By Sal Thomas

It occurs to me that the worldwide web with all of its attractive entanglements, social networks, and log-on conveniences is designed myopically. It is a perfect place if you believe you live in a happy time in a world that goes on into infinity. But what if you want to get out, to cancel that cell phone data plan, to take back all that time spent teaching your thumbs to type on a postage stamp screen? What kind of termination fees are we talking about here? And if the cause of our withdrawal happens to be death, what kind of problems are we creating for the executors of our estate?

After all, we ALL will need to unsubscribe one day. Should we take the time now to write a living will outlining who gets our passwords, our reward points and our Farmville acreage, or begin the long slow process of disengagement ourselves, knowing there will always be some little glowing ember of digital data about ourselves we can never snuff out, not after we’ve spread it out there like a pyromaniac with a flame-thrower.

Just Say No

There are a lot of reasons to consider unsubscribing…i.e. to nurture your real life spousal relationship…focus more time on your children and loved ones…establish real friendships…or get involved in your real life community service. Ultimately, the elephant in the room on the Internet is our own mortality. The Internet may go on, but we will not always be a part of it, not unless someone figures out a way to update your Facebook status, tweet, text or blog from the great beyond.

Imagine that…we are all so brilliant at signing up, logging on, entering our passwords, certifying, and knowing our real life mother’s maiden name when asked…but where is the roadmap for stopping any of it? For undoing all of the doing we’ve done. For navigating the end of our involvement with this personal swath of activity and content we’ve created. For setting it all aside?

Talk to the Hand

Well, suffice it to say my dander has been dusted up because of the inane, innocuous and insidious stupidity I see every day on the Internet, especially in Facebook wall posts and sophomoric YouTube videos, and I make no distinction between whether they come to us on a computer or a cell phone because it’s all part of the addictive, catatonic state I see everywhere.

As a train commuter, I have observed the radical culture shift from chatty commuter camaraderie and newspaper section sharing to the laptop years to the current obsessive and privatized engagement with one’s own handheld device for all-consuming chatting, texting, checking emails and/or listening/watching music/videos.

And from the perspective of being a musician and frequent concertgoer, I’ve also seen the audience transformed from people listening to a show to people attending a show with the sole, self-absorbed purpose of posting comments and pictures of that fact on their Facebook page. For god sake, no one even pays attention or even really intently listens anymore. Everyone is too busy keeping their friends abreast of their doings on their cell. (What an aptly named device!)

We’ve arrived now with both feet firmly planted in the “it’s all about me posting everything I do” era. Tweets, YouTube videos, Facebook updates, LinkedIn profile edits, and god forbid, don’t get me started on Reality TV or the fact that CNN is now reporting more about what Bobbi Sue from Little Rock tweets about the news rather than the news itself.

I’m serious

So folks – and I’m dead serious about this – am I the only guy out there who is irritated by the manifest minutiae of the self-absorbed posting of every little detail that contributes just more fodder to what used to be called public discourse? And the downward spiral of intelligence in the feedback comments that immediately follow said post? I saw a Roman Polanski movie years ago called ‘The Tenant’ where a haunted apartment consumed the mental state of its new resident so much so that he jumped out the window. The fall didn’t kill him so he dragged his broken body back up a few flights of stairs to the same window and jumped a second time––and still didn’t die.  The movie ends with him in a body cast, lying in a hospital bed. That’s what the Internet-invented loop of innocuous posts and downward spiraling feedback does to my mind.  It all makes me kinda wanna defenestrate . . . twice. Is it just me or does this Crap Fodder Loop bother anyone else?

And god forbid you have a religious or political conviction on Facebook which is apparently taboo, ostracizing and off-putting to all the anal-overgeneralizer ‘friends’ who desire their Facebook walls to be neatly and tidily organized with cutesy little vanilla posts and banter. Emotions and feelings are generalized and conveniently stomped out of Facebook updates and the preferred vehicle of communication is stereotyped, clichéd, and summarily simplified.

That gets to the core of why my hackles are up – the fact that all of these inane and unnecessary emails/voicemails/texts/posts/blogs/tweets/rants/pokes are cluttering up 95% of the communications in our collective human condition on a daily basis. And it seems there’s no way to stop it or unplug from it all.

Sorry…More Thoughts on Facebook

While hosting Saturday Night Live recently, Betty White asserted that, once she had a chance to experience Facebook, her impression was “what a huge waste of time.” Was I the only one who yelled “true dat, sister!” If Facebook were a religion, it would monopolize all denominations. If it were a political party, it would rule the world. Forget what Lennon said about the Beatles or what Hitler tried to do. That can all be chalked up to child’s play compared to Mark Zuckerberg’s anti-social social vision. And snap, 500 million users jump on board? Does anyone else see Facebook as an insidious, addictive, privacy-robbing platform that railroads communication to the middle of stereotype; placing all of life’s little random thoughts smack dab in the center of irrelevant cliché? Or is it just me? And Betty White.

Why do we prefer Facebook posts over direct, human communication? Isn’t a phone call, a visit, going out for coffee, having a beer or glass of wine and catching up with an old friend better?  Allow me to reveal what I think is the real underbelly rub of “social” networking…that it’s not really socializing! Facebook is something you do when you are alone! It’s virtual. Faux. It’s bowling with the kiddie bumpers lining the gutters. It’s taking a shower with a raincoat on. It ultimately amounts to nothing more than a virtual way to stroke our own ego…thinking that for some reason your old gym teacher who ’friended’ you after your 25-year High School reunion really cares about the clichéd, vanilla outlook you’re going to post today 26 years later.

Seriously, and it gets more ridiculous than that. What about the “piling on” happy birthday wishes thing? One friend posts a happy birthday message to you on your wall and next thing you know, 262 other “friends” are guilt compelled to send you happy birthday wishes. I mean, does a guy I played floor hockey with in college really need to be voyeuring in on my day-to-day life now? Odd. Creepy.

Faux Friends

By the way, when you wake up one day and see that you have 263 friends on Facebook, who are you kidding? What beast are you feeding? You have, if you are lucky, only 3 real friends who know about every facet of your life journey and you know it. The other 260 are just getting the shellacked version full of nicety and stereotype. Why can’t we just hold those who are closest to us close and let ancillary, past relationships that aren’t so close to us simply be ancillary and in our past, where they rightly belong?

While I’m on a roll, I may as well also pay tribute to the rise of this new cell phone texting hobby of sitting next to two friends/colleagues and texting one so the third person in the room doesn’t know you’re talking about them right in front of their very nose but behind their back at the same time. Now there’s an impressive technology benefit. And don’t say you haven’t done that.

And on it goes. It even happens in church. If God can hear your prayers, don’t you think He might be a bit savvy to your texting while you’re supposed to be paying attention? Never before in history have Priests/Ministers achieved such compliance to ‘please bow your heads and pray.’ I fully expect someday to hear that AT&T or Sprint have signed on to sponsor prayer time. Really. How far are we from “please bow your heads and check your emails/texts…this prayer break is being brought to you by Sprint, The 4G Now Network.”

Technology Owns Us

Here’s my point: Technology currently owns us. We don’t own technology. We have become technology’s bitch, and more so than at any other time in history. When cars were invented, they were a convenience, but we also had many other modes of transportation, including good old-fashioned walking. Telephone landlines were a convenience too, but they never created the overwhelming addiction that we have with our handhelds. Our addiction to the Internet and our cells is Every Waking Hour. Even when folks are out having that social beer or glass of wine with friends – well guess what – they’re still checking their damn emails and text messages every 3 minutes. It’s universal.

My thought is that we are all headed into an Epic Wipeout someday with all of this. People will write up Last Will and Testaments saying “and to my loving son, I leave my blog site log-in list and passwords.”  And guess what? No one will really care. Who wants to inherit your personal swath of fodder and opinions? Or your old vacation scrapbooks. Or pay your last cell phone bill with that pesky termination fee you so blithely agreed to in your healthier days.

Discover, Define and Dropout

So what to do? It’s time to create your own personal exit strategy. Everyone will have a different one at a different time for sure, but it’s something we all need to think about: a simple plan to take your foot off the technology gas pedal and win back control over your life. So here are some ideas to at least get you thinking:

  • Discover

Create a master list of all of your personal bookmarks, login site URLs, user names and passwords.

  • Define

Set a more realistic scope of use for your computer and cell phone – and please, something short of Every Waking Hour. Commit to simplifying and limiting the impact of the Internet use on the important relationships you’d like to nurture in your real life.

  • Make a Keeper List

Make a keeper list of the core websites, email addresses (we all truly only need one), and financial services accounts you definitely do want to share with your spouse/kids, and prepare an easy to follow ‘next step’ plan for succession when/if you do unexpectedly get hit by the proverbial bus.

  • Dropout

Create a departure plan…and unsubscribe from all the activity that’s sucking your attention and/or distracting your priorities from the real things in life that matter to the real people in your life. And yes, you’ll be able to do twice as much with your hands once you set your cell phone aside!

Sal Thomas is a Chicago writer who doesn’t really care to hear from you, although he is grateful you read this far.

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