Once upon a time I collected Facebook friends as if they were baseball cards. The more the merrier it seemed, drawing together a large community and network of people from my past, present and future. Childhood friends, high school girlfriends, long lost co-workers, fellow travelers and even the friends of other Facebook friends who I’d meet only via comments and online chats. I linked them on Linkedin and connected with them on Twitter, put their email addresses in a contact file and stayed in touch such as it was by watching their lives move across the magic screen in an endless parade of family and pet pictures, status updates that ranged from silly to sad and of course news, views and opinions. Lots of those.
Like many, I fell into the trap. With too much time on my hands and a sense of self-righteousness, and indignation, I used Facebook as a means to communicate political rants and anger by finding articles with similar viewpoints as my own and sharing them along with my wonderfully witty and sarcastic personal observations. It seemed like the right thing to do…quickly reaching a few hundred folks with a cut, paste and post. And when my friends responded by hitting the ‘LIKE’ button, it only fueled that addictive rush of confirmation and acceptance.
Look ma….they like me, they really do.
A couple of years ago I recognized that I didn’t much like the ‘social media Ed’ anymore. He’d grown jaded and isolated and snarky and petty. And I wasn’t alone. So I took a break, stopped posting anything for a few months, quietly watched what others were using social media for and went through my list of Facebook friends…silently deleting more than half of them. The next thing I did was to create a new Facebook identity, one that only reflects my passion and interest in particular forms of American vernacular music and serves as a place where I can share my published work. It seems healthier for mind and spirit. (If you care…here it is.)
The other night a gentleman named Ian from Minneapolis who I once worked with about fifteen years ago and remains on my list of Facebook friends posted this…which I am slightly editing to cut to the essence of his thoughts:
I find myself stepping away from Facebook as I’m appalled by the endless, vile and petty posts that serially savage political candidates on an hourly basis. I understand that people are passionate but endless repetition changes nobody’s mind. Maybe going for a walk and screaming obscenities is a better plan. I prefer to remember my Facebook friends as they were before this endless political cycle.
Yes…I could feel my head nod in agreement to that. But wait…he can’t possibly be talking about me, could he? Haven’t I been a good Facebook citizen these past years? Wasn’t I a recovered and reformed serial poster who walked through social media with better judgement than in my past?
I ran to my personal page…a few pictures of my kids, a couple of links to recent music-related articles I’ve written, shameless self-promotion of my other Facebook page, my personal website and…oh no…almost a dozen anti-Donald Trump stories mostly from Huffington Post or Politico going back to last July. Where they hell did those come from? What was I thinking?
In ten minutes they were all deleted. Without even realizing it, I had became the angry Ed again on a mission to share my political feelings to friends. And to be clear, sharing thoughts and having conversation is not only important but essential…and I am extremely angry and pissed off and scared about the rise in popularity of a man I consider to be exactly what the Huffington Post calls him out on every single day:
Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.
But the dilemma is how does one express and communicate emotion and passion about any issue on a slash and burn media platform that is in reality not conversational in any way, shape or form. Whether you post an update or leave a comment, you are pushing out and not pulling in. It may give you satisfaction and inner-bliss, but it does nothing to connect you to another person and you’re left shouting words over the roar of an ocean.
It was at this moment I should have shut off my computer, turned off the lights and went to bed. But I decided I needed to respond to my old friend. This is in part what I wrote:
Everyone has access to whatever news media they choose, everybody can read, discover and come to their own opinions, everybody carries their own experiences and views. Does anybody think that posting yet another HuffPo or NYTimes piece about some politician saying something outrageous will move the needle? No. I imagine we think it portrays us as witty or clever, or we have this delusion that we can change peoples views with a simple cut and paste or worse yet….our very own ‘on the fly’ observations.
So anyway, I’m sort of going to start moving forward with the WWPD approach. What’s that you ask? What Would Pete (Seeger) Do?
From what I’ve been told by friends of his, and I won’t pretend to know for sure if this is the truth or a tale, in his later years when something happened that Pete felt he needed to speak out on, he’d write it down on a piece of cardboard, go stand on a corner in his hometown of Beacon New York, and hold it up for people to see. I can imagine some folks would drive past and ignore him, and some might pull over and ask ‘What’s up Pete’?’
If you are the person who wants to work toward a goal, or make a change in someones life, do it one to one. Person to person. In conversation, not a meme. Leave social media for cat videos, signposts of life and passing, new restaurants, trips, friends, promoting your products or services and the very very very very occasional moment when you can connect again with someone you’ve thought you lost.
Lights off. Sleep came.
Yesterday I took a few hours and looked over my current list of Facebook friends. There are just 305 of them now, down from what once was over a thousand. I have found two who are very vocal about supporting Donald Trump and one who used to like Marco Rubio but now is pushing Ted Cruz. All three individuals are professional colleagues from over two decades ago, but they’ve remained on my friends list because I liked them when we worked together and we created a connection that is unexplainably still there at the very least with good memories.
I won’t lie…for a moment my finger hovered over the delete button…the kill switch. Is it possible to actually have a friend in my life…online or real…whose views run polar opposite of my own? And it’s not like we talk or see each other or likely ever will. I should just cut and run. They’re still there.
I recall this quote from Pete Seeger, and it has helped untangle my thoughts.
It’s a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with.
The next few months are likely to get more turbulent and divisive. The shouting will get louder, the rhetoric more heated, the lines further divided. While I have not been one who actively campaigns or takes to the streets in protest as I did in my youth, neither apathy and inaction…nor hiding behind a keyboard…can be the acceptable default position. I will raise my voice, but I will speak to people and not at them.
I’m not completely in touch with why Pete Seeger’s spirit and voice have long resonated within me, but they do. He’s the closest thing to what I would call a hero, and I wish he was still here with us today. His presence would comfort. What would Pete do?
He’d make us sing together of course.