Coincidentally I #DeletedFacebook about a week before the shit hit the ceiling fan for ‘Ole Mark the data shark Zuckerberg and a whistle got blown on Facebook for allowing the data of about 50 million Americans to be traded second-hand to Cambridge Analytica who then used it third-hand to profile and target voters in the 2016 election for the Trump Campaign. The reasons I quit Facebook were many, but one of them was that I had determined the platform to be an uncontrolled catalyst for propaganda and misinformation and I simply have no capacity for such noisy nonsense in my life.
Now that there is de facto proof of at least the vulnerability of the platform, if not its absolute toxicity, part of me wants to give a round of I told ya so’s to a few people who seemed to think I was a paranoid madman for rejecting what they treat as a golden information technology of the modern era. Alas, I cannot hand out those told ya’s since it would seem a lot of people in my realm of knowing cannot be contacted or communicated with unless it’s on Facebook. This addiction to a singular platform of information glut being experienced by a large mass of Americans (as well as all citizens of the industrialized world) might be worse than I originally thought.
Strike that. The way Facebook apologists treat the platform is not with reverence. They don’t really tend to put it up on a pedestal and worship it. They merely serve it and seem to become confused by those who walk away from the service or suggest there is a reality beyond social media. I started to realize this (or, rather, continued to realize this) a couple of months ago while driving in traffic.
During a rush hour in North Phoenix while en route to pick my kids up from school, I noticed something out of place in the traffic ahead of me. There was a car, an early 2000’s economy sedan, sporting a Facebook decal on its back window. Not a cheap, carnival hand-out bumper sticker mind you. This was a decal. Each perfectly spaced out letter of the word Facebook was autonomous and placed precisely level on the lower passenger side corner of the back windshield. Someone put time and effort into creating and placing this vehicular adornment. It struck me as odd to see the Facebook logo this way, but it didn’t hit me why until I was able to think about it for a moment later on. I realized the reason the decal seemed odd and out of place is that Facebook bumper stickers aren’t something you regularly see. But why don’t we regularly see them? The reason is that no one has pride in their service to Facebook.
Facebook isn’t a band or a politician, it’s not a social movement or a personal statement, it’s not a love of dogs or cats or fairy magic. Facebook is something that most Americans use (about three-quarters of adult internet users have an account) but nobody has any real sense of pride over. Those are user dynamics shared by heroin and meth addicts, by the way. The reason you don’t regularly see Facebook bumper stickers is the same reason you don’t regularly see bumper stickers for crack-cocaine or high-risk sex with prostitutes, it’s not a healthy behavior and on some level the people who engage in it probably know it. No one goes around saying, “Fuck Ya! I LOVE heroin!!! It’s THE best!” and likewise no one goes from cocktail party to cocktail party talking about how great their lives are as a result of their Facebook use. Except for maybe that one person who was driving the ’03 Saturn near the I-17 and Union Hills exit that day I saw my first and last display of public Facebook affinity.
Also in sharing with the behavior of junkies, about the most animated a Facebook user will get about the service itself is when you tell them you intend to get clean from it. Junkies hate it when someone stops using and proves their habit is a choice. The comments range from the affectionate No, don’t go. I love your posts! I would miss you!! to the to mid-range I would quit Facebook but I can’t because I would lose contact with friends and family to the more extreme Fine, just turn your back on the struggle. Must be nice to have the privilege to ignore the injustice of others.
These rationalizations when boiled down are exactly the things junkies say to other junkies when the other junkie starts to walk away. Don’t sell out to “the man,” man. It used to be all about the music we created, what happened to you?!…and other such nonsense as well.
The whole ordeal reminds me of the allegory of Plato’s Cave. Plato, in his work Republic, describes a cave in which prisoners are bound by chains facing a wall. The prisoners were born this way and have never known any other form of existence. This is simply life for them. There is a light behind the prisoners that casts shadows on the wall they’re facing. The shadows are likewise the only reality the prisoners have ever known. The shadows are created by the real world passing in front of the light and behind the prisoners out of their view. The prisoners create definitions, understandings and in fact their entire worldview based on the shadows…but the shadows are only impressions of reality, they are not real.
One day, one of the prisoners breaks free from their chains and escapes the cave. After a great deal of brightness, pain and confusion the liberated man begins to experience and solidify his understanding of the real world. He starts to understand the relationship of physical objects to the light and that the shadows projected onto the wall of the cave cannot compare in complexity and tangibility to the three-dimensional objects that create the two-dimensional images.
Amazed, he returns to the cave to share his newfound wisdom with the prisoners still trapped inside, but his efforts are in vain. Not only is he unable to break the chains of the prisoners or adequately explain the really-real world behind them or that the shadows they see are merely projections, but the prisoners themselves become resistant and hostile towards him and his attempts to shatter their false sense of reality. Plato here suggests, quite accurately, that ignorance is defended at great lengths in the minds of humans.
To be clear, Plato’s allegory of the cave was part of his campaign against democracy and support for a ruling class of educated elite philosopher kings. His implication is that the ignorant masses have no place in the decisions of society because they don’t hold a realistic understanding of what society is. Any re-purposing of the allegory, of which there are countless, should be taken with that context in mind. Nevertheless, there is something fitting here, over 2,000 years after Plato’s writing, in a culture that is growing ever dependent on the two-dimensional projections of reality on the flat surfaces in front of them. The really-real world behind becomes less real, and the suggestion to simply look up, look around, connect to the objects creating the shadows is met with confusion and, sometimes, hostility.
Plato chose a side in the argument between democracy and republic, and it shows in his cave description. He doesn’t take the time to state who put the prisoners in the cave and doesn’t offer much of an effort to overcome the defenses of ignorance. But that doesn’t make him wrong, only biased and therefore short-sighted. He was only selling one side of the coin. The great trick of Plato’s Cave is that everyone tends to believe they are the one who has escaped it and everyone who doesn’t agree with their worldview constitutes the prisoners locked inside. The irony here is, by convincing ourselves we are the escapees we create a self-fulfilling prophecy to become our own captors.
Since Plato’s Cave has been re-purposed countless times, I see no harm in re-purposing it and redefining it again, and so here it goes.
No one is fully outside or inside the cave. We are all inside and outside the cave. The cave is our own mind and in each and every one of our minds there is an ignorant prisoner convinced they understand the world. Our role then becomes not to convince those around us to either free or abandon the prisoner in their cave, but to work only on identifying and dispelling the two-dimensional shadows held firmly as reality by our own prisoner. For me, and many others, those shadows have been coming from a tricky little cave called Facebook. Deleting it doesn’t mean I have stepped out into the light for the final time. But I don’t think it hurts the process.