Remember the first of December in the year 2015? I do. Whenever a truly massive eye roll takes place in my skull I file it away for future reference. It was a day that I was just about done with Facebook – when I started feeling like I didn’t necessarily need to share every vague song lyric or whim or fancy that struck me at any particular moment.
My contact lenses were touching my brain as I read Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla’s open “note” (remember those?) on Facebook to their newborn daughter. (For reference, you can revisit this corny slop here: https://bit.ly/2O0UH2i or just google Mark Zuckerberg letter – it reads like he’s the second coming of Jesus the Christ). As I type this, the likes on the note are at 1.6 million with 297,000 shares. Among the top commentators who Zuck responded to include Vindu Goel, tech reporter for Mark’s newfound adversary The New York Times. “Congratulations to you both!” wrote Goel, “And what an amazing gift. What prompted you to give away so much of your fortune so early in your lifetime?” The Harvard dropout coolly replied: “Thanks! Two main ideas have led us to start early. First is that we have a lot to learn and giving, like anything else, takes practice to do effectively. So if we want to be good at it in 10-15 years, we should start now. Second is that any good we do will hopefully compound over time. If we can help children get a better education now then they can grow up and help others too in the time we might have otherwise waited to get started.”
“We have a lot to learn.” It sounds laughable now that the chief tech reporter for the Times and the CEOwhateveryoucallit of the world’s most disastrous social media outlet were on nauseatingly good terms. I had read this that December morning thinking of Jeff Goldblum (R.I.P. Cancellation for supporting Woody Allen in 2019 Anno Domini) in “Jurassic Park.” His dark chest hair flying out of his unbuttoned black top, Goldblum as chaos theory statistician Dr. Ian Malcolm warned, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Democratic California governor Gavin Newsom toasted Zuckerberg and his wife on FB.” Incredible! Congratulations and enjoy your time as parents — and thank you for making our world a better place. Your commitment is inspiring all of us.”
Now his party bashes Zuckerberg on an almost daily basis, blaming him for the ascendancy of Trump.
We were all so excited to share a bit of ourselves with one another. After all, social media is such a new special way to announce a self. Admittedly, the narcissist in me was always prone to liking bands and films with rapid-fire immediacy because, as a lover of these mediums, I enjoy thinking people actually care what I watch and listen to. Somehow these algorithms tapped into that for all of us. Undergrads, wait until you have friends who got married once and continue to post pictures of it with a hashtag heralding it was the best day ever for years to come.
Somehow along the information highway, we gave too much of ourselves away. We thought it was cool to share articles that seemed informative to show we were engaged and clever and smart. Facebook was feeding off our fears and insecurities. “Participate!” it said. “Come buy!” it screamed like a capitalist goblin in a sexy Christina Rosetti poetic fever dream. We may have even recoiled a bit from it all, feeling like maybe there is some truth that humans are only allegedly capable of handling 150 human interactions at a time (look it up.) And today we’re fighting over who gets to control the stream of information that flows through social media. Headlines read recently that AOC, who quite literally can attribute social media to her rise in power, “owned” Zuck in a courtroom. She exploded, as she so often does, with the same zeal that Zuck presented himself to us originally – a harbinger of positivity to come, a change we should want to see. We have our arms wide open to new players in the game without a hint of cautious optimism.
The World Wide Web has blurred so many lines for us. It’s given us some awesomely powerful and resilient movements like #BlackLivesMatter and it’s also created and destroyed world losers and world forsakers with the click of a Macbook Air trackpad. It’s impossible to pinpoint anymore where the good of this starts and where it ends. The present is already past as legislators furiously try, well, to legislate it.
I do not pretend to know all the answers – even the wise, as Gandalf once said, cannot see all ends. For many things in my life, Buddhism (or the medieval teachings of Boethius) give me some peace and so I share with you, my dear reader, some bits of wisdom from their practice. Many Buddhist sites suggest that before you post you pause and ask yourself: “Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
If only Mark Zuckerberg and all those deranged scientists working at Jurassic Park and New York Times tech reporters had stopped to consider the answers to that question a few years ago…