Tag Archives: social media

Why I’ve gone dark



Calling occupants of interplanetary craft: Leave a message; we’ll get back to you

I have no problem with the concept of ‘social media’. It sounds welcoming enough, even comforting. Let’s say you are a shut-in and no one comes to your door. You fire up the Internet, login to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other of myriad, electronically devised stand-ins for people, and commence to chat for hours. What could go wrong?

Just this: In most cases, no one trolling for information about you and yours gives a rat’s derrière about you and yours. More often, they simply want to blunt your attention to reality (the sky is either blue, or it’s snowing); or they want to steal your money, identity and, in the final analysis, soul.

Not long ago, I disconnected from every social media account I once had. That includes Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Let’s call it an experiment. But, so far, it’s working well. I’m calmer, more sanguine. I have more time to read for pleasure. I actually talk to real people – look them in their eyes and not into the vibrant screen of my smart phone. At the very least, I’m a better dinner guest.

Last year, The New York Times ran a piece entitled, “Is Social Media Disconnecting Us From the Big Picture?” In it, the writer observed: “Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that Donald Trump could be elected president, but I was. I live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan, two of the most liberal places in the country. But even online, I wasn’t seeing many signs of support for him. How did that blindness occur? Social media is my portal into the rest of the world ­– my periscope into the communities next to my community, into how the rest of the world thinks and feels. And it completely failed me.

The writer continues; ‘In hindsight, that failure makes sense. I’ve spent nearly 10 years coaching Facebook – and Instagram and Twitter – on what kinds of news and photos I don’t want to see, and they all behaved accordingly. Each time I liked an article, or clicked on a link, or hid another, the algorithms that curate my streams took notice and showed me only what they thought I wanted to see. That meant I didn’t realize that most of my family members, who live in rural Virginia, were voicing their support for Trump online, and I didn’t see any of the pro-Trump memes that were in heavy circulation before the election. I never saw a Trump hat or a sign or a shirt in my feeds, and the only Election Day selfies I saw were of people declaring their support for Hillary Clinton.”

Uh, oops.

Still, now that I am completely disconnected from social media, I find my mortal energy re-emerging. I comprehend that I have precious decades left to me on this coil: To see and play with my grandkids, to build gardens, to write books, to laugh with my wife in the cold, stark winters of our lives (and in the surprisingly warm summers of our fourth decade together). I find peace. I find joy.

Walk downtown on any boulevard you happen to choose. Look up on a warm spring day, watch the birds gathering in the stoops of derelict buildings, creating their nests. Cast your gaze to the horizon and remember what life was like before the incessant buzzing and constant bother of smart phones and iPads. Put it all down, if just for a moment. Let your mind wander to that best part of your life, your past, the history of you.

What could go wrong?


Oh privacy, rest in peace


The assaults on our personal space, our thoughts – both grand and small – have become, in recent years, the principle battleground of democratic debate.

Do we deserve our privacy, or shall we surrender it to the onslaught of media? Do we expect full accountability from our elected leaders, or shall we give them a free pass even as their spy agencies harvest every morsel of information about us for uses not yet articulated?

We have become a “live-in-public” polity. Anyone who doubts this might cogitate for a while on the way mainstream celebrities (and their Twitter monkeys) manage their various images through social media.

Consider, for example, the strange case of Ashton Kutcher – a Hollywood actor of some fame and fortune. He reached out to his fans a couple of months ago to beg their support for his mindful campaign against the paparazzi that plague him and his loved ones.

According to a Fox News report in May, “Ashton Kutcher has taken to social media to blast news outlets for publishing paparazzi photos of his 7-month-old daughter, Wyatt. The actor publicly slammed publications on Twitter after photos emerged of a casually dressed Kutcher carrying his baby girl in his arms, with a clear view of her smiling face. The paparazzi pics were taken while Kutcher and partner Mila Kunis were visiting the seaside town of Carpinteria, Calif., with Kunis’ parents.”

Tweeted Mr. Kutcher: “Why is it so hard for publications to respect that I would like the identity of my child kept private for safety reasons?”

Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because you have 16 million followers and you can’t stop talking about yourself.

The actor’s dilemma mirrors our own. In a world where professional value becomes a commodity through personal revelation (even if the cry is for privacy) reason is antiquated. And what becomes antiquated becomes suspect. Suddenly, your business is mine, and mine is yours.

Naturally, you and I have never met, never shook hands, never looked each other in our bloodshot, media-savvy eyes. We’ve never actually conducted a private conversation about what really matters to either of us. We just tweet in series of 147 characters of callow, bland absurdities.

As we do, of course, the world is cloud-banking every stupid thing we say for only one reason: Our love of the confessional pyre, the altar of unsolicited solicitude, to which we happily supplicate ourselves, turns its cranks; and, in so doing, manufactures more ways to penetrate our secret spaces.

We claim our right to privacy in public even as we squander it, undermine it, and, finally, render it meaningless by opening our big, fat mouths about the utterly inconsequential just in time for the next crop of spin-doctors, operating on both private and state allowances, to turn our choice words against ourselves.

It happens all the time. Whole networks in the mainstream media are dedicated to unveiling the “larger” truth behind a pebble of personal information “leaked” to them, lest the pillars of democracy topple in the absence of some celebrity’s full disclosure about the style and shape of his underwear.

And, of course, just like Mr. Kutcher, we lap it up, even as we despise it.

In a Daily Mail Online piece from 2011, the actor “became the first Twitter user to reach one million followers. But, it seems, Ashton Kutcher has finally fallen out of love with Twitter. The 33-year-old actor handed over the control of his account to his management team.”

Really, who could have blamed him?

But, then, what’s stopping the rest of us?

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Musings on an approaching birthday


As the dreaded anniversary of my first appearance on this sullen orb approaches with all the inevitability of a shale gas protest, I resolve to experience that which has, so far, eluded me, lo these 52 years, 11 months and 20 days.

Given my soul’s temperament, serenity and wisdom may be too much to expect. But, at my age, nothing beats a fresh diversion or two.

For some time, it has been one of my fondest desires to coin a word and have it recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. This month, the venerable OED has heralded ‘selfie’ as its word of the year. According to the Guardian newspaper, it refers to a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

The term debuted in an Australian online forum in 2002, to wit: “Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The OED’s editors noted that the word secured its ranking after the dictionary’s language research program showed that the frequency of its usage jumped by 17,000 per cent in 12 months. Other words that made the shortlist included: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito (a miniature racoon), schmeatn (fake meat), showrooming, and twerk.

None, I hasten to add, holds a candle to my entry for consideration in next year’s competition. What do we call a political scandal that involves prostitutes, illegal narcotics, foul language, pornography, violent outbursts, grandstanding? Why, that would be ‘Fordmageddon.’ Naturally.

On the subject of new experiences, my wife and I will be passing through the town that Rob wrecked in about a month en route to New York City. There, from our room at the Chelsea Pine Inn, we shall embark on a walking tour of lower Manhattan, taking as many nibbles out of the Big Apple as time (all of eight days) permits.

Those of us who were born and raised in Toronto have a nasty tendency to assume that those who weren’t haven’t yet graduated to indoor plumbing. That’s why the Ford fiasco troubles us so deeply: The emperor’s clothes have gone missing, and what is revealed is simply unspeakable.

But it behooves us to recognize that New York remains North America’s preeminent destination for municipal mischief of every variety. Last May, in a piece entitled, ‘Scandal and Redemption in NY Politics,’ Beth Gerbitelli barely skimmed the surface when she reported in MetroFocus.com, “a formerly disgraced pol from New York, Anthony Weiner, returned to the front pages when he discussed the possibility of running for mayor in the pages of The New York Times Magazine in April.

“After holding out for almost a month and teasing the New York tabloids with reports of hiring campaign staff and  recording an announcement video, Weiner laid suspicions to rest with a midnight campaign rollout the week before Memorial Day.

Weiner resigned from Congress two years ago after accidentally, publicly sending lewd pictures of himself through social media. Weiner first claimed the pictures were the work of a hacker before coming forward and acknowledging that they were taken and sent by him. . .‘Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down,’ Weiner stated. ‘But I’ve also learned some tough lessons. I’m running for mayor because I’ve been fighting for the middle class and those struggling to make it for my entire life and I hope I get a second chance to work for you.’”

Sound familiar? It’s the universal call of the publicly humiliated, unreconstructed campaign addict.

On the other hand, Mr. Wiener, who torpedoed his run for the mayoralty in much the same way as he did his congressional career, seems to have acquired a degree of circumspection about which Mr. Ford’s detractors can only dream.

“I’m just an empty, soulless vessel,” the disgraced New Yorker wrote about himself.

Aren’t we all, Tony? Though, some of us be more soulless than others.

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