody time.
  • You post horrible stuff for its shock value. Just stop. Good intentions don’t justify this.
  • You are fanatical. Whatever it is, let’s put it in some kind of rational perspective. Let’s say your pet issue is Israel. People have been fighting over this for, what, three thousand years? Do you really think an extreme view one way or the other is going to do anything but keep the fight going?
  • You spread misinformation. Not cool. Do a little fact checking, a little critical thinking. If some else identifies something you’ve posted as likely false, do something.
  • You “vaguebook”. The meaning of this is fairly obvious, but I’d define it as posting general statements in an effort to get people to try to get meaningful information out of you. It’s a game for getting attention.
  • You actually view us as enemies. If so, please, unfriend me now.
  • You act as if the rest of us are too stupid to live. Who do you think you are, me?

It’s a big, wide, beautiful world out there. The online world could reflect that a lot better. Facebook is a great place to start.