Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sharing the Weirdness: Facebook, Meetings and The Beginning of School

Yesterday, as at least some of my Facebook "friends" know, I had to attend a meeting and realized too late that I probably should not have done so. It was a meeting for faculty advisers, one that exists in order to remind us that advising (particularly for first years and transfers) is an important job; to thank us for doing it; to remind us of the resources available to our students; and to instruct us in the ways of the on-line registration system. I tried to remember the last year I had attended this meeting and couldn't, so I went.

Mistake. There was nothing I didn't know already or that wasn't in a handout, even though all kinds of worthy people spoke, spoke well, and spoke rather succinctly. When they weren't succinct, it wasn't their fault, as periodically someone in the audience became hopelessly confused. If I can say I learned anything it was that faculty really ought not to complain about their students not listening properly and asking questions that have already been answered, because we are, as a genus, just as flawed in this respect as they are. Probably more so because we are more likely to ask questions at......great.......length.

Which leads me to the part that takes me aback: my own behavior. As it turned out, I was unable to sit through a meeting that bored me without fidgeting, texting, whispering to my neighbor, and going on Facebook repeatedly to update all my "friends" (many of whom were in the room) about my status. Status as what? Status as a middle-aged person who has utterly lost patience with meetings? Status as someone who has utterly lost hir manners?

If it were not for the mileage I get for this blog from being on Facebook, I would definitely punish myself by canceling my account, since my behavior yesterday seems like de facto proof of cerebral and personality changes that have been wrought by this particular form of new media. I wasn't even able to sit there quietly reading The Atlantic on my iPhone, which is the kind of non-disruptive behavior that many fifth graders with ADD have mastered.

The other reason I am turning on Facebook is that it is starting to weird me out. I have noticed that, in the right hand bar where suggestions of people you might want to be "friends" with appear, I am beginning to get hints that there are celebrities who I share so many "friends" with that Facebook feels that I must be friends with them too and have simply forgotten. These potential "friends" include:

Armistead Maupin (6 friends)
Amy Tan (6 friends -- and not the same ones!)
John Sayles (10 friends)
Kimberly Pierce (5 friends)
James Ellroy (3 friends)

Who could forget being friends with the director of Boys Don't Cry and Stop Loss? I am one of about a dozen people in Amerika who actually think Stop Loss is one of the finest films made about the Iraq War, so perhaps I ought to be friends with Kimberly Peirce (plus she looks really gay.) So I "friended" her just to see what would happen and got a bounce-back message that she has so many friend requests pending that she can't have any more until she deals with them.

This has never happened to me. Her Gmail account must be a hell-hole, that's all I can say.

But what accounts for these invitations to "friend" famous authors and film makers? Different things, as it turns out. I do have one "friend," who I met at a party and actually would be real friends with if I didn't live in the Styx, who is a documentary film maker;another who is a queer cultural critic in southern California; and a third who is a freelance journalist in L.A. Well over 2/3 of my "friends" are gay, which accounts for at least three, and perhaps all these connections. But the other "friends" I share with these people are utterly random, as far as I can tell -- except, of course, that it is exactly the fact that Facebook has rendered the random not random at all that is weirding me out.

Which means that even if I left Facebook, I would still be living in a Thomas Pynchon novel where meetings, no matter how meaningless, nevertheless have a meaning that has yet to be divined. I now realize that it was not that I did not know what would be revealed in the advisers' meeting that drew me to it. It was that I did not know what had yet to be revealed, perhaps even to those running the meeting, in the guise of what I already knew that may have drawn me there to begin with. To wit:

The men inside the auction room wore black mohair and had pale, cruel faces. They watched her come in, trying each to conceal his thoughts. Loren Passerine, on his podium, hovered like a puppet-master, his eyes bright, his smile practiced and relentless. He stared at her, smiling, as if saying, I'm surprised you actually came. Oedipa sat alone, toward the back of the room, looking at the napes of necks, trying to guess which one was her target, her enemy, perhaps her proof. An assistant closed the heavy door on the lobby windows and the sun. She heard a lock snap shut; the sound echoed a moment. Passerine spread his arms in a gesture that seemed to belong to the priesthood of some remote culture; perhaps to a descending angel. The auctioneer cleared his throat. Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.

And of course, by Facebooking the whole time, I probably missed it.

OK, just kidding. Happy beginning of the semester, dear Reader.


Ruviana said...

I hate Facebook with the fire of a thousand suns! And yet I am on it. I'm doing more on it now than ever (which isn't saying very much at all) but it makes me feel like a commodity. Haven't gotten any celebrity friend suggestions yet, but lotsa pressure from students.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, TR, from an undergrad's perspective. Hearing that faculty are susceptible to the temptation of Facebook too makes me feel a little less as if finding oneself constantly fighting that temptation in classes or meetings is a horrible stain on one's academic character. It is disconcerting, I think, how strong and unwavering the temptation to keep looking up strangers online during class/meetings can be. I've switched to taking notes longhand because I know that after the first time I tell myself it's okay to look at the web browser for just a few seconds during a class, I'll never be able to stop.

I have to confess [creepy alert]--you've turned up in my "People You May Know." I suppose that makes you as Famous and Important as Armistead Maupin and Amy Tan?

Tenured Radical said...

Nah, it's just the Wesleyan thing. may know me! If you don't, feel free to say hello.

Susan said...

I hadn't seen your FB posts -- because I was in meetings all yesterday and I've tried to wean myself from bringing my laptop to meetings so I don't read blogs or fb while bored ...
I don't think I have any famous connections, and the ones I do have, alas, don't show up on FB.

anthony grafton said...

Great post. Time to add a Go to Meetings Nakes and Listen movement to the existing Teach Naked one.

Happy new academic year, TR. Please keep the wisdom coming.

anthony grafton said...

And yes, that would be Naked, not Nakes!

Tenured Radical said...

Tony, I initially thought "nakes" might be one of those Oxbridgey words. In an attempt to use at least some of my time better, I have been experimenting with audible books in the car to and from work. I thought I would begin with something light, so I am listening to Lady Antonia Fraser's memoir of her life with PInter -- it is laced with such words. "Another fam hol!" "Her dress was utterly rav!"

But I think the concept is outstanding, typo or no.

Historiann said...

I feel like I have celebrity "friends" in you and Tony Grafton when you comment on my blog. Can George Clooney be all that far away from coming out of lurker-dom?

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Fucke fucken facebook. I'll hammer a thousand nails through my fucken dicke before I'll pollute my mind with that shitte. Like I give a flying fucke that some asshole "friend's" fucken child made poopie in the fucken pottie???? Just fucken shoote me.