About a month ago, I wrote an academic article, for Brainblogger, about social network addiction. I had to do extensive research for the occasion. The idea for the article had come to me from seeing how Facebook was slowly taking over our lives, in the sense that sometimes it seemed more attractive to wait to see if something “happened” there, than to do actual work. I found myself wishing that my work did not involve Facebook, so I wouldn´t have to be there everyday.
As I was thinking about Facebook a lot, a film director I am working with posted a link to the movie Catfish on his Facebook. This was about the time of the Oscars, and, as I´m always into watching movies with great scripts (something I probably got from taking a screenwriting master´s), I ended up watching The Social Network a couple of days later.
This is how, during a time when I was constantly on Facebook, I wrote an article about social network addiction, I saw a movie about a Facebook relationship and another one about the creation of Facebook. With so much Facebook on my mind, I ended up writing this rather bitter poem called No ode to the book of faces. The poem (included below) is accompanied by an image of the famous 1984 poster that says BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, only the words “Big Brother” are covered by the Facebook logo, so that the poster reads “Facebook is watching you.”
In a country where there was a dictatorship not long ago, it is easy to imagine how, if a dictatorial regime (God forbid!) should ever take over again, all they would have to do to learn who to persecute would be check our Facebook accounts. I can imagine this is happening right now in different places all over the world. Right this instant, I have no doubt that people are going to jail because of something they wrote on Facebook. Governments and intelligence organizations from the US to China and Israel have acknowledged that they are relying on Facebook to “spy on people,” as the online community popularly puts it.
With such thoughts going through my mind, I sat down to watch Catfish, which I learnt was one of the hot docs of the moment. I found it to be a brilliant film. An exploration of everything that goes on in online relationships with people we have never met, the film transformed a story and characters that might have been pathetic into endearing and, ultimately, human. I´m not gonna spoil your fun if you haven´t seen it, so I will not say more. Suffice it to say that it is a great film, which makes Facebook look a little scary.
One of the reflections that followed watching the film was this: If faces are all that matters, and lots of people are putting up fake pics of their face, then everything is fundamentally fake. Moreover, even when we use our own photos, we edit and decide what to show. There is no more reality there than there was in the Hollywood-cutting room-style broadcast of the Irak war by FOX or CNN. We edit, we polish, we eliminate, we wanna look beautiful and successful and hip. Reality has long ago left the building.
When I wrote my academic piece, I found out that one of the biggest problems social networks are causing is taking too much of students` time, what scientists call “social network-related academic procrastination.” To avoid this type of procrastination at the workplace, many top companies have blocked Facebook on all their office computers.
Then, on the other hand, Facebook can bring enormous satisfactions. For example, I was hired on my dream job as a producer largely based on my Facebook and online personality. It was a success story, by all means, as, after only two weeks of full-time work on the project, we were able to secure funding for the film, which will be shot later this year.
The Internet has endless possibilities, but it is also very dangerous, precisely because it is so attractive. Mark Zuckerberg knew this, and that is why he created this fantasy land, where it seems everyone wants to live one of those perfect lives, that is called Facebook.
I had never given much thought to the creators of Facebook before watching The Social Network. In fact, I enjoyed reading the script even more than watching the movie and, other than learning that Justin Timberlake can really act and starting to curse Zuckerberg everytime Facebook stops working properly, I don´t think this was a life-changing experience.
It was fun, but I think I still prefer the movies from the pre-Facebook era. It would have been a pity if Fellini or Antonioni had shot less films because they were spending their time on Facebook.
I have no answers about all of this. In some ways, Facebook has changed my life. As a poet, for example, I used to write mainly because I couldn´t help it, and folders of poetry were piling up on my drives with nowhere to go, except for the occasional magazine. Now, I have an audience, a small but extremely rewarding audience, and I have been able to connect with at least one other poet who has similar themes and preoccupations as myself. Connecting with such people is something tremendously enriching and inspiring, and I have never had that before in my entire life. Now, I have it, thanks to Zuckerberg´s million-faced monster.
However, when I think of taking a vacation, nothing excites me more than the prospect of staying at a computer-free house on the beach somewhere. In a way, I guess we all think social networks are somehow bad for us, we just can´t live without them.
NO ODE TO AN EMPTY BOOK (March 13th, 2011)
Strangers at a click´s distance
and lovers thousands miles away
instead of kiss
Looking at a screen,
not a glimpse
looking back at us
This connected loneliness
this sleep and fresh air
This electrical despair
with nothing behind
There was a time
when people would
read books out loud to each other
In a past
far far away
people talked and touched
and looked at each other
Blessed be the
carpenters, the flower growers
who aren´t still
controlled by these
fake mirage screens
This prison of
it has no walls
no bars, no guards
and we enter everyday
of our own will