The social network writes back | Chuck's World

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 05, 2017

Conventional wisdom, or at least the kind expressed in aphorisms, suggests that being close only counts in a game of horseshoes. Someone eventually added, “… and hand grenades” into the mix, although good luck figuring out who that was (it was either a precocious child, Johnny Carson, or baseball legend Frank Robinson. Or someone else).

I can think of other close calls. Parallel parking comes to mind.

And movie quotes. Anthony Hopkins never said, “Hello, Clarice” and Humphrey Bogart didn’t mutter, “Play it again, Sam,” although, again: Close enough. We watch, or we think we’ve watched, and then we paraphrase. And everyone gets it, purists aside. Sam played it again.

My inbox filled up this week with a movie quote, although accuracy was mostly hit and miss. The line comes from Ang Lee’s 2005 hit, “Brokeback Mountain,” but no one felt obligated to toss in that reference. As with the many variations of “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore,” nothing further needs to be said.

The line in the film is, “I wish I knew how to quit you,” although no one quite got there. The most common variation was, “I don’t know how to quit you,” which I read quite a few times.

These people were writing to me about Facebook, which not coincidentally I wrote about last week. As someone who has spent a fair amount of hours sitting in a dentist office, I’m pretty familiar with inadvertent touching of nerves. I was just a little surprised at the flinching.

And when I say “inbox,” I’m using a little contemporary license. I had several in-person conversations, a few text messages, emails, and, of course, Facebook. Mostly Facebook.

There was nothing new about what I wrote, and it was just a coincidence that last week Facebook announced it had reached a new milestone. It now has 2 billion monthly users, although if all of us logged on only once a month I wouldn’t have been writing, and you wouldn’t be writing back.

I was just worrying in print, concerned that many of us were scattering nuggets of personal information willy-nilly while persuading ourselves that we were just being friendly. That is, we focus on the first part of “social media” and neglect the second, and to our peril. We think we’re sharing; actually, we’re broadcasting.

And most of the people who took the time to contact me understood this all too well. This is where the movie-quote paraphrasing came in. Oh, Facebook, I wish I knew how to quit you.

The irony isn’t lost on me. While a few people suggested the obvious, that if I didn’t like Facebook I should just stop using it, it’s possible they may have never seen “Brokeback Mountain.” Most people seemed sheepish, understanding that they were perpetuating uneasy exposure while being unable to find an exit strategy.

I’m the guy who wrote it, and by my count I interacted with Facebook posts exactly 50 times over this past week. I haven’t quit yet.

A couple of people kindly explained various Facebook tools I could use to create a safer experience, most of which I use. I’ve locked down my personal information as much as possible, although mostly out of good online hygiene and always aware that there are 16 years’ worth of newspaper columns out there, loaded with details.

In fact, the most common response I received from readers was the equivalent of a shoulder shrug, an awareness that damage has been done. We continue to participate, it seems, because 2 billion is a hard number to ignore.

Opting out of social media after the fact would feel like disconnecting from the online world altogether, not surprising when statistics show that we spend four times as much time on Facebook as any other site.

If that has you shaking your head, this will be fun: Surveys have demonstrated that a disturbing percentage of Facebook users don’t think they’re online at all. Millions of people around the world are apparently posting, sharing, liking, and commenting via magic.

Most of the messages I received on this subject, in addition, while generally lighthearted and fun, at least hinted at something else. I got a strong sense that these people saw a dark side to connectivity that had little to do with privacy.

As a friend put it, notice how many Facebook posts in your feed are just commentary on the behavior of other people, and not in a good way. There seems to be a feeling that technology has made us worse human beings. A feeling that we’re not in Kansas anymore, and we’re not going back.

I want to push back on that. I’m not sure I can. At the very least, I suspect the rapid-response aspect of social media has loosened what reins we normally might employ to keep our darker angels quiet. Them’s fighting words, and we apparently like to fight.

Again, I’m not suggesting anything to anyone. If there’s guilt to be talked about, I’m guilty. I’ve been spilling secrets for much longer than Facebook has been around. Long enough to learn my lesson, although it’s possible I’m a slow learner.

And there are plenty of good things coming out of social media, from burgeoning democracies to some really good recipes. I have no solutions, just concerns.

So I’ll just say thanks to all of you who wrote. And don’t worry about the quote. Sometimes getting close is just fine.

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