Back in 2009, I figured that Facebook would be used primarily for sharing from our own lives. “We are becoming the poets of our own myths, in 140 character plus segments,” I wrote. “We are becoming micromythologists.”
It was a bit romantic to think that Facebook would be anything so positive, that we would stick to the kind of posts that some of us still post. “Went to the store for bread and milk. Paid it forward for the next person. They were so surprised they dropped the National Enquirer they were reading in line.”
I also thought there was a downside to so much micromythology. In my naiveté, I thought that such a practice would cut down on people watching TV and reading— that our fundamental human need for story would be satisfied in some significant percentage by reading Facebook posts.
Hello, Netflix binge series.
In 2013, I wrote that Facebook had turned into something like a “shopper,” the midweek newspaper supplement that used to come out way back when, and which consisted mostly of the advertisements that wouldn’t fit into the regular week’s pages.
In that year, apparently, everyone was using Facebook to plug something for sale, or a fundraiser for a worthy cause. I felt the tug; I had just published my first novel and wanted everyone to buy it and read it.
But I also didn’t want to add on to the glut of pitches.
It was developing all along. Politics began to overtake a lot of folks’ consciousness in my home state recently, and it just ratcheted up along with the presidential election, and then the election became the apocalypse, and now I can’t really post on Facebook without considering the political ramifications of my words.
Who’s going to be offended by what I say? If I post about my life, will someone be mad that I’m ignoring the political horrors going on around us? If I post about politics, will I get into a no-holds-barred flamefest? Should I pile on someone else’s comment and make the original poster feel worse?
If I mention religion, will my atheist friends taunt me for being an idiot and in cahoots with the religious folk they think are ruining the country?
Of course, I can get into it with my religious friends, too. There’s a lot of room for disagreement there.
And what about those fake news posts that people use to back up their deeply-held convictions?
All this is a symptom of something that I consider to be all to the good: the discussion we are all now having about women, people of color, and LGBTQ folk.
I think it’s especially good that we are discussing race. The discussion was curtailed in the seventies and eighties when we made what looked like a little progress in establishing the American values of freedom and justice for all, and decided to take a thirty-year break. But we’ve found out that we haven’t done nearly all the work we need to do in that area.
This is painful, of course.
We’re re-opening wounds that we thought were healed, but were only closed and now are infected. Much of the election has been, in my opinion, a referendum on whether we should continue the pain.
To heal properly, much collective national courage will need to be mustered.
And we’re trying. I see that.
So I’m fine with Facebook blowing up as it has, even the fake news stuff. It means we’re still talking.
And that's why I’ve also decided to subscribe to the New York Times.
I’ve always valued journalism. Some of my best friends are journalists, and I’ve been a freelance journalist for much of my professional career. But well-considered, vetted, edited stories are now more important than ever.
I can see that now.
I once thought that we could just post the truth and we wouldn’t need newspapers. That, in fact, newspapers were too slow to the punch. News was over before they could report it.
But now it’s clear that people don’t just post the truth, and not everything is easy to understand out of context.
So we are all going to need to sit back and consider rather than consume everything indiscriminately.
Keep talking, Facebook. Keep digging, journalists.
Give thanks, America.