"Mountains and seashores glimmered, and beneath us extended world-wide a desert plain. On this plain we saw an old gentleman of a worthy aspect, with a long beard, who drearily led a large following of some ten thousand men in black. He had a melancholy and hopeless air; and Mozart said,
'Look, there's Brahms. He is striving for redemption, but it will take him all his time.'
I realized that the thousands of men in black were the players of all those notes and parts in his scores which according to divine judgement were superfluous.
'Too thickly orchestrated, too much material wasted,' Mozart said with a nod.
And thereupon we saw Richard Wagner marching at the head of a host just as vast, and felt the pressure of those thousands as they clung and closed upon him....
[Mozart said,] 'Thick orchestration was in any case neither Wagner's nor Brahms' personal failing. It was a fault of their time.'"
(Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse)
Whenever I regard my Facebook news feed, I am reminded of the above passage from a novel I read during a college German literature class.* Why? Because the image of having thousands of "men in black" following behind you - overtaking you - is just too perfect.
At one point I sort of had standards for whom I accepted as friends (for example, if I did not ever speak to you in high school, then I saw no reason to be friends on Facebook), but now I just pretty much accept everybody:
- my cousin's wife
- a friend of my neighbor
- my sister's gay best friend
- a sorority sister from college who wasn't my year
- a person I met at a party who is locally famous and I was kind of pleased to "friend"**
Many of these people have had curious life twists and turns - a former co-worker who is working to be a master sommelier, a friend from high school's cousin who constantly posts horrible things about the job she's stayed at for the past 20+ years, the wife of a classmate from grad school who self-published her own cookbook, and so on. These people all have different political opinions and root for various sports teams. They really enjoy cooking and showing photos of what is for dinner. I rise with their weight loss successes and their children's gymnastics victories. I fall with the semi-literate misspelled posts from random relatives who really ought to know better.*** And oh! The glamorous trips everybody seems to be taking, whether to Disney or Dubai.
Where Mama J has doubled down on social media, I'm stepping back. I can't do it anymore. Facebook undeniably has great value - I can post photos of the Duchess, Honey and Ladybug, and my extended family and my husband's extended family can get little glimpses into the kids' daily lives. I love the photos of other people's kids (really, I do, even if I only worked with you for 10 minutes or kind of knew you in grad school, I am still crazy about your little ones' precious smiles and adorable crafts.) I enjoy checking pages of dear friends who live in other cities now.
But in most other ways, Facebook is a time sink. I could just not know about the other 95% of posts and go about my daily business in blissful ignorance. (This is why I have so far resisted the siren song of Twitter). And I haven't even talked about the privacy and related issues with Facebook's handling of personal information.****
Important family things always come first, but when it comes time to blow off steam, I have multiple other outlets for brainless time wasting, like Top Chef and Project Runway. I don't do the Bachelor, but I will be there for Celebrity Apprentice. The Grump and I are just catching up to everyone else with Downton Abbey (No spoilers, we are still on Season 2). Also, I have a ton of photos to get off my hard drive and into photo books. I've been trying to keep a journal of cute things my kids say (I have a gap of over a year for when I didn't get around to writing anything). And an elderly lady who used to be my neighbor writes me the sweetest letters, and tells me how awesome I am because once in a while I get off my butt and scribble her a note.
Ah, handwritten notes. I used to love writing - and of course, receiving - actual letters. In the old days, I used to have real pen pals, people I never met but who exchanged letters with me. One lives in Southern California and is an engineering professor - I googled her - but I haven't friended her and don't plan to.
Who has a chance to sit down and write anyone anymore, and why would you, when we're all wired together? Maybe it is as Hesse says: not a personal failing, but a fault of our time.
*Indeed, as I flipped through the pages looking for the quote, I realized that I remembered exactly nothing else from this novel. Although the back says it is a "gripping and fascinating story," I have a dim memory of drinking a beer on a sunny day while having to read it for class the next morning.
**Social climber, I know.
***The Grump's relatives. My relatives all know how to spell.
*****Don't be surprised if Facebook collects and sells aggregate information. If you're getting something for free, you are the product.