Chicken Little is not your friend
Friday, January 22 2010
I spent the day in a web development frenzy. At first I thought my Drupal job was done, but then I checked in on the GoogleDoc where bugs are posted (it's actually a really good system, mostly because of its simplicity) and found a bunch of things that needed my attention. Still, after the first pass through a bullet-point-based-job, the second pass never takes long (mostly because there is no motivation quite like the desire to stomp a zombie project back down into its grave).
Once that project was in remission, I could focus on the project for which I am supposedly being paid in equity. Yes, I know what ten percent of zero is.
Just through network effects, which act as a kind of gravity to make large networks even larger, Facebook has risen to become the most important of the various social networks. It is becoming to the Web what the Web has become to the Internet. There might even come a day when the three terms will be thought of by some as synonymous. In the meantime, Facebook is a site where I spend some fraction of my computer-based life. I scroll down and read what various people are up to, making remarks that tend to be wise-ass or a little outré, depending on how much alcohol I've consumed. Compared to most of my Facebook friends, I don't have all that many friends, but there's a fair amount of traffic nonetheless. In the world of Facebook, a power law applies: a handful of your friends will generate 90% of the Facebook content you read (or avoid reading). In my group of friends, by far the most active poster was Matthew Stephen Rogers of Ypsilanti, Michigan.
For those not keeping track, I met Matt Rogers as a student in Oberlin back in 1986. He and I both lived in Harkness, a student co-op, and shared a similar world view. We both had a cynical view of institutions and man's relationship with the environment, but we also took an interest in technology. Where we differed was that I lacked his uncompromising dogmatism about things. Where he saw blacks and whites, I saw greys. He also had a way of proclaiming his love for outrageous and challenging things that came across to me as crass posturing, so I would counter this by sticking to my pre-college stylistic interests, which tended to be not-so-outrageous and not-particularly-challenging. While he was singing the praises of Sonic Youth, I was listening to Jethro Tull.
In the world of Facebook, Matt Rogers had ramped up to producing a post every half hour or so. The rise of his interest in Facebook seemed to coincide with the left's disillusionment with Barack Obama, and so most of Matt Roger's posts were anti-Obama screeds. Obama is back-pedalling on the public option. Obama is a bankster's wetdream cum true. Obama is killing innocent women and children in Afghanistan. Obama is using the Constitution as toilet paper. Obama is actually increasing the number of prisoners at Guantanamo. Obama is adding thumb screws to the list of acceptable methods for enhanced interrogation.
Matt Roger's posts about these issues usually had an overly-caustic sarcastic tone and were accompanied by links to lefty or libertarian sites, and while these made valid points, I had to wonder, "Did you actually think Obama was going to turn out to be Dennis Kucinich?"
Personally, I fully expected Obama to disappoint, and I have been disappointed. But the memory of George W. Bush is too fresh for me to start screaming and carrying on about Obama. I know what the alternative is, and it is much worse. For Matt Rogers, though, there is no such thing as a political alternative within our existing system. He delights in mixing-up the phonemes from the words "Democrat" and "Republican" with words like "thug" and "dim" to concoct single neologisms that sum up and mock the whole of mainstream American politics. This reflects a completely non-pragmatic world view, one that he's failed to run through any sort of thought experiment. To mention the fact that we live in a two-party system where a vote for a third party is actually a vote against the better of two evils is likely to get him worked up for a good three or four posts about how you are a sellout and the whole system is broken and we need a revolution, as if a revolution would actually be commandeered by the very rare kinds of people he agrees with. I say "rare" because he lumps my views in with the rest of the rotten American consensus. There is virtually nobody in America ideologically pure enough to participate in his revolution.
Like most of Matt Roger's forty other Facebook friends, I usually ignored his posts, but every now and then he'd say something particularly nutty and I'd feel obligated to set him straight. Today, for example, he posted a message saying we need a consitutional convention to officially remove personhood from corporations. So I posted a reply saying that corporations aren't even mentioned in our existing constitution and that we should leave it well enough alone, that there are just too many Christian crazies who would love a constitutional convention. He immediately replied back and then I replied back and then he replied back. That's how it goes with a Matt Rogers Facebook thread; he always has to have the last word on any thread to which he has ever contributed.
But eventually he got fed up with the back and forth and threatened to "unfriend" me unless I settled down. He actually used the expression "shape up or ship out." It seems Matt Rogers prefers it when his friends are passive, docile consumers of his rants. (Though he also claims to hate censorship, once whining like a little girl after I clipped off several of his threadjacking posts on a non-political thread I'd started.)
So I called Matt Rogers "the biggest diaper baby this side of Sarah Palinville" and said that the reason he doesn't like my posts is because they show him to be a fool. Sure enough I was unfriended, and my post stream dwindled to a trickle of what it had been. At first I was shocked and disappointed, but then I realized how much better of an experience Facebook is when Chicken Little is not your friend.
Now I should mention that, while this is the first time Matt Rogers had unfriended me in Facebook, this is not the first time he has unfriended me in the real world. I can think of many occasions when Matt Rogers and I have fallen out. I needle his pomposity until he gets pissed off, breaks up with me, and then gradually comes to the realization that it's lonely being so hopelessly morally superior.
Matt Rogers, May 1989.
Matt Rogers and some hippie chick, the late 00s. Must be Sonic Youth or the Dead Kennedys taking the stage.
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