Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Facebook Debates: Part II

Remember the Facebook blog (see Yes. No. Maybe So.)? Since then, not only did the warm responses to the photo of me with my book and free endorsements continue at an alarming geometric pace, but I made a bet with some folks that the poets Gary Snyder and Mary Oliver were not on Facebook. If they were, then I’d join.

I lost.

And so I was just on the verge of capitulation when I went to Nicaragua. And there I sat for three hours on a bus with kids that were not allowed to bring their devices. And guess what they did? They talked to each other. They looked out the window and daydreamed. They played card games. They sang songs. They told jokes. In short, they behaved the way human beings have for millennium—or at least in my lifetime. And I knew that had they had their little electronic gizmos, their heads would be buried in them for most of the trip, at best, texting to each other “How’s it going down there at the back of the bus?” at worst, downloading porn or playing some killer assault game.

This led me to three irrefutable conclusions:
1.     These devices are pure evil and we’re kidding ourselves if we think we’re in control. They’re taking us over at all ages and in all places and we’re helpless before them. Don’t even try to argue with me here.

2.     Humans are more resilient than we think. A bus ride in Nicaragua was enough to cure the addiction. At least with the devices out of reach.

3.     The only reason that bus cure worked is because NOBODY had the devices. We were all in it together. If even one person had their laptop or cellphone out, the whole deal would have been off.

And that last gets to the root of the Facebook dilemma. What can I do in the face of Gary Snyder and Mary Oliver, those eloquent advocates for life in nature, on Facebook? The problem is this: I love to teach workshops, I love to write blogs and books and articles, I love to perform music, all of which needs an audience. I, and my fellow Pentatonics jazz band, played our hearts out for the 15 people who came to our concert on Saturday and I’m proud of that. But still the event deserved 150 at least and if the mode of advertising and affirmation has shifted from word of mouth/newspaper listing/ flyer on telephone pole/ snail-mailed flyer/ e-mail flyer/ Website announcement to Facebook, those of us who want to keep doing what we love for people who are actively seeking what we offer have to go to where they look. Someone said, “If I don’t see it on Facebook, it’s not happening” and I get it— it’s the modern mode for affirming what’s really going on.

But the price is high! Addiction, addiction and yet more addiction, more time on screens, wading through people’s trivial news, and so on and so on and so on. It’s only when the ENTIRE culture agrees to a preferred mode to affirm what’s hip, what’s happening, what’s current, what’s trendy, what’s needed, that it will work.

I’ve heard a thousand times before, “How did we exist before…?” Take your pick— computers, e-mail, cell phones, etc. Once a whole culture adopts a technology, it’s hard to remember what we used to do. But all it takes is a three-hour bus ride in Nicaragua to remember. Then sit down with our aerograms and write home.

I felt this so strongly during my three months in Kerala, India back in 1978. Three cars in the whole town, one phone at the post office, evening Kathakali performances announced word of mouth and it all worked fine because no one had these things. It equalized the playing field, brought the whole pace of life down to a genuine human proportion and reduced the stress level big-time. You might wait two hours for a bus, but there were few appointments that demanded a to-the-minute arrival because the whole culture moved at that pace. No one felt out-of-the-loop because we all were in the same loop.

But in a culture where your friend’s concert is sold-out and your neighbor’s book is selling like wildfire and your own is limping along because you made a stand against Facebook, you’re set-up to be left behind. Truth be told, my workshops still fill with paper mailings and now group e-mail mailings and my books sell reasonably well through catalogues, Websites, Conferences and word-of-mouth. But the times they are a-changing.

So maybe I will just hold my nose and jump in the dubious waters. But the punchline is this: Friends, we simply must remember that we did live before all of this and it worked just fine. And if the electricity starts going out, we may have to do it again. I would miss this blog, but maybe I’d tell more stories around the dinner table or campfire. And I highly recommend ritual and conscious occasions to unplug— especially for the children. Now go tweet this idea around so people can consider it.

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