Around 2009 I was unwell. I didn’t know it, but I was not ok. I had began to feel tired. Looking back now this comes as no surprise. For the previous six years I had been working on a novel called One Inch Punch.
I had stopped taking care of myself: mentally, emotionally, physically. I was insomniac, drinking too much, sleeping odd hours, not exercising. I was obsessed with the novel. I lived the book, day and night. I dreamed the text. I woke up in the morning with dialogue in my head. I had images of the various characters fluttering like butterflies around my conscious and subconscious. One Inch Punch had become a monster, and how I loved my monster. It slept beneath my bed and gazed at me as I ate and worked at my desk. How I loved my characters. In a sense they had become more real to me than my friends, my family, indeed the world itself. Life had become something of a distraction. All I wanted to do was go on writing. I wanted to trace the life of a failed genius, this guy, this fictional Gordon Brock. I named him after my obsession with the band Hawkwind, whose lead singer’s surname was Brock. before I started writing pers se, I was noting things down, for a long time. I started from the beginning, from Gordy’s experience of being bullied as a kid to his life as a philandering psychotherapist who wrote garbage self help books that kept him rich and idle, to the end of his marriage, to his meeting in middle age with his nemesis, Ed Frasier one freezing winter day when both of them were Christmas shopping. Now lets be clear on this, my Gordon was not a nice guy, not what you might call an attractive character, not filled with the milk of human kindness. Gordon Brock was an asshole. As Senator David Norris said so hilariously at the launch of the novel “He was a bit of a bollox.” (scan forward in the video to 2.38 min) Absolutely true, but it didn’t matter. I loved him. I loved Gordon Brock, iq 174, his wife Martha Reynolds Brock, his Mom and dad who loved him so, his worst enemy Dr. Ed Fraser (we always need a nemesis to struggle against, I guess), his school teachers, his son Joshua. I was world building, and it was fun. This book was my life for six whole years. I had wanted to write about the impact of childhood bullying and torment for a very long time before, and here, when I found my Gordon in my dreams, there came my chance. I didn’t give a shit about publishing this book. I wanted to keep going forever. Writing was my life my religion, my prayer, my meaning, as Depeche Modewould have itMy own Personal Jesus. It was the most fulfilling thing I could ever do. Naturally I didn’t tell people this. Ones life partner might somehow take umbrage on hearing such madness. anyway I went on. Sarah went to work. I cooked, cleaned, walked the dogs, and took a shower now and then, went to literary events with great reluctance, and joyfully returned to my desk to return to my own personal virtual reality. And then it all ended and the lights went out and they stayed out. I got sick. I crashed and burned. Everything fell apart, and then things got worse…
Facebook, as Ms. Tina Turner would say, is simply the best. If one were to come up with a more ingenious idea for a social media platform, I could not improve upon Facebook. It has become the communication platform for over two billion users of all ages (as of 2017). I would guesstimate it’s superceded only by email, the smartphone and the television in popularity and use. Facebook is so clever in its design, it actually employs all the features of email, the phone and the television, having within its increasingly matrix like structure, all kinds and sorts of channels and groups and live video feeds, as well as online chat, facetime and the capacity to call any one user or group from anywhere to anywhere, just so long as you have a Facebook account and an internet link. Its scope is unlimited as it transcends national boundaries, political parties, religion, or age. After live video, pictures, speech, music and the billions of words typed into the Facebook, it is only a matter of time before we all log into Facebook with a retinal scan, post comments via voice recognition software, and chat with Mom or our boyfriend via live holographic interface. Like the web itself, the phenomenon of what happens on Facebook is simply astonishing. Births, deaths, marriages, and events of international and national importance are shared and discussed with forensic detail all times of the day or night. Its also a huge online gaming platform. For instance, every second there are twenty thousand people using it, and, as a result of this level of usage, its functionality is constantly being worked upon.
This is the era of privacy, or the lack of it. For instance I am typing this on WordPress. Above the screen where I type these words, the wordpress program has worked out my location to within a metre or two. When I press ‘Update’, that location is confirmed public for all to see. This is cyberspace, where everything is connected and everything leaves a data trail. The first rule of forensics is that every action leaves a trace. Its interesting. We are surrounded by cheap but sophisticated technology. If your cell phone locates you twenty four seven, and Amazon knows what books you buy or search for, and Google knows your searches and your location, as well as your email address book, then Facebook knows your friends, what you are interested in, and what you and your friends look like, your every action leaves a searchable forensic data trail, forever. A data trail exists now for everything we do. Saying we have nothing to fear if we do no wrong is the first and last cry of an authoritarian state. Privacy is not a privelige. Facebook (and the other aforementioned companies) were founded in the USA. In the USA there are very weak privacy laws. Privacy isn’t codified either in the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights. When you post pictures, then FB owns your image. In fact it has been pointed out the reason why Facebook is free to join is simply because the psychographics and data amassed by one’s posting activity on FB actually makes you and I their product.
What is Facebook?
Facebook is a place to connect virtually. Facebook is the biggest metadata marketplace on the planet. FB is a blogspace, a place where religion is practised, a human rights platform, a place where missing persons are searched for (and found), a marketing tool, an advertising goldmine, a political forum, a dating and sexting site, and somewhere you can meet new people and talk about how much you like puppies or porn or classic science fiction. There are so many new people on facebook – people with lives and biographies and loves and hates and favourite music and bands and websites and marriages and divorces and children and billions of pictures of cats and babies, all there for you to explore. Its absorbing, and creates an increasingly complete dossier available to FB sales and marketing for every FB user. As an inveterate snoop, I have whiled away whole evenings just browsing through all of the human Facebook drama. I can only imagine how useful and lucrative it must be for FB itself. So what does one do on Facebook? You make ‘friends’ on Facebook. Right now you can have up to five thousand ‘friends’. Interestingly one of the many signs of modern loneliness (an experience which is quickly becoming a social epidemic in our ever connected wired up urban and suburban world), is when you have far more friends on FB than you have in real life. Virtual friends will never supercede human contact. Nevertheless, when the platform gets even bigger, along with bandwith and personal and corporate computers growing ever more powerful, I am sure the friend-number will increase. Its scope is, really, unlimited. Right now its worth $403 billion, which is a simply astounding number, considering this is 2017 and it was only founded twelve years ago, its becoming an internet in and of itself, rather like Google, except its not Google. Google is focused on information. Its founders are interested in designing Artificial Intelligence. Facebook is about people, and thats why it is talked about so much. Google, so much a part of the very substance of much internet work is simply a piece of the architecture upon which the web is built. Facebook provides the places we meet people. Facebook is kind of like a city, whereas Google is rather like the State wherein the city has been built.
Whats On Your Mind?
Facebook wants to know whats on your mind. The above question, along with a text box and a facility for posting pictures and videos appears at the top of one’s personal feed. So, straight away we have a means to speak our minds and possibly be heard by, well, everyone. One can also see whats on other peoples minds, from just how much they don’t like Donald Trump, to holiday photos, to photos of meals and fleatrap hotels, to medical updates, to whines about hangovers and boyfriends, to adorable baby seals and crazy stunts, and of course bazillions of puppy and cat videos. It’s incredible. Its an information overload of unprecedented proportions. All of life trots across ones FB webpage. That, and the chance to go wandering around others’ lives becomes an all consuming and vastly time-consuming interest. This is especially the case if you start commenting or posting status updates of one’s own, and the dynamic of posting and reposting status updates becomes a kind of game of reciprocal virtual ping-pong that has no beginning or no end. It goes on an on like a Wagner Opera. Every time we post something, well it’s forever. Every post and comment and ‘like’ is there – forever. Even the things we delete are ‘remembered’, and everything we say -it says something as much about ourselves as it does about the topic of our post. Did I mention data analysis? Everything we type is analysed. Every contact is analysed.
And stored And calibrated. Profiles are built. Our styles of commenting are analysed. Our photos, our arguments – all stored. Those we friend or unfriend or block is part of our profile. I recently unfriended a rather unpleasant FB friend and was reminded by FB on my ‘feed’ that they ‘noticed’ I unfriended someone. But don’t worry, I was told. FB won’t tell this third party I unfriended them. they’ll keep mum. How reassuring, I thought. How kind, even.
Don’t forget too, that all the main security services of the world are here too. All the big names, and a few unnameables. They keep a vigilant watch over every single user – for freedom demands that kind of eternal vigilance. Oh, and data is shared by international agreement. Everything is logged and stored. I don’t think its an exaggeration to say that privacy is now something we tell ourselves we have. But we don’t. If the Internet is forever, then Facebook is the Hotel California. You can log out any time you like, but you can never leave. Your page is there for you long after you deactivate your page. All you got to do is log right back in and your stuff is there for you. Thats great, right?
I Can Stop Using Facebook Anytime I want, I just ‘Like’ it
Facebook is both addictive and its evolving, like a hive or a virtual lifeform. Its tools are becoming more and more refined and those aspects of it which serve no purpose are removed or corrected. They got an army of programmers and analysts all over that platform. Two aspects of FB though I bet will never disappear. One is the capacity to comment on posts, and the big second is the ‘Like’ Button. I think few of us really acknowledge the creeping aspect of ones attachment to using the Facebook platform. You get your account and you start off small. One post here. One ‘Like’ there. One picture of your lovely girlfriend on holiday, and then the ‘Likes’ start coming. You got a new job, or in my case, get published in a prestigious journal and you humblebrag about it and then people start ‘Liking’. The most powerful virtual tool right now is the Facebook ‘Like’ button. One ‘ Like’ and you get a little endorphin kick. A dose of Oxytocin (aka the ‘hug drug’). Facebook is liking. One can keep contact with old friends without the huge time consuming committment. One can go finding out stuff – satisfy our infomania. One can quantify our friendship quotient and fill the deepest need we have in this increasingly atomised culture – the need to belong, to be part of a group, to have that deep sense of support and contact. Facebook be loving us. Don’t go, it says. Thus to leave Facebook in the light of the social, interpersonal, political and cultural advantages it offers as a free platform, is a huge emotional wrench. It is no exaggeration to say that Facebook is addictive. It should come with a warning. Like sugar, the most addictive substance on the planet, Facebook is sweet and reassuring and omnipresent. And it’s truly a demon one has to exorcise from one’s system once one decides to leave.
Detoxing From facebook
Lastly, aside from the vast, vast, waste of time that is Facebook, Facebook makes one jealous. Perhaps ‘envy’ is the right word. Perhaps both. Facebook is saddening. We ‘see’ that version of others’ lives on Facebook and we want what they have. People can’t help humblebragging. Let me unpack that. For instance: recently a ‘friend’ mentioned he was logging off FB because he had to take time out to edit his recently completed novel, which sends a message of success to all the other FB writers out there, and makes me anguished personally as I take forever to finish anything, what with my sitting on my bum thinking all the damn time. Another talks about how busy she has been of late and in sweet terms – and then agave sweetly apologizes to her Facebook friends beacuse she was away on a fabulous holiday with her new lover. Another posts pictures of their new baby, another talks about her new job or that particular prestigious poetry journal she got into, another is busily trekking across France, another is writing a blogpost. And on and on. Nobody wants to talk about daily disasters. Moreover, people seem to be living the lives of movie stars and celebrities. No one seems to be failing or screwing up, like we all fail and screw up – far more than we succeed. And this is the problem. It creates a culture of competition, of a sense of inadequacy and consequent over compensation that has been commented on and analysed by many, many psychologists and podcasters and online journals (GO GOOGLE). Of course, ones self-worth should have nothing to do with the lives of others, that is, in an ideal world. Perhaps if we focused our energies on real life, none of this would happen. Perhaps if we stopped Facebook, went cold turkey and supported each other in coming off this addictive virtual experience, we might take the energy we are using online and made more creative uses of our lives. Maybe. Peace. O.
I believe in blogging. I am often shocked what other bloggers endure in order to keep on blogging, in a forum wherein one supposedly can engage in some kind of free expression. The most obvious one is that of the Saudi Blogger Raif Badawi who was recently sentenced to 1000 lashes in Saudi Arabia for ‘cybercrime’ and ‘insulting Islam’. Word has it Raif Badawi will now be tried for apostasy, which carries the death penalty. I did not realize Islam was so sensitive to criticism. In point of fact, I do not think it is, that is, normally speaking. Generally speaking any belief system that inflicts this type of extreme punishment against its dissidents is somewhat doomed. History is littered with examples of failed purges. Anyhow Islam is a rather fascinating and magnificent system. Personally I don’t believe a word of it, but some of the finest cultural artistic and scientific advances have occurred within the context of Isalm, including the glorious invention of beer (which came not from Saudi Arabia which is our topic right now, but Iraq 4000 years ago, and developed there from through Islam) But to return to Saudi Arabia, it is not a country a secular atheist writer might feel the warmest of welcomes, seeing as it thinks little or nothing of administering rather brutal punishments on those whose views it violently disagrees with. There are other examples of Islam doing such things on unbelievers, many others like this. According to Sarah Anne Hughes(communications assistant for the American Humanist Association.) She writes “Recently in Bangladesh, the government removed hundreds of online posts by seven atheist and secular bloggers who “defamed Islam and the Prophet Mohammed,” according to the AFP. The country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged to punish the bloggers who spoke against Islam. So far, four bloggers – including one who openly identifies as a “militant atheist” — have been arrested and now face up to ten years in jail if convicted of violating cyber laws.” (read the article in full here : http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-04-atheist-discrimination-the-weird-and-serious-ways-no )
I of course have no personal or spiritual interest in Islam, nor any faith, aside from enjoying the Koran the few times I read it. Faiths have been rooted out and destroyed and recreated in numerous indeed hundreds of forms throughout history. But that is another issue. Its also true in my experience that not one of the Muslims I interact with have ever espoused such extremist views as what one reads about. In ways it seems almost like an exercise in Islamophobia to read so many negative stories about the faith of Islam so often in the press. That being said, it’s outrageous to see fellow writers, or indeed anyone persecuted for their basic human right to free expression as freedom is freedom to express the self without harm to another. Given the crooked and labyrinthine world of the internet, it’s inevitable too that divergent views of all kinds will emerge in even the most narrow and repressive of regimes given the rise of blogging, a medium extremely difficult to control, and largely out of the reach of governmental control. Think of how easy it is to respond to, or write about the contents of another blog or post, for good or ill.
Torture, imprisonment, lashes, and religious or political police who take your ideological and doctrinal temperature and make of you a spy upon your neighbour or family is one way of controlling the minds of a population. It is quite effective, and the more bloody and brutal and spiritually inspired, its more justified. During the middle ages, for example, the justification for such torments inflicted upon Christian schismatics and unbelievers was the blessings of confession and forgiveness and as a consequence, the glories of heaven and the joys of God’s presence in eternity. But you can’t have that in the West. Firstly that’s just not legal, unless one whisks a suspect off to a black site injected with some kind of anesthetic and hooded where he or she can be tortured far from the inconveniences of the Geneva Convention, tormented and broken in peace, that is, until they confess their sins. Outside of purely political ‘terror’ suspects you just can’t do that to the general public. People ask questions. If you have them by their minds, their hearts and wallets will inevitably follow. Anyway by an large torture doesn’t work. Torture is an instrument of power. It doesn’t change your mind. Secondly we have the problem of the internet. It doesn’t matter how many people one questions, word spreads at the speed of light. For instance this picture was posted on Facebook and received seventeen thousand views and forty nine thousand shares. Facebook, like the NSA and MI5 and all the other governments involve in the intelligence community, keep count of everything.
Not exactly a political view an establishment superstructure would want propagated through the online community. Of course this is easily dismissible as merely a witty meme filled with politically apt language, giving something of a left of center conspiracy theory on the operations of a worldwide governmental military industrially manufactured control structure, a worldwide governmental conspiracy to spy on our every online move, that and just about every aspect of our lives, generate wars, and manufacture our consent to the status quo, whatever that status quo might be at any given historical juncture. Yes I expect one could dismiss it, if it hadn’t been proven by Edward Snowden’s revelations. If we don’t believe that Big Brother is really watching us, if we don’t believe that enemies are manufactured for the purposes of waging war to increase governments market share, if we don’t believe that we are given just enough education to be controllable, then we are simply ignoring the evidence that has been presented to us. We simply have not been paying attention and the lessons of history are lost unto us.
But surely bad people should go to jail? Yes. But only after a fair publicly accountable trial, not a mafia style hit by Special Forces in the dead of night.
Which brings me back to the importance of us all keeping talking to each other. Blogs help. Online communications help. The idea is that ideas matter. We need something to change our minds, and each of us has a unique perspective and that unique perspective has the ability to open other people’s minds. The best communication of all is face to face, physical meetings and physical confrontations, not that the gift of the internet has not been a good thing. So belief systems should be harmed by these blogs. And the more the merrier. Lets keep talking.