Gone and Completely Forgotten


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I will not be remembered long after I die, for my Facebook posts will cease, and that is the way most of the world knows me. Where I am, what I’m doing (or not) and most importantly, what my political views are. I’ve never had many strong views about politics, other than a lingering bad taste in my mouth caused by Nixon and a general distrust of those who profit from war, a category that seems to include almost everyone except me. Facebook, on the other hand, seems to thrive on political opinions.

But as to the real me, the whole me, the me that doesn’t translate into social media posts, I don’t expect my legacy will linger long. If somebody doesn’t tell Facebook or Google that I’ve passed, I suppose my blogs will linger for a few years while my Facebook pages continue to accrue likes, until someone realizes there’s no money to be made off me any longer. No, I will never pay to boost this post. Stop asking.

Then, when my pages are hacked and over run by those who copy identities in order to sell copies of Ray Ban and Oakley sunglasses online, a bot somewhere will close my accounts. No servers will store my data for free. My entire electronic library of silly stories and goofy pictures will vanish in a wisp of electrons.

Ex Libris Dan Coffey. My profile picture will go dark. My electronic wallpaper will curl.

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Facebook Time-Out Jail


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Facebook has informed me that I can’t post for the next 24 hours because there has been unusual activity on my account. All of a sudden I’m invisible. The main way I’ve been communicating with the outside world has been removed.

If I’m not the guy who posts funny pictures on Facebook, who am I? I can’t promote my blogs, because unless I link to them on Facebook, nobody knows they exist.

I was once put in quarantine for posting a picture of a woman’s breasts. It was a woman of old Siam, back before World War II when the Japanese took over and the lackey collaborator in charge of the country decided that from now on Thai women had to cover their breasts in public. A great loss for the nation. A boon for bra manufacturers.

I hope they get to the bottom of this soon. Probably some Pakistani guy sitting in a cave stealing passwords and identities.

 

 

VOYEUR?


 

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Sometimes I wonder if my attraction to Facebook and my habitual Internet news sites is voyeurism. Why else would I be so attracted to the superficial aspects of other people’s lives? Why else would I care so much about photography, and spend so much money and time to take pictures of people I don’t know or care about?

 

It’s not healthy. Not good for me or anybody else. It’s normal for early adolescents to be easily hoodwinked by an over-concern for appearance, but it’s tragic to see it in adults. At sixty-six I think I finally merit that classification, even though I often seem to have the mental makeup of a fourteen-year-old.

 

What is the difference between me sneering at Melania Trump at the Republican National Convention and an old lady peering through her curtains and judging her neighbors? Do I really care if the Clinton Foundation is corrupt? What does any of it have to do with me, anyway?

 

Now the news has become a 24 hour entertainment venue. I can watch it and think that by being an informed citizen I’m doing something productive, but I know that’s not really the case. If my use of the Internet and social media were to encourage and support others who were actually trying to do something productive, it would be a non-pathological use of these media, but all this gawking and rubbernecking in front of my laptop is getting me down. Guess I have to find a life that’s not about consuming and sharing images.

 

In this part of Chiang Mai, for some reason the power goes out often. Sometimes I can imagine an explanation for why it has failed, and other times, I simply shrug and look at the overhead wiring, a rat’s nest of weathered cables. Now that the rainy season is finally here it has cooled off a bit, so a temporary lack of air conditioning is no longer life-threatening, but it’s annoying to suddenly be deprived of the Internet. My computer freaks out. You’d think it was a Chromebook instead of a real laptop, but nowadays there’s little difference. Windows 10 is alarmed that it can’t verify my log-in, even though I never asked to have to log-in to begin with.

 

In fact, I never asked for Windows 10 to begin with. They sort of bullied me into it by warning me that the systems I had paid for and use in the past were no longer available. I used to think Google was the good guy, but now I think all these browsers and email providers are insufferable, trying to upload every image I capture or word I write, in case I might want to “share” it later with my “friends” who are obviously voyeurs like me. What they really want to do is become my storage provider, and eventually charge me for that service. I hate them.

 

Yes, I spend far too much of my time online, yes I do suffer from withdrawal pains if I am offline for more than half a day, yes, I care far too much about the reactions of my “friends” to my innumerable posts which are often simply cries for attention. Help, I’m on the other side of the world, living as an economic refugee in a country where no one speaks English. Sometimes when I’m out on my motor scooter I come across an elephant walking down the road. How’s that for noteworthy and unusual? Better take a picture and share it with someone who might think it unusual and even better, might envy me for having such an interesting life.

 

It’s all so horribly junior-high. Am I popular with my classmates? Mix that adolescent anxiety with the bucket-list concept for those heading to the last round up. As death approaches, I have a duty to myself and others to consume peak experiences that can be photographed, videoed and succinctly described in a caption that would not bore or confuse. If I fail to tick off the boxes on my bucket list, then I will end my days as a confirmed loser.

 

How do we escape this superficiality? By having a set of core beliefs that resist the ebb and flow of fads, the manipulations of advertising, the trends promoted by magazines (the whores of advertising), and the rigorous and soul-deadening edicts of the Establishment, whoever they might be at the moment.

 

When I was in high school during the Vietnam war, I would watch John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, making fun of hippies and war protesters. I knew these men were not on my side. If push came to shove, they would be on top and I would be on the bottom. I vowed then and there to have nothing to do with them, the armed forces, ROTC, the Republican Party, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon and any of his minions, the names of whom: Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Kissinger…still make me queasy to this day

What Passes for Discourse Nowadays


 

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When I was a kid I used to turn on the TV so early that they hadn’t started regular programming yet. They used to show Industry on Parade newsreels. “Aluminum, Friend to the Housewife.” Even back then I knew what this was. It was propaganda. Advertising created by someone who would profit from selling aluminum pots and pans.

 

Then, when I went to grade school, we kids would buy bubble gum packs that came with baseball cards. We would then trade these cars on the playground. We guessed at the relative value of each card, and privately gave them value based on the inferred personality of the player. I’m a Don Drysdale kind of guy, but Billy over there is into Curt Flood. Again, we weren’t creating these cards, we were purchasing them and then imagining that this process would help us become like the men people pictured on the cards. Sympathetic magic.

 

College kids hope that certain bands on their playlist will attract the right kind of friends or mates. My record collection was more important to me than anything else I owned, because it expressed who I was, in case anybody cared to know. On the first warm day of spring I placed my speakers in an open window and blared out Crosby, Still and Nash singing “Four Dead in Ohio!” I was the kind of guy who hated Nixon.

 

Nowadays, on Facebook, people share political memes that attack certain candidates. We think of this as self-expression. Sure, the recipients of our posts are our “Facebook Friends,” so it’s basically preaching to the choir, but that’s OK. Sharing pre-manufactured memes that come our way is no more an example of creativity or self-expression any more than is collecting baseball cards or downloading other people’s musical output. We are buying into the idea sold to use by product manufacturers and their agents, advertising agencies, that we can be defined by our consumer choices. I’m an Apple person. Me, I’m strictly Microsoft. I’m better than both of you, I’m open-source Linux.

 

But what do any of us really know about these things we do not create but simply share. Remember, Facebook was created as a social tool to help college students find like-minded friends. So far all this sharing of “news stories” from various sites is neither research nor essay writing. These sometimes powerful and clever memes are not being produced by amateurs. They are the work of paid writers and graphic artists.

 

When we share a post that says “Share if you’re proud of your son,” or comply with the command “Share if you love Jesus, keep scrolling if you don’t care that he died for your sins,” we’re endorsing an ugly form of literary bullying. Someone is benefiting monetarily from our blindly playing along with this. This sort of activity has largely replaced reasoned debate and considered discourse. We never had a surfeit of those to begin with, but I’m afraid that today one ugly picture of Hillary scowling on Facebook could matter more than anything she may or may not have done or said.

 

DISCOURSE REVIVED


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Social media is not designed to promote debate. The audience one finds there is hand-picked, pre-selected. It’s preaching to the choir. Because Facebook is the way most people interact with others at a distance, its very popularity has come to diminish the role of discourse in what we imagine to be a free society. Indeed, many young people do not understand the role of argument or discourse, imagining that their manufactured beliefs and shopping preferences define them and their peers.

In much of the developing world free speech is at a minimum and a free press almost nonexistent. Democracy can’t function because loyalty is the supreme virtue, and extreme fidelity doesn’t allow much room for divergent opinions.

The country I came from used to pride itself on being a democratic republic, but today most people hate politics and would rather submit to a benign dictator if they could only find one.

Because I’m an expat and far from home, my main contact with others online is via Facebook, which was developed as a way to help college students find like-minded friends. It is all about peer groups, and finding your “peeps.” If you express an opinion that sets you apart from your peers, you will eventually be “unfriended.”

One of the explanations for Facebook’s financial success is that by being structured in this way, it can deliver advertisements to targeted groups, about which much is known because the members volunteer tons of information about themselves with every post and every reaction to a post.

This is fine if that’s all we want from communication, but I suspect that many of us, especially the more mature members would enjoy discussing complicated issues without the onus of being “popular.”

Could Facebook be modified to encourage rational discourse about complicated issues, rather than encouraging superficial and infantile reactions? Maybe this could be done with specific pages that would serve as forums to address specific issues. Politics. Banking. Theater. Literature. Music. Art.

Despite the trivial nature of most Facebook posting, its dominance could be tapped for the greater good. Politics doesn’t need to be a dirty word, and the lowest common denominator in the Arts doesn’t always need to command the greatest amount of attention. Facebook is just a tool, one that could be modified to be more effective for the greatest number of people. It could facilitate real, complex communication instead of simply pandering to the herd.

What Do I Gain From All the Time I Spend on Facebook?


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The most impressive outcome of the explosion in social media (Facebook, Twitter) is the stunning lack of discourse it engenders. For all the people who spend so much time expressing and sharing their opinions, no one is really saying much that is original to that person, or new. That which is offered rarely leads others to change their opinion. It’s all broadcasting and no receiving. No time for contemplation or serious consideration. That which is shared has often not been read by the person sharing it. It’s as if we were all standing on bridges tossing pieces of paper and photos into a fast running stream below. Much ado about nothing.

I suppose all these regurgitated opinions are a step up from sharing pictures of the meal you’re about to eat, or your cat sleeping in a box, or yet another selfie, but the biggest improvement in mass communications in history has resulted in very little ground-breaking improvement in the trade of ideas and information. In fact, social media isn’t about trading information, or discussing ideas. It’s a pep-rally. Preaching to the choir.

Some people are using the Internet to make hay while the sun shines, but they are few and far-between. Some of them fancy themselves “Digital Nomads,” but I fear most of them are living off trust accounts and playing at running an Internet business. One reads about young millionaires who maintain wildly successful YouTube channels, but I lump those with the Kindle writers who write best-selling vampire young adult fiction as people I no longer compare myself to even in my worst moments.

I’m not implying that my Facebook posts are any more important or true than others’, but I probably do post more original content than the average user. I take lots of photos and write a lot. Is this a public service or a lonely cry for help? Got me.

I have never photographed and posted a picture of something I was about to eat. For that, I am proud.

The Internet as God


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It’s almost impossible for me to imagine life without the Internet, but here comes a second day without it. I’ve reset the router a dozen times to no avail. My chromebook is useless without the ability to be online. These things I’m writing may or may not be retrievable. It assures me that all changes are being saved offline, but where? There is no hard disc, no real operating system.

I can use my phone to check Facebook and Hotmail, but the screen is so small that it’s like trying to drive while wearing swimming goggles. It can be done, but only minimally and at great effort. So this is why there is precious little written on Facebook. Everyone is using their smartphones, and writing something longer than twenty words is a real chore.

I suppose I have made the Internet into a god, and find myself totally dependent on him.

In fact, I just read a Facebook post that said God is like oxygen, you can’t see Him, but your very life depends on His existence. That got me thinking…this statement is odd in at least two ways. Why bother to posit something that you have no proof for, yet you’re convinced is the most important fact in your life? Also, if He is so important and all-loving, why would God hide from us? A cruel jest?

The Internet just returned!  Now I can post this blog. I guess it’s Easter, if I extend this metaphor. He is risen!