HARDBARNED! The Blog

Anti-Social Media and The Untechnologist

You could call me a grumpy old man. A sometime untechnologist. A late-if-ever adopter. An unrepentant but selective Luddite. An occasional technoprimitivist. A "Rebel Against The Future," or my favorite, the Real Slime.

grumpy.jpg

Yes, you could call me all of those things, but you wouldn't have it quite right. I'm all for new technology, but sometimes it just takes me a while to decide whether I actually need it. I usually let other folks work the kinks out of the newest must-have technological advancement for at least a few years. The iPod had been available for nine years before I got one. I still get entire catalogs full of unnecessary electronic gadgets in the mail. I like reading about new tech, and I was an early adopter, once--of HD-DVD. What is HD-DVD, you ask? Exactly. See photo of the soon-useless brick I bought, above. Early adoption clearly has its risks. Beta-Max, anyone?

But whether you're adopting something "early" or not is all about your personal perspective. I have friends that still haven't jumped on the blu-ray train, and it's been out for eight years. At least one pal o' mine still uses a flip phone, and another friend doesn't even own a cell phone of any kind. I put a lot of thought into the latest video game console generation [before finally making a decision about that (and smart phones) a year after writing this post].

Despite my issues with smartypants phones, tablet computers, social networks and new game consoles embedded with nano-tech-sized NSA agents and heart-monitoring cameras designed to spy on my entire living room, I'm in favor of new technology and excited by what it can offer the human race. Everything from movable type to 3D printing, from out-houses and fresh-water wells to indoor plumbing and Dyson Airblade hand dryers, from color TV to HDTV and Beta-Max to Blu-Ray, from the electric light to the solar panel, from Orville and Wilbur to Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, I'm all for innovation and connection, communication and creative expression, for safer, faster, more environmentally conscious transportation and a lot more space exploration.

But I don't do Facebook. Or Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, MySpace or Pinterest. And I really don't mind not fitting in. At least a billion humans like to know what a billion other humans are doing, all the time, by monitoring each other compulsively via computers and smartphones via social networks. While I don't care to be socially networked or to know what everyone else is doing all the time, I understand the impulse.

fakebook.jpg

Is it strange to broadcast your thoughts and ideas with a blog and yet harbor an extreme aversion to social media? Maybe so, but I like to have control over my own tiny corner of the internet. I haven't fully developed the answer to the question of why a blog is okay for me but the social networks are not; I'm still processing that myself, but I like having a place that you can choose to visit (or not) without signing in, signing up, being monitored, sold-to, analyzed or otherwise exploited by mega-corporations.

You may have noticed that this blog is a way for me to work things out that have been spinning around my head, or at least a means to write something and collect my thoughts. Too many people gathered in one place tends to freak me out a little, and maybe that feeling equates to too many people gathered in a digital realm, too. There could be consequences, though. What if I lose a job and have to apply for a new one without my own Facebook page, now that employers are demanding employee's Facebook passwords? What will I do, other than attempt to argue that I'm cut out out for the position with an old fashioned resume, a toothy grin and my winning personality? Apparently my lack of social media presence and profiles will only arouse suspicion.

But why? Does preferring to avoid these online "clubs" automatically make me the Unabomber? I guess I could mention this blog on a job application. But on the blog I share opinions. Would that be a good idea? Do employers want employees to have opinions? What kind of Brave New World are we moving toward where everyone knows everything about everyone else?

Social networks are here to stay; it's just how the world works now, I suppose. It makes plenty of sense to want to reach the most people possible if you're A: attempting a democratic revolution to depose a despotic dictator, B: selling something cool like bearded barbarian helmets or C: setting up a pillow fight in Washington Square Park. Thus far I have managed to opt out of the social networks, but how long will I be able to hold out against the tide? If all goes as planned, I'll finally have a book for sale before long. Finally, right? But how will I choose to sell it? Am I crazy to try to do so without social networking? With nothing but a wee blog that averages a few hundred page views a week? Probably so.

As an undergraduate in the late 90s, before Facebook and MySpace, long before I had seen a text message and well before I even owned a cell phone, I remember calling around via dorm-room land-lines to find out who was doing what for the weekend, who might be up for getting hot wings and beers or what bands were playing on a Wednesday night. One local house where several buddies lived was even affectionately known as Check Point, and if one didn't know what was going on, one could usually call Check Point via ye olde land line and find out, or just ride over on a bike, skate over on a board, or just walk over.

Email was an option, but it seemed like most of us used a telephone to network socially, or we would just meet up on campus and hang out in person, entire groups of young people, making eye contact (!), without tiny screens in our hands or pockets or embedded in our eyeglasses! We watched movies in theaters without texting! Shame on you, Madonna. Our conversations were not seamlessly integrated with devices designed to record and repurpose them into sound bites. We looked up directions on maps made of paper. And we liked it!

A late adopter, I didn't own a cell phone until 2002, when I had returned from a stint working construction and scrubbing fishing boats in Alaska between punk rock tours and wasn't sure what to do next. I was crashing in a small, windowless utility room in a house a couple friends had rented in a rural field somewhere in Middle Tennessee, after an epic Halibut fry in their driveway after the four plane flights home.

Half the room I slept in was taken up by my homeless band equipment, as the band had unexpectedly fallen apart while I was in Alaska, and I had nowhere to put the amps and speaker cabinets and no idea what to do next. Accustomed to living out of a Dodge conversion van on tour, I was happy to have a warm, relatively clean floor on which to spread my sleeping bag, despite the 24/7 darkness, the cramped space, one roommate's disturbing obsession with Asian torture films (constantly running in the living room) and the lack of connection with the outside world.

My roommates had already made the switch to cell phones and thus the house had no land line. By day, I looked for jobs in the paper and drove my wobbly tin-can of an '89 Sentra to the library to do more job hunting online and print employment applications, usually heading back out to the house at dusk after dropping by the post office. I changed the oil and the alternator in the driveway after the car limped home one night on a steadily-diminishing battery.

Most mornings, if I could tell it was morning--my room was always pitch black--my roommates' cute little kittens would wake me up, mewling at my door and making me sneeze. I would drive a few miles to the nearest phone booth with a plastic bag full of change and call the places I had applied to for work, announcing my intention to "reiterate my interest in the position." After a few weeks of this, I surrendered to the march of technology and became a cell-phone owner.

Once, many years ago, I signed up for Facebook. Reluctantly. Briefly. Friends talked me into trying it. I knew it wasn't for me, but I signed up anyway, maybe just to prove my point. I took the page down less than 24 hours later. A few years before Facebook came along, I didn't do MySpace either. For some reason, this frustrated some friends of mine (people I knew and hung out with in real life). Everyone was doing the social networking dance, and public messages were flying to and fro. At first in a gentle, teasing way, these friends bemoaned the fact that I didn't have a MySpace page and thus didn't know what was going on.

I'd have to be called on a phone, emailed or (gasp) visited in person in order to glean whatever vital information was being considered by our cyber collective of real-world friends, MySpace "friends" and friends of either or both, groups loosely organized in ever expanding concentric circles spinning into degrees of Kevin Baconesque connections of often meaningless relation, a Venn diagram of a cyberspace-based, notional commonality that I just didn't grasp the importance of or need for.

Yes, everyone owned computers and knew someone who knew someone and signed up for MySpace and was thus connected "socially." Eventually, a few of my real world buddies set up a MySpace account in my name but behind my back, designing the page to make fun of me, making me look like an idiot who made stupid comments and insulted people I actually knew. Maybe in their minds it was still just teasing. They thought it was funny. Some friends, huh? This was my apparent punishment for shunning the new media status quo. Social media was a new thing, changing the world quickly, and my friends were experimenting with it.

I didn't see it as malicious as much as them having a bit of fun at my expense. I let it be known that I was angry, got an apology or two and let it go. So years later, when just about everyone I knew in real life had signed up for Facebook, I dipped my toe into the surface of the new normal, the social networking tsunami, only to withdraw it promptly, pretty much exactly as I knew I would. I can look back with a laugh now at my friends' MySpace trickery, but I was one of the lucky ones, not one of the poor people (often women, but not always) who are terrorized by anonymous human scum who prey on people, and not just via social networks, by doing things like this.

Still, I would be foolish not to recognize the power of social networks to create positive change in the world, uniting victims of natural disasters with those who want to help with food, shelter and medical care, organizing veterans and volunteers and first responders, bringing together people who want to increase the quality of childhood education in America, save dolphins, fight hunger and diseases and get the White House to release its recipe for Honey Brown Ale.

Social networks can really bring people together, allowing like-minded individuals who want to advance causes the chance to connect with others who mean to do good, which is great, but they also enable armchair activists with a means to exercise their index fingers by stamping a thumbs-up icon onto something they like in order to, uh, show everyone that they like it.

Though I'm only half-way through it, I've enjoyed reading George Takei's digital book Oh My! There Goes The Internet, a casual, comical conversation with readers that catalogs Commander Sulu's journey from social media newbie to his current status as Titan of Tweets, with many millions of followers. I'm reading my first digital book here, people, and I don't even have a tablet computer or e-reader! I'm so cutting edge that I downloaded the free e-book reader software from Adobe. Takei is really funny, has an off-the cuff, blog-like writing style, and, according to his book, he mediated and snuffed out the online battle between Star Wars and Star Trek fans over which fiction is better. People really have time to argue over this?

The feud was stoked by Carrie Fischer and responded in kind by William Shatner, but Takei, a veteran of both series (I learned in his book that he had lent his voice to a Star Wars cartoon) was able to clear the air and tone down the increasing vehemence by appealing to both camps to unite with him against the abomination that is all things Twilight. A perfect solution that both camps could agree on.

What's not to love about a mediator like that? Takei has also been particularly vocal and effective when calling out (and taking on) bigotry in hilarious ways, using both Facebook and Twitter. If a 76-year-old guy can master social networking and use it for a good cause that is also very entertaining, then maybe he's onto something, and I'm completely wrong about social networks. Of course, I haven't finished Takei's book yet, and the friend who recommended it is also partially responsible for ye olde fictitious MySpace page of decades past, so I should probably be very suspicious of his ulterior motives...

I know I'm not the only one creeped out by the continual intrusion of certain kinds of technology into the nooks and crannies of our daily lives and don't feel like I really need another gateway (like a smartphone, a Facebook account or a Twitter handle) to make it easier for the data miners to know exactly where I am and what I'm doing at any given moment. Dave Eggers seems to share my fears of an Orwellian, Huxleyesque future. I read the excerpt from his new novel The Circle, which sounds a definite alarm, offering one possible, (probable?) dystopian outcome of our public shift toward ever-increasing amounts of big data gleaned from increasingly public, digital behaviors.

Eggers seems to envision a complete loss of the individual to the collective hive-mind, a Borg-like assimilation of everyone as anyone and anyone as no one, where we are all infinitely connected/isolated and no longer have the time nor the inclination for free thinking, free expression or the right to simply exist without public scrutiny in any way. I hear the voice of the millennial in my ear, saying "get over it, everything is public, there is no private anymore," but I don't want to listen to that.

I wonder what futurist, transhumanist, artificial intelligentsiest Ray Kurzweil, author of The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology (a book still sitting untouched on my nightstand) would have to say about Eggers' vision? [I finally finished and reviewed it here] I read somewhere that Eggers isn't doing any press for his new book, but perhaps some creative agent can persuade these two very interesting authors to face off with Charlie Rose, Jon Stewart or Zach Galifianakis mediating. I'd tune in for sure. Just don't try to talk me into signing up for Pandora or Spotify.

So call me an Untechnologist if you will. When I tell you about something cool via ye olde blog, tell me how it was "so last month." See if I care. At least for the time being, I will remain anti-social when it comes to social media, and I'm sticking with my dumb phone, too. If I want to get in touch, I can email, telephone or text message.

Sometimes I even write letters! To send in envelopes! With stamps! And I like it!