We Used to Speak in Essays
I've been troubled for the last week by the events in Boston -- two bombs exploded at the Marathon, one of the suspects was killed in a shootout (as was a cop), and the city shut down for a day while they hunted and captured the other suspect, his brother, a 19-year-old from Chechnya.
I'm from New Hampshire and I live in San Francisco. An attack on New England is scary and heartbreaking for me. There are people I love who were personally and closely affected by it. A college friend whose family owns a running shoe store at the site of the blast. A friend from childhood who was standing in the blast area with his wife and, mercifully, left 30 minutes before it happened. My sister's boyfriend's kids who were standing 200 feet away from the blast, and are in middle school. A colleague whose house was searched during the manhunt. There's probably more.
Attacks on big events in American cities also shake me and strip me of my sense of safety more than any other kind of tragedy we see on the news. Because on any sunny day, when I'm full of pride and celebrating my community, it could happen to me. And let's not forget that I live in one of the LGBTQ capitals of the country during a gay civil rights movement. We're actually a completely realistic target.
So I'm scared. And sad. And angry. At no one in particular.
It's interesting that earthquakes don't scare me as much, even though they're probably more likely to kill me. They don't come paired with me losing my faith in humanity at the same time.
Humanity. Okay, this post isn't actually about humanity. This is post is about Facebook. (I get those two confused sometimes.)
As I watched the anger pour out all week on my Facebook News Feed -- at the bombers, at people who cheer for the torture of the bombers, at Muslims, at people who blame Muslims, at foreigners and immigrants, at people who blame foreigners and immigrants, at the government, at law enforcement, at terrorism, at the media, and at individuals who make statements in the heat of emotion that don't hold up under scrutiny -- my heart kept breaking further. People I love are in pain and blaming each other.
So now I'm doing the only reasonable thing I can think of to do. I'm directing my own personal anger this week at Facebook, and at recent shifts in Internet communication. I recognize that this is no more righteous or responsible than the other expressions of anger I've been frustrated with, but maybe I can make it just a little bit constructive.
Stay with me here.
We used to speak in essays.
We used to write each other two-page letters in mediocre penmanship, and hold long conversations over coffee. We focused on sharing a depth of view, we listened, and we connected. We had differences, but we found our similarities through them, and friendship was a collaborative effort of building bridges. The Internet started closer to this, with small forums and chat rooms (like coffee dates), longer emails (because we weren't overloaded in our inboxes), and long-form blogs and diaries that sparked discussion and empathy.
We also had more carefully selected audiences when we shared those essays. Instead of the very real possibility of something we write being circulated to our mothers, bosses, and members of the Tea Party, we had some trust that our voice would stay in the context of our community.
The audience has shifted. What we have on Facebook now is a giant Rolodex of everyone we've ever worked with, slept with, shared a blood line with, went to high school with, or thought was cool once. Custom audience filters exist, but they're complicated to use and we don't really trust them anyway. Our default mode is to share anything we post with everyone we know.
The medium has shifted, too. We no longer speak in essays, because essays don't really belong on Facebook. We speak in photos, links, one-liners, and battle cries. (We're also hanging out on Tumblr and Twitter, which are no different.)