Friday, February 27, 2009

Expecting Ambassadorial Cucumbers

I think things may have finally reached a new low. I'm aware of the doubleness of writing this on our ("our" being probably 80% mine, and the other 20% my husband, who peckishly peeks at this about once every three months) blog; I know I'm trading in categories that I'd much rather cock an eyebrow at, but my husband is out of town, my best friends all live far away, and I'm pretty sure our readership amounts to no more than 2 (my mom and Stacy's mom -- the real Stacy, not of the song. The real Stacy is great).

Anyway, let me explain. I do love Walker Percy. And in a few short weeks, Os Guiness is coming to UVa to give a talk entitled Lost in the Cosmos: Our Shrinking World, Our Overloaded Options, and our Relentless Search for Significance. Here in Charlottesville, we are blogging, podcasting, facebooking, publishing, networking our ways into new levels of consequence all the time time. We are interested in (semicolon), working for(semicolon), reading(semicolon), joining groups, starting causes, forwarding, signing on in attempts to form a more coherent picture of what it means to be human.

Yet the result is anything but.

And still, Facebook marches on in its quest to dissect us and smash us up onto the computer screens of our friends. Who do you match? What are you thinking about? Want to appear smackishly spiritual or witty? What clever retort do you have for the billboard you just passed? How can you work in your most recent accomplishment without being TOO obvious? Want to tell the world you're feeling awesome, queasy, confused, hopeful, or just plain like shit? Say so in your twitter or your status.

I have been really perplexed by the status. So, today, on a whim, I googled Facebook Status, and came up with this: a Facebook Status Generator. The pull on the ad's site is direct: "Of course it's imperative that you let all of your friends know exactly how your hangover's progressing or what you're planning to have for dinner. But if you're looking for something a bit more interesting to say, or you want all those old school chums and passing acquaintances to marvel at what a peculiar individual you've become, then why not generate a random Facebook status and copy and paste it into your profile?"

But that's just the thing. In these somewhat bankrupt attempts to get ourselves out there, noticed, it almost seems like an anhiliation of sorts takes place instead. Decades before anyone ever thought of her or his day in terms of "Walker is...", Percy sniffed out our self-avoidant attempts at crossing out the authentic and replacing it with something else. Percy's book opens with the question of the amnesic self -- "Why the self wants to get rid of itself." I wonder if we're slowly unlearning how to know ourselves...and how to teach others of who we are. At least, that's what I feel like. There seems to be something in the semiotics of the "status" that is demonstrative of some human cravings. Maybe I am naive, but I do believe that when we scroll through a list of what John, Sally, and Roger are doing, we're still genuinely looking for a felt connection in some form -- but from my work with students, it seems more that in the search for connection, in that furtive searching through other people's pictures, status comments, walls, connection inevitably gets overrun by competition, loss, and then failure.

Caroline Knapp, in her gut-wrenching memoir of her battle with alcoholism, writes this of the version of ourselves that we keep hidden:

"I once heard alcoholism described in an AA meeting, with eminent simplicity, as "fear of life," and that, for me seemed to sum up the condition quite nicely. I, for example, had spent half my professional life as a reporter who lived in the secret terror of the most basic aspects of the job, of picking up the phone and calling up strangers to ask questions. Inside, I harbored a long list of qualities that made my own skin crawl: a basic fragility, a feeling of hypersensitivity to other people's reactions. Feelings of fraudulence are familiar to scores of people in and out of the working world -- the highly effective, well-defended exterior cloaking the small, insecure person inside -- but they're epidemic among alcoholics. Sometimes, in small flashes, I'd be aware of this. One night, after work, on my way to a bar to meet a friend for drinks, a sentence popped into my head. This is the real me, this person driving the car. I was anxious, my teeth were clenched, partly from spending a long day hunched over a computer, and partly from the physical sensation of wanting a drink so badly, and I was aware of an undercurrent of fear deep in my gut, a barely definable sensation that the ground beneath my feet wasn't solid or real. i had created two versions of myself -- the work version and the drinking version, and in between, the real version would emerge, for five or ten minutes at a stretch. the fearful version, tense and dishonest and uncertain. I rarely allow her to emerge for long." (from Drinking: A Love Story)

At any rate, Knapp was writing this before Facebook arrived. Her descriptions, however, feel like they are running the lengths of the souls of our newly hidden, ironically connected generations. I'm included. What are we to do?

No comments: