On leaving Facebook and the like button. A blog and a poem.

Not long ago I left Facebook – as in deleted, finished, gone for good. This is the de-activate option which means you can’t re-activate, as opposed to the other thing that would be more appropriately tagged the ‘pause’ option. The one they desperately prefer us to take.

I always said I would leave one day for the basic reason that I think it’s important to know I can. Know we can. In a non-totalitarian state where society may be judged on a spectrum ranging from a perceived reality of total subconscious subjugation to absolute unhindered freedom, it’s important to test the depth of our compliance. If someone puts you in prison for an optional 3 years and you see those years out, how will you ever know it was optional?

Facebook is a great source of contact with friends, past and present. But in life people come and go. We keep in contact in the real world for a reason. It’s a great source of memories, but photos don’t prevent the past being the past. As I hit 40 I benefited hugely from Facebook, using it as a mechanism to invite as many people as possible to a celebration event I held in North London. Many people I would have liked to have been there couldn’t make it, but a few unexpected and very welcome people did come. In the end, thanks in no small part to Mark Zuckerberg, it was attended by a broad representation of people I’ve known through every stage of my life. People I just met through a new job. People I lived in a commune with during the first 5 years of my life.

But once the party was over, and with a repeat event unlikely, I made the decision to leave. In a way turning 40 has forced me to look forward, think of what I can do next not brood on what I’ve done or haven’t. Life begins and all that. After so many years Facebook becomes a digital record of your soul, if a distortedly flattering one. Old photos, old faces that no longer really mean anything, they start to feel lost. Ok it wasn’t my 90th, but I don’t want to die on Facebook.

These things and others (such as being offered training in how to protect my privacy at a volunteer project – it really should’t be that complicated), had been brewing for a while. That said I still needed a catalyst to finally move me on.

It came curtesy of the ‘like’ button. Likes lead to the gratifying sight of those red notifications at the top of the screen. “Internet love” as I call it (see also Twitter et al). Woke up this morning – ain’t got no internet love.

Likes and other interactions could stem from a wide range of sources. From a guy I haven’t seen since primary school to a best friend, to a fling from the nineties to someone I once played cards with in Costa Rica. A virtual crowd a physical meeting of which would be both unimaginable and entirely improbable.

After posting a link to a Frankie Boyle article I received a few pleasing comments and ‘likes’. One of which was from a very close member of my family who posted a stupid comment which had little relation to the Boyle article, accusing the government of being ‘Zionist’. He was probably drunk which made it quite funny – to me at least because I know how silly he is. I didn’t exactly approve but I knew the nuances of the context and personality from which the comment came. However one acquaintance took exception. In a short outburst she accused me of having terrible friends I should be ashamed of and to distance myself, or something to that effect. For a number of reasons this comment irritated and pressed a trigger button. Usually validation via the internet response digits feels welcome in essence, but this was an intrusion. Like someone had interrupted a private conversation and relationship and criticised not just a much closer friend but my personal choice of friends and in this case family. ‘Don’t come on my wall and tell me that I should disown my own family’, I thought. Of course it’s not ‘my’ wall, it’s not private, it’s not a living room someone has stormed into. But it felt like that and it shouldn’t.

I did something wrong. Something wrong but something that made me feel better as it formed a response of sorts and made a point. I decided to ‘like’ his comment. By ‘like’ I actually meant; “he’s my brother in law, and if anyone is going to give him a hard time it’s me.” I meant; “I like him whether you like it or not.” I meant; “Grrr.” I meant “I’m going to carry on my private conversation regardless.” I meant; “I like this for reasons you can’t possibly understand.” I meant this and much more. More than ‘like’ in its most base form whatever that is. I approve? I enjoyed? I support? Like is such a general verb it could indicate a vast range of things.

Anyway the reaction was more than I expected. I was accused of being a racist. On top of that a work colleague was linked into the message on my wall requesting she not work with me again. This just seemed insane – being accused of racism and having my professional credibility called into question on a public forum was not what I signed up to when I joined Friends Reunited Extra back in 2007. Certainly not when the premise of the accusation was based on nothing more than a single click of the mouse.

I decided I didn’t like the like button, but there was nothing I could click to demonstrate it. Nothing to do except leave altogether. So the breakdown of this absurdly reductionist function, one that can’t help but impact on the depth of our reactions to the news and commentary of friends, this was the final straw. I tried to amend the situation using my best diplomatic skills via private messages, with some success, but as so often social media proves no place for dialogue.

Back then I wrote the following wordy rhyming thing:

LIKE

I like that your gran died.
And I like that you wrote that she did
and I like that I can now end this conversation

Just
like
that

I like that you had a bad day
What you had to say of it
And I like that a new life is made
And the miracle of the digital waves
That mean that I’ve heard
And so I said a few words
But I would have said more
If it were only a bit more
Remarkable

So I noted your news
And then returned to an article
17 things I like more
Than the last thing I liked
So I post that I read it
Do you like that I read it?
What I briefly said of it?
That I choose to recommended it?
Well when you’ve put down the baby
Can you tell me?

You can like everything
And you can like anything
You can like my pictures
And all these life lived fractures
But when I put on the projector
It was 5 years later
That you rifled through my slides
All these memories I can’t hide
Though It’s nice that you care
I wonder did you stare at
The things you liked?
That feels wrong but
The statement’s neither strong nor weak
It’s just prozacked speak
Causing a dulled lack of loving
Emotions tumbling
Into this easy sea
That simply laps the words “I’m pleased to see”

But let’s suppose
You don’t like the like that I chose
The un-introduced acquaintance
Known by only a sentence
Means you alchemise this pleasantry
To an arbitrary offense.
The likes take a stance
And the likes can’t withstand
Or even stand by and watch
This headless body of words
Which are now a soul in the virtual
And my role in it all is just
A one click connection
A limply tapped erection
And in this theatre of the word
Where no nuances are stirred
I’m left reeling and disliking

All this endless fucking liking

(PS If anyone misses me, as Facebook, using your photo, warned me you would, feel free to give me a call).

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