The Facebook Dilemma

I first heard of Facebook a few years ago — probably some tech journal, or maybe Harper’s or the New Yorker, where, by the way, I heard of Google years before anyone seemed to use it outside a few academics. Facebook sounded like a good idea for the College set, who must have seen it as a perfect extension of the social web that one creates when one goes to school.  When I first heard of it, it was confined only to college students.  Now, of course, the thing has gone completely viral, and has spread easily throughout just about every demographic.

My wife spends an enormous amount of time on Facebook, and has used it to great affect for her business, by creating a group that now has over a hundred members, I think.  So, after some gentle cajoling, I actually made it through the process of signing up, after having tried a few times, and pausing over the Submit button and hastily bailing out at the last minute.

The earlier attempts were the result of my personality — which is actually quite social and friendly simply because I have always liked “people” in general, and still do — but which also contains a great deal of built-in guilt about not contacting people I have known in my life and when it came to the point at which Facebook looked into my Address Book and found 134 people that I could “Friend”, I couldn’t go through with it.  But when I finally did create the account and even put my High School, my company, and other information into the profile (still refraining from reaching out, though) , I began to get the invitations from “Friends”, each one of which caused a slight pang of anxiety and guilt, because I could not imagine reaching out to any of them and making that connection and then living up to what I suppose a Friend should be, which I imagined as a forty-page treatise describing everything I have done in the last 30 years.

I know this is ridiculous, but it is what it is, as they say.

So today after a brief discussion with a co-worker who reminded me of Facebook when he told me he joined up, I logged in and Deactivated my account.  When you Deactivate a Facebook account, you are asked to provide a reason.  Here is what I wrote:

“I can’t take this step right now in my life.  Too much guilt about not contacting people in my past. This would unleash the floodgates and rain down a torrent of remorse, guilt, and pressure that I could not bear. I would develop Hypertension, followed shortly by Heart Disease, then a slow miserable death.  Presumably, I would not die alone, however, because the 1,417 Friends that I would have, including my Kindergarten teacher, and everyone who ever picked me up hitchiking in the 1960’s.  It would be like dying in the middle of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Album Cover.  It would be a fine death, surely, surrounding by this multitude of people I have not spoken with in forty years — and which with I was able to exchange 140 character quips (wait .. that’s Twitter, isn’t it …) — in any case, while I do see the benefit of dying in this very public matter…  I think for now I will skip it. Thanks.”

An absurd reason from someone who is ridiculous in their inability to … Facebook, as it were.  (it’s a Verb, too, right?)

What is the difference, then, between this blog and Facebook?  Plenty.  Here I am a hologram with no ability to interact, and so I can write away as if I were in alone in a room, or standing on a little platform with a robe intoning nonsense to Luke or Hans Solo.  I don’t even know who reads this, and don’t particularly care.  I haven’t told anyone in my actual life about this — not my brother, my wife or kids.  Not to say that they can’t find it immediately, but there is no expectation of an audience.  And so I am somewhat able to write with the freedom and slight thrill of not knowing who will read it.  Somewhat, I say, since there is always the possibility that someone will read it and be offended by it which belongs to the small group of people that still control my ability to create income to support my family.  I doubt it, though, since these posts are pretty tame, and I haven’t started on any of the stories from my life yet.  They will come …

Facebook says, on their front page … “Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”

That depends on what life you are talking about.  With the exception of my wife, the only people really in my life are not on Facebook (they are all under the age of nine …), and so we would be talking about a life from the past, or a life made of people from the past.  A life that would grow to include those that I had known long ago, when I think I was truly a different person, in a different place, and in a different time.  It would be strange, confusing, disorienting — not sure what to make of it, since I’m just writing away now, and not thinking …

Maybe there will come a time in my life when I am not working 80 hours each week, and I don’t have four little kids and a wife  to attend to.  Maybe then I can join Facebook, or the current incarnation of it.  Maybe then I will be happy to spend the kind of time that my old friends deserve.  For now, though, this one-way mirror will have to do.

Go Fly a Kite … then Call an Old Friend

Today the daily work ended at a reasonable time, and although I had some kind of unhealthy desire to work for the rest of the night, I took the advice of a new friend and colleague who told me to “relax”, which is sort of like telling the wind to stop blowing, although this time I listened.  I decided to head up Baseline to  where a park opens up to a wide swath of grassland criss-crossed by some dirt trails right at the slope below the Flatirons.  I brought my my new little stowaway kite that I had purchased at Into the Wind last week — just a little Delta, beautifully colored.  These kites, by the way, are not your grandma’s kites of yesteryear. They almost leap out of your hand and rise energetically straight up in the slightest wind.  There’s no running, like Charlie Brown used to — they just elevate themselves and dance around as the wind shifts and twists.  There’s a little maintenance, and once the kite took a dive in a strong wind and I found myself wading through the tall grass to retrieve it, but if you pay attention and act accordingly, you can fly the thing almost absent-mindedly for hours.  And what a blast.  There is a sense of freedom to be connected, however tenuously, to a playful object that seems alive soaring high above you.

When I left the lowlands there wasn’t a whisper of wind but when I arrived at the park the wind was probably at about three knots — just enough to get started.  Then it began to gust up to about 20 which made for some interesting flying, and then a group of long, deep gray clouds came rolling over the Flatirons and after about an hour the first drops of rain began to fall.  I thought for a moment about Ben Franklin’s lightning experiment and decided that perhaps I should  call it quits.  On the way out a met a nice Boxer out for a walk with her Person, a happy Boulder native who was oblivious to the rain, enjoying the warm afternoon breeze and change in light from the now black clouds.  It struck me how similar Boulder is to Irvine — they are bubbles of contentment, and for different reasons.  Irvine because of the affluence, climate, relatively low crime, and Orwellian corporate-style civic management, and Boulder … well I’m not completely sure yet, but judging from the real estate prices, affluence certainly has something to do with it.

Food, too.  I ate at Centro, and the food really was as the waiter described it would be, which was “delish …”.  The wine, a Spanish red, was fantastic as well.  I had something like “brown sugar encrusted lamb” (sorry, not a food critic) which was great, and the appetizer was a ginger plantain fritter with a sauce I could eat every day and not get tired of.

But the best part of the meal was that I took the opportunity to plug in the headset to my phone and called an old, old friend of the family named David Frair, who is now one of the few people left who knew well both my father and mother.  I told him how I remembered the first time I met him when he was probably twenty and I was about five — he had just a pair of shorts and sneakers and a headband and had just come back from a 10-mile run outside of Woodstock, NY.  Dave was one of the “hippie” generation in upstate NY that my father had befriended as a sort of elder, and who exposed their group to things like Jazz music and literature.  He was a journalist for the local newspaper, while Dad was a newscaster for the local radio station in Newburg, but in the late sixties they both quit journalism in favor of starting some kind of construction business with Joe Nicosia, who could actually build houses, and in fact built many.  Not that any of them made any money — I guess that wasn’t the point.  I think that was pretty much the last steady job my father had, which was fine, since my mother decided right around that time to start working.

But the point of this is that the conversation made the dinner that much enjoyable, and it was great to catch up with Dave.  If I had not been traveling, I suppose it would be much more difficult to find the time to spend an hour on the phone with someone I had not talked to in about twenty years.  But that’s something that needs to change.  Same thing with Chris and Linda — here they are less than forty miles and when was the last time I sat down with them?  Maybe a year.  No excuse for that.  Seems like almost everything I write leads me back to the fact that there is a paucity of time. An illusion, of course, since we know from experience that there is truly an eternity wrapped up in every moment we spend, dazed and overworked…

Boulder, CO … revisited 29 years hence

When I was 19 I was on the tail end of a several-month odyssey that took me 300 miles down the Pacific Crest Trail from Cascade Locks to the California border by foot, followed by some easy time spent with high school friends who had escaped Orange County, NY for Marin County, CA, followed by a long, slow trip to Mexico, and then hitchhiking/meandering up through Arizona all the way to Wyoming and finally down to Boulder, CO, where I visited for an entire month with a guy that grew up next door to me, but which had managed to leave and head west a year or two earlier.  I worked day labor picking tomatoes until  I could afford to buy a car, which turned out to be a black ’59 Volkswagen purchased for $400 which I drove East with a Danish college student to get back home.

Looking back, and writing this 29 years later here again in Boulder, CO , if I had known what I know now, I don’t think I would have ever left what has to be one of the very best towns in America.

I could go on and on about Boulder, but the crux of it is a combination of things, such as perfect climate, progressive politics, low crime, intelligent planning, spectacular scenery … I mean, what else is there?

Getting off the job at 5:30 PM today left plenty of time for me to head up Pearl Street to the Pearl Street Mall where I had a great dinner overlooking tulips against brick punctuated by happy people walking by.  It’s spring here, and everyone seems very content and at peace.  After dinner I found a cool Nepalese shop and bought a singing bowl, which is a remarkable Tibetan invention about 1500 years old that fills the room with a tone said to heal your troubled Chakras.  Following that I was absolutely struck by a guy playing a combination of a digeradoo, steel drums, bells, and I don’t know what else, all simultaneously in a lyrical, story-telling fashion.  He had forty people transfixed for ten minutes while he used his entire body to make some incredible music.  His name is Christopher and I think his music would be perfect for film soundtracks.

A typical evening in paradise, I suppose.

Sometimes you visit a place and you have a sense that your name, or perhaps you destiny is written all over it.  For me, this is such a place.