Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Quixotic Quest for the Nipple-Free Soul

We had talk enough, but no conversation;
There was nothing discussed. 
-Samuel Johnson

I am far more of a bystander than a participant in the day-to-day machinations of "social media".  I am also enough of an old fogey that until a CLE Seminar at the Firm a few months ago, I had no idea that social media entailed anything beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  You want a line that is sure to generate a big laugh at your next gathering or meeting?  Raise your hand and ask what the hell people are talking about when they keep saying "Snap Chat".  I did. It killed.  One of our baby lawyers who was in the Seminar at which I asked that question still shakes her head and smiles wistfully whenever I see her around the office as if she half expects me to show her where we keep the butter churn or the mimeograph machine. 

It seems to me that for all of its failings, Facebook has served as a very effective forum since the march to the White House began in or about mid-2015 for underscoring the difference between friends and "Facebook friends".  Its efficient service, simultaneously, as a cudgel and a wedge comes as little surprise to me.  Not because I have an understanding of the algorithms Mr. Zuckerberg and his band of merry makers use to herd individuals with like interests or tastes towards one another but simply because of the rather limited function it performs in my life, which (since I am a woefully unimaginative man) I presume is at least analogous to and perhaps identical to the function it performs in the life of countless others.  

Facebook is a tool that has proved effective in allowing me to reconnect with a number of people with whom I have had no face-to-face contact or any in-person contact of any kind (telephone call/letter) in a number of years.  For me, it has served primarily as a way to re-establish contact with people with whom I was friends in high school or in college and with whom for no reason at all other than life pulled us in different directions I had lost contact.  Within that group, there is a significantly smaller group with whom my contact - once re-established using Mr. Zuckerberg's little toy - has grown into direct contact ranging from the occasional to the regular.  However, as a general rule, those old friends with whom contact has been reestablished on-line are people with whom the re-connection has not advanced beyond our respective computers, tablets, or iDevices.  For me (and if you are unfortunate enough to know me, then for you too) the arm's length relationship is more than fine. It was neither my hope nor my intention to foist myself into the day-to-day of every old friend whose acquaintance I renewed. I am content to cheer their successes (and those of their children and grandchildren) and mourn their heartbreaks from a respectful distance.   

I suspect that I am far from an outlier in that regard.  And I think that has at least a bit to do with the ongoing enmity that first began popping up on my Facebook page slightly less than two years ago on a regular basis and now, frankly, dominates it.  Among those who have used Facebook as a mechanism to enable a reunion - even if only in a virtual sense - with high school classmates, neighborhood friends, or lost loves - there may well be a tendency (one of which the person feeling it is not entirely aware) to envision the person with whom connection has been reestablished not as he or she presently is but, rather, as he or she once was - at least in our memory.  The difficulty arises, however, when one has to reconcile the black-and-white photographic memories of some long-ago prom, party, or football practice with one's reality.  Life is a forward-moving exercise and as it moves, we move.  Were we fossilized fish preserved in amber for eternity then we would remain as we once were.  We are not. We do not.  Candidly, we should not. And since for each of us life moves at its own pace, complete with unique rhythms and rhymes, our movement between that last point of commonality and this one may bear little to no resemblance to one another.  

Therein, however, it seems to me lies the rub - at least judging from any number of the exchanges involving persons whose names I recognize as having once occupied a common space (high school, for instance) but who have not spent more than a moment, perhaps two, in one another's company in a lifetime.  As an objective observer, to my eye a sizable number of these exchanges do not constitute a conversation, which Merriam-Webster defines as, "oral exchange of sentiments, opinions, opinions, or ideas", but instead, constitute two or more people talking at each other.  Ideas and opinions are not being exchanged but rather hurled back-and-forth like a dodge ball or a grenade. The objective is not to foster debate but simply to win the point. 

Maybe, just maybe, there is something therapeutic about Facebook's use as a means for "virtual friend exfoliation"?  After all, most of us has to give no more than a moment's thought to how our life would have turned out had we not remained joined at the hip, moving in lockstep, with our full complement of childhood and school-age friends. Why not? We have lived our life without their company - as they have lived their life without ours.  

Familiarity breeds contempt, it is true.  But, here in the second decade of the 21st Century, it has perhaps bred its own "alternative" offspring. Not its twin. Instead, a masterful forgery.  One that at first glance looks very much like the real thing but upon closer inspection is revealed to be something less.  Not a bad thing. Not a harmful thing either, as long as we recognize it for what it is and act accordingly...

...and realize that only in the halcyon days of our memory shall we walk as the possessor of a nipple-free soul. 


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