On Facebook… Or Off It, Rather

I announced late Tuesday night, possibly early Wednesday morning, that I had deleted Facebook’s apps from my phone and tablet and closed the perpetually open browser tab for it on my desktops and laptops.

This was not a rash decision. This had been building for some time, and, as I said in that post (call it a “flounce” if you will), it was time.

I can say a lot of good things about Facebook. It brings to my attention news items that I might have missed. It lets me know about the joys and sorrows of family and friends. It’s kept me in touch with my cousins in Carolina, my high school best friend in Omaha, and lots of old friends who live around the corner, but whose paths don’t cross mine often if at all. They’re all good people and I like knowing what’s going on with them.

Facebook is important if you’re a blogger, a convention promoter, a publisher, an author and a sometime politician. I never considered myself to be this last, until Robert A. Heinlein called out to me from the grave and assured me that I am such, my best intentions and better judgment notwithstanding. (Don’t get excited. He didn’t appear at the foot of my bed in shimmering ectoplasm. He just wrote a book that he didn’t get around to publishing before he died, and I didn’t get around to reading until 28 years after it was published. It’s called Take Back Your Government, if you’re curious.)

But Facebook also causes a world of pain for a lot of people, and I’m one of them. There’s an expression, “Facebook balls,” used to describe the fact that people sitting at home before a screen don’t have the filters and restraints that come into play when we’re sitting within spitting distance of an actual person. So, when we read something we don’t like on Facebook, we begin to spew four-letter invective, make genetic claims for which we have done no research, and speak so decisively on topics that we know nothing about that we might as well end all our sentences with Captain John Carter of Virginia’s signature, “I have spoken.”

People in cars do the same thing. Present company included. Hey, at least in my car they can’t hear what I’m saying about their mothers, their children, and their taste in caviar.

These Facebook balls swing hard and fast, and they often hit the receiver right between the eyes. (Unsanitary, no? In these days of Covid, please, wash your Facebook balls.)

Long before Facebook, I got heavily into the Internet because of science fiction fandom. I was and am, as noted, a con-runner and an author. In both capacities, I want and need to be in touch with fans, because they’re my life’s blood. I need to interact with them in order to extract their cash, blood, sweat and tears to fuel my personal addictions. The Internet and Facebook are great places for fandom… until they’re not.

Fandom on Facebook has become quite an ugly landscape. That’s because fandom itself has become ugly—bitter, divided, angry. I’m not saying it’s not also, in its turn, fun and wonderful, because it is. It is my community and I have spent a lifetime serving it. I’m not condemning fandom. If anything, I’m looking in the mirror and saying, “Old friend, we’re not aging well, are we?”

Covid has taken a toll on fandom, as it has on all of us. Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and recessions have taken a toll on fandom. Angry social justice warriors have—ah-ah, not taken a toll. They prefer the term “reapportionment of resources.” All of this, of course, mirrors the American political landscape, where all the same forces have taken a toll. I have literally been told by a comics fan that I must buy a new title by an author I don’t like, in order to show solidarity with the fan base. Sound familiar?

And through all of this, emotions have spilled over. They’ve spewed out of our mouths, radiated out of our pores, run down the sidewalk into the gutter, overflowed the sewers and come fountaining up from the storm drains like a legion of cloned zombie Old Faithfuls.

it’s exhausting. It’s emotionally and physically painful to swim in that muck day in and day out. So why do I do it? Why, every time I’m not completely engaged in three other tasks, do I try and surf the ocean of emotion? Because it’s convenient to do so. Because the damned Sargasso Sea has a port on every device I use. Watersports can be fun, but, when you come too close to drowning too many times, it’s time to grab the nearest lifeline, haul your tired ass out of the mire, and get the hell onto dry land.

And Tuesday night, I finally decided I was ready. I crawled back to shore, having been knocked down by a tsunami-force wave, shook myself off like a dog, and cried, “Never again.”

Okay, all that dramatic imagery aside, I deleted apps, I closed tabs, I slammed shut two laptops and a door, and, yes, dammit, I downed three Scotches.

And further yes, there was a thing that night. Some of you know what it was. Some of you don’t. The particulars don’t matter. An old and dear friend was upset with me and used Facebook to air his concerns in public. By the time he approached me in a more personal manner, I was too stunned to respond. I don’t know how that story ends. But I know it was painful, humiliating and enough to convince me that I’m too old, too weak and too tired to keep going down this self-destructive path.

So here I am. On my blog. Those of you who witnessed my final clash on Facebook may have your opinions. Some of you have unfriended me. Some of you may yet do so. That’s fine. I shan’t be there to see. If you know my number, feel free to call or text if you are calling in friendship. If you’re calling to tell me why you cannot offer friendship, please go talk to the nearest tree. Every tree that ever lived is a more compassionate and understanding listener than I am.. If you do not have my number and want to contact me, I do respond to comments on the blog.

Stay well.

–Steve

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